Missing the boat: The Consequences of Rabbinic Leadership failing to deal properly with Abuse

By Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn (Da'as Torah blog)
June 18, 2013

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
- Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

The issue of child abuse and reporting abusers has seen welcome dramatic changes in the last few years. 2006 was the watershed with the publication of New York Magazine's "Does the Orthodox Community have a Catholic Church Problem." A few years later the Novominsker Rebbe got up at an Aguda convention and publicly acknowledged that child abuse is a problem also in our community. Aguda leader Rabbi Zweibel advanced this momentum forward a few baby steps. He announced that it was permissible to go to the police - as long as there was "raglayim l'davar" as determined by a rabbi. Despite this progress there still lingered over our community the shame of public discussion, the fear of being labeled a moser, and the difficulty of finding a posek who would not only say to go to the police would acknowledge that he gave the psak.

The dam of filth and nonsense finally broke this year with a series of cases. The Weberman case in Williamsburg. A young lady had the incredible courage to stand up to the entire Satmar community including the rebbe and testify despite strong cross examination - that she had been abused by one of the communities most respected activists. The abuser was convicted and sent to jail. The as yet undetermined guilt or innocence in the Chaim Halpern case in England and the Nachum Rabinowitz case in Brooklyn have many shaking their heads in disbelief. There is the ongoing persecution of Manny Waks and his family for reporting abuse. The Baruch Leibowitz case in which he was convicted and then released for retrial on a technicality connected to the apparently false charges against Samuel Kellner for extortion. Finally the straw that broke the camel's back was the case of Yosef Kolko in which not only was a child molested but a distinguished rav and talmid chachom and his family was driven out of Lakewood - for going to the police despite being told by poskim that he was obligated to do so by halacha. Distressingly despite Kolko's confession and clear evidence of guilt and his conviction - the rabbis who participated in the lynch mob have not acknowledged their error and apologized.

It is clear that child abuse has reached a critical mass in our awareness. The Kellner case involves a very distinguished talmid chachom - Rav Chaim Flohr. He is a man of great principle and very careful with every chumra - and he supported Kellner's reporting abuse. It is no longer the Modern Orthodox versus Chareidim. There are Charedi poskim such as Rav Moshe Sternbuch and Rav Dovid Cohen who tell people to go to the police. Even Rav Yisroel Belsky has publicly announced he agrees. That which we didn't dare whisper five years ago, is the subject of public discussion at the Shabbos table, is the basis of articles in frum media and programs in yeshivas and camps and even the subject of an Artscroll book.

So what is missing? What remains to be done?

Unfortunately what we are missing are the rabbis, the community leaders dealing with the issue properly - both according to the halacha and the psychological reality. The rabbis by and large are being dragged along as we see in Lakewood, Boro Park, Williamsburg, England and Australia. The consequence of this foot dragging and fear of taking leadership roles - is that they are being left behind. They are increasing being viewed as irrelevant for the big issues our lives. The tide has come and yet they insist on staying behind. In the Kolko case there were gedolei Torah who told the father to go to the police - and now they publicly deny it. They are afraid! How can a gadol be afraid to acknowledge what he has poskened?

As a consequence of their lack of constructive participation in this horrible issue, emunas chachom is being conflicted and diminished - chas v'shalom. You can't cause or even allow a father with a molested child being run out of Lakewood - and retain the respect of the parents who have watched this debacle. You can't have kids molested in the mikve and schools, who know that rabbis are the last ones to confide in about their pain. Rabbis who say not to report abusers to the police can not retain the respect of parents and children who know that many more kids will be molested. Everyone except the rabbis know that they have no power to stop a pedophile.