In Response to Rabbi Yaacov Behrman

Zaakah blog
June 8, 2012

Rabbi Yaacov Behrman wrote an op-ed in The Forward on Friday where he says that, although he doesn't agree with Agudah's stance that cases of sexual molestation need rabbinical permission to be brought to the authorities, he also doesn't agree with Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes recent move that would make rabbis mandated reporters of such crimes.

Rabbi Behrman sets out to argue against DA Charles Hynes new push to make rabbis mandated reporters, but before he gets to that point he takes a long detour and first defends Agudah's policy.

He begins by explaining Agudah's reasoning behind their stance that cases of child molestation must be brought to rabbis first:
"Although in the overwhelming majority of cases, abuse allegations turn out to be accurate, there has been a minority of cases in which innocent individuals were wrongly charged with abuse crimes. These individuals were vindicated only after lengthy proceedings. Therefore, some rabbis feel that in a case where there are no witnesses to the abuse and there is only one victim, who is a minor, a rabbi should assess the validity of the allegations before the accusations are brought to the police."
Later, he advances this line of reasoning with this:
"I strongly believe that only a small minority of rabbis advises against reporting to the police. And in today's day and age, the number of victims who come forward because of rabbinic and community support is much greater than the number of victims who are advised by their rabbis to remain silent."

These two arguments for going to rabbis before secular authorities don't hold up.
The first one, which has been used by Agudah's David Zwiebel, says that because of a minority of cases of wrongful accusations all cases must be vetted by a rabbi. However, what makes rabbis more qualified to vet minors for their truthfulness than police investigators? David Zwiebel himself admitted last year that there is no list of rabbis that are trained to perform such assessments. Furthermore, according to this logic, people should have to ask a rav for permission before taking someone to Beis Din for any grievance. There are cases of wrongful accusations and innocent parties being vindicated only after lengthy proceedings over other matters yet, we don't hear from Agudah that we must do that.

The second argument – or rather, proposition – holds no water either. Rabbi Behrman "believes" that only a small minority of rabbis advise against reporting to the police. Evidence shows otherwise. I am not aware of any evidence to support Rabbi Behrman's belief and he is welcome to share any evidence he has access to that backs up his claim.

In both of these arguments Rabbi Behrman shows his support for the Agudah policy that says all abuse cases must first go to a rabbi for vetting. Yet if his own feeling is that victims or their parents are not required under Jewish law to ask for rabbininc permission before going to the authorities, why doesn't he come right out and advise that people skip the middleman and go directly to the authorities instead of arguing in favor of Agudah's policy? And why doesn't he say that victims and their families should be supported, not shunned or intimidated? That they will be supported throughout the trial, that communities should embrace them and not make it hard for them to find a shidduch?

Rabbi Behrman goes on to say that he doesn't agree with DA Charles Hynes' new plan to compel rabbis to report child sex abuse to authorities because victims will know that the rabbi is a mandated reporter:
"As the law currently stands, victims and their families have the ability to seek the advice of a rabbi with confidence that their allegations will not be disclosed. Parents of victims are often terrified of the psychological effect a public trial would have on victims and their families. Victims often go to the rabbi for support, afraid to report the abuse directly to the authorities, afraid of being intimidated or impugning the reputation of an otherwise-respected member of the community, and afraid that public knowledge will hurt their chances of finding a suitable bride or groom in their community. It is in such cases that the rabbis play an invaluable part; they are often able to persuade a reluctant victim to come forward and testify. To paraphrase what one rabbi told a victim: "I do not say that you may report this crime to the police, I say you must report it to the police."

Rabbi Behrman is suggesting that the current system is working for victims and their families. They can go to a rabbi to have a private discussion about what has transpired knowing that the rabbi won't immediately turn around and report the incident and the rabbi will then be able – at his discretion – to persuade, nay command that they go to the police.

What the Catholic sex scandal has shown us is that leaving the pursuit of justice up to the discretion of religious authorities is a terrible system that leaves all children at risk, but we don't even have to go to the Catholic church for confirmation of this; David Zwiebel, in an interview with Mishpacha Magazine (May 30 page 41,) admitted that the issue of child molestation hasn't been handled properly until now in the frum community.

Victims of sexual abuse and their families have been receiving short shrift in the frum community for far too long. The old policies have not been working, new policies are desperately needed, so why do communal leaders insist on propping up policies that have not protected children until now? It should make you wonder whose interests they are really trying to protect...