Jews' Advice to Parents on Sex Abuse Criticized

By Marian Scott (Vancouver Sun)
July 27, 2011

MONTREAL . Montreal's orthodox Jewish community has told parents to explain to children before they head off to summer camp that it's an obligation - not a sin - to tell a parent or rabbi if they are touched inappropriately, advice that "hijacks the criminal justice system," critics say.

The advisory that the Beit Din, a rabbinical court, sent out to parents marks a departure for a community that has been accused of avoiding the sensitive topic of sexual abuse.

"That already is a huge step for the Orthodox community," said Diane Sasson, executive director of Auberge Shalom, a centre for women and children affected by conjugal violence.

That the Jewish court is acknowledging the existence of sexual abuse is a sign of progress, Ms. Sasson said.

But an expert on sexual abuse in the Orthodox community criticized the religious court for not telling parents to report incidents to police or youth-protection authorities.

"The Beit Din hijacks the criminal justice system because it supplants it and usurps the authority," said Amy Neustein, editor of the book, Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals.

Ms. Neustein lost custody of her six-year-old daughter in 1986 after she alleged her former husband molested the child. The PhD sociologist accused rabbinical courts of hushing up abuse.

"The Beit Din have become very proficient at obstructing justice," Ms. Neustein said in a telephone interview from Fort Lee, N.J.

But Rabbi Saul Emanuel, executive director of the rabbinical court, bristled at the suggestion the Beit Din should have told people to contact authorities.

"The notice doesn't discuss an incident. The notice talks about education," he said.

"There have sometimes been incidents that perhaps may have been inappropriate, so people are told to be on guard, to make sure they protect their kids," he said.

Rabbi Emanuel said it's up to people to decide for themselves whom to call if an incident arises. "That's not our purview to discuss what people should do," he said.

Howard Nadler, a liaison manager at a Montreal youth support group, welcomed the advisory - but said it should have told people to contact the proper authorities.

"I'm impressed they're informing their community in this way. But they should be reporting it to Youth Protection," said Mr. Nadler, whose organization, Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, works with the Department of Youth Protection.

Michael Whitman, senior rabbi of Adath Israel Poale Zedek Congregation in Hampstead, Que., agreed.

"Although these incidents are rare, they happen and we should not ignore that they happen," he said.

Rabbis lack training to deal with the sensitive issue of abuse, Ms. Sasson said.