Friday, June 12, 2009

Markey - Something is Better than Nothing

Last week I had an opportunity to speak personally with Rabbi Yosef Blau, Mashgiach Ruchani at Yeshivas Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan. He was in Chicago attending a Hachnasas Sefer Torah sponsored by the Hebrew Theological College class of 1969. He was their principal here at the time.

I asked him if he still supported the Markey Bill. That is a bill sponsored by New York State Assemblywoman Marge Markey (pictured above) that opens up for one year a window of opportunity for victims of sex abuse that are now past the statute of limitations for suing their abusers and their employers at the time of the abuse.

Without a moment’s hesitation Rabbi Blau answered in the affirmative. This did not surprise me in the least. But because of all the controversy I wondered if he had ad a change of heart. He did not.

The controversy is based on legitimate concerns about the cost/benefit ratio. Both the Agudah Moetzes and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz - a hero in many causes no less in the fight against sex abuse - have opposed the bill. They are concerned that the harm this bill may cause to Yeshivos in general is far greater than the benefit to past victims. They also do not support it because it does not really deal with abuse itself. It only gives past victims an opportunity to receive financial compensation for the crimes done to them.

As I have said in the past these are all valid concerns. It is no small thing to be concerned about the future of Jewish education. But as I have also said, the bill needs to be supported anyway. I urge all who read this blog to support it. With all of its flaws it does serve a purpose. And it will instill ‘the fear of God’ into institutions that have been treating this issue casually.

Two of the concerns of those who oppose the bill - both of which were mentioned by Rabbi Horowitz in his columns - were corrected. From an article in the Forward:

Markey made two significant changes to her bill in order to get it the promise of a vote by the full Assembly. She added language that explicitly includes public institutions in the one-year window, addressing criticism that the bill unfairly targeted religious groups. And she put an age limit — 53 — on who could sue over past abuse, in order to dispel complaints about the possibility of 80-year-old abuse claims prompting lawsuits.

Rabbi Horowitz had made the legitimate claim that this bill targeted only parochial schools and was supported by those who hate religion and were out only to hurt parochial schools. That is no longer true.

The fear about really old claims is no longer there either. Even though it is still possible that lawsuits will be filed against Yeshivos and day schools who are now run by entirely different administrations, faculties, and board members - that fear has been has been greatly reduced by limiting the age limit of those who can sue.

It is still a flawed bill. But this coming Tuesday, June 16th the bill is scheduled for a vote in the New York State Assembly. And though I honor both men as heroes of this cause - I agree with Rabbi Blau on this one and not Rabbi Horowitz.

Even if the bill is as bad as Rabbi Horowitz says. It is something. And something is better than nothing.

What about the fear that this could destroy Jewish education? Yes - there are unbelievable financial pressures on the schools now and that alone endangers Jewish education as we know it. And the passage of this bill will certainly increase the fears along those lines. But justice demands that we not stand idly by yet again and let another opportunity slip past us. One has to have Bitachon -faith - that only those institutions that deserve it will fall.