By Rabbi William Handler (The Jewish Press)
May 26, 2013
Note from the editor:
Rabbi William Handler is member of The Bris Milah Anti-Defamation League, which endorses metzitzah b’peh. He was also a supporter of Rabbi Yisroel Moshe Weingarten, convicted of molesting his daughter. I’m mentioning these two facts up front, so that they not become the topic of discussion by our readers. Rabbi Handler probably has very little in common with our Zionist, pro-Israel editorial policy, nor does he probably endorse our view that the Internet can be used sanely by educated religious Jews. Yet, when he sent us the following article for publication, I was struck by one important argument he is making which we, as a religious community, should debate:
Do we want the City and State child welfare authorities, as well as the City and State legal systems, to be automatically in charge of cases of child abuse in our community? Rabbi Handler says we don’t—and tries to argue in favor of turning to Gdolei Yisroel to supervise and even try these cases.
Personally, I don’t believe the author is making a successful argument, in light of the colossal failure of our religious leaders to respond, much less supervise and try, in one abuse case after another. But, those failures aside, is Rabbi Handler wrong in proposing that when we invite the secular authorities into our community, we’re doing this to our own detriment? Should we accept that our Gedolim simply will not measure up to this challenge?
We’d like to publish your views on this issue, which has been dividing our community.
I want to warn our Orthodox Jewish community of a new danger: the existence of a clique of pseudo-experts who are working among us in the field of “Criminal Molestation.”
These “experts”—self-styled “helping professionals”— are actively seeking-out people whom they believe to be “molesters,” with the goal of turning them over to the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.
This is an enterprise fraught with the most serious dangers for our community.
Anyone can make an accusation of “molestation.” There are usually no witnesses.
So how can anyone determine whether the accusers are telling the truth or making the whole thing up?
Well, say the “experts,” we should assume that the accusation is true, because it’s highly improbable that anyone would make up such a grotesque story; and, in the unlikely event that someone did make up such a story, the “experts” in the district attorney’s office know how to question the accusers to make sure they aren’t lying.
Now, since the whole enterprise revolves around the ehrlichkeit (honesty) of the accusers and the honesty and skill of the district attorney, it is reasonable to ask a couple of poignant questions:
1. Is the accuser really telling the truth, or is he a skilled liar, who seeks to settle a score with the accused, gain custody of children in a divorce case, or just plain do harm to someone for any reason at all?
2. Do prosecutors always do their job properly; do they always seek justice?
Those of you who have followed the Sholom Rubashkin case closely, know that prosecutors don’t necessarily care about the truth—often, their actions are based on political considerations, or they just want to show another successful conviction on their resume, and they’re willing to get it by any means necessary, legitimate or otherwise.
Those of you who may have had the occasion to get entangled with NY City’s ACS/DCP (Administration for Children’s Services / Division of Child Protection) will understand what I mean when I speak of the dangers of getting entangled in a Kafkaesque government bureaucracy.
Perhaps your baby spilled some hot tea on his hand and got a serious burn. You call Hatzoloh, and the ambulance speeds your screaming child to the hospital emergency room. (NOTE: this is a true story, it happened exactly as I’m describing it)
Before your child is even treated for his condition, and while he is still screaming in pain, the emergency room staff will insist that you submit to an interview with a social worker, who will try to determine whether you were guilty of child neglect.
This procedure is mandated by City law. As “mandated reporters,” emergency room staff are required to report any suspicious indications of child neglect or abuse (as are other government licensed professionals, like psychiatrists and doctors).
Please remember, the social worker gets paid to find cases of child neglect. If she does not find any cases, there is no justification for the existence of her agency, no justification for paying her salary and benefits. So, she has a clear bias in favor of seeking something—anything—that would justify a finding of “child neglect.”
The social worker’s report is sent to ACS/DCP.
Shortly thereafter, you will be visited by ACS workers, who will appear at your home suddenly—often in the middle of the night—to conduct interviews with your small children in an attempt to discover and document “child neglect.”
Each child will be interviewed individually, in a van parked outside your home. You will not be permitted to be present at these interviews. Any silly or indiscreet statement by your innocent child may be accepted as documented evidence of “child neglect.”
If your child mentions any behavior that the City defines as “child neglect,” slapping, yelling, etc., ACS may, at their discretion, haul you into Family Court and petition the court for the removal of ALL of your children from your home to live with foster parents.
You will have to spend a fortune on lawyers.
If you’re lucky enough to avoid losing your children, you’re still not home free. The law gives ACS up to an additional 60 days to continue their investigation of your family.
ACS will now send a “field worker” to your home to conduct “surveillance,” to observe how you interact with your family. The worker will note everything you do on her clipboard. This officious busybody will visit with you for hours upon hours, getting on your nerves, as you attempt to take care of your family. You must be extremely careful about what you say and do in front of her.
I’m sure most mothers with large families will agree that this is a nightmare scenario. However, it is something that is going on in our community right now. Just ask your friends and neighbors. As I said, I have witnessed it personally.
Now, if this is the way the City’s “professionals” abuse decent Jewish parents whose only crime was that their child accidentally spilled some hot tea on his hand, imagine how “compassionately” they treat someone who has been accused of the much more serious crime of molestation.
Do you really think the prosecutors are going to treat anyone accused of molestation fairly? Do you really believe they are going to assume that he is innocent until proven guilty?
God forbid that I should in any way minimize that great pain and the terrible damage that is inflicted on innocents by even one molester in our community. There definitely are such people in our midst, and we must take action to stop them.
But involving the cumbersome, insensitive, and largely incompetent government apparatus in the internal problems of our community can only result in even more terrible tragedies, chas v’sholom.
It borders on Mesirah (turning in a fellow Jew), and it is virtually certain that it will result in many innocent people going to jail for years and years, destroying their lives and the lives of their families and children.
I know that there have been complaints that rabbis have declined to take action when accusations of molestation have been presented to them. I have already discussed the conundrum they face earlier in this article—should they take action on the say-so of a single person, who may have malicious intent to harm the accused.
The Talmud tells us that “He who is not an expert in the laws of marriage and divorce should stay out of the picture, lest he increase the number of illegitimate mamzeirim in Klal Yisroel.”—only gedolei Yisroel—true experts—have the competence to rule in these matters.
The truth of the matter is that a situation this serious does not belong to your average rabbi, no matter how sincere and pious he may be. It must be refereed to our top Torah leadership, just as the question of Internet use was.
Only our gedolei Yisroel have the siyata d’shmaya (Divine help) necessary to guide us on the proper course of action in these painful and perplexing situations.
Can we settle for anything less in matters of pikuach nefesh (life and death)?