Wednesday, September 01, 2021

But Then Again - There's This...

Rabbi Ephraim Padwa (Independent)
It’s getting harder and harder to respect certain segments of Orthodox Jewry. Even though I am a firm believer in Elu V’Elu – sometimes there are lines crossed that bar Elu V’Elu from being applied. 

This is how I feel about the extreme left that trashes tradition if does not conform to the current values of general society. And this is how I feel about the extreme right that trashes victims of sexual abuse. 

Elu V’Elu is not unlimited in its application. There is a limited range of differing views where one can apply that concept. And in both the case of the extreme left and extreme right, lines have been crossed that in my view puts them both very close to the outer edge of Orthodoxy if not outside of it completely..

 My issues with the left has been discussed here many times. Today it is about the right. 

Yesterday, I expressed my enthusiastic support about a ruling by Rav Chaim Kanievsky, whom many on the right consider the Gadol Hador. He ruled that one must report report a sexual abuser to secular authorities.  And that it is forbidden to ignore that legal obligation. 

Rav Kanievsky is not the only Rav or Posek to have issued such a ruling. There were many others who issued similar rulings well before he did 3 years ago. Including the late Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, ZTL - Av Beis Din of both the RCA’s  highly regarded Beth Din of America; and the CRC Beis Din. And Rav Shmuel Fuerst, Av Beis Din of Agudah of Illinois. There were no ‘ifs ands or buts’ about it.  

What about Mesirah, the Halacha that forbids a Jew from informing on a fellow Jew to secular authorities? There are a variety of opinions about if and when that Halacha is applied. But even according to the strictures of the Charedi world it does not apply here. From the Jerusalem Post:

Rabbi Kanievsky, the great Torah scholar of his generation,” is saying clearly and sharply that one must report sex abusers to the police and that sexual abuse is akin to murder of the soul…

There is no (Mesirah) when it comes to sexual abuse. 

It can’t get much clearer than that - from a more authoritative source. But there are certain segments of the Charedi world that believe it is Mesirah and forbid reporting a sex abuser. From The Times (UK):

Child abusers from a British religious community should not be reported to the police, one of its leaders has argued.

Paltiel Schwarcz, a leading rabbinical authority among ultra-Orthodox Jews, said informing statutory authorities in the UK of a suspected Jewish child sex offender was generally “a severe sin”. 

Lest anyone think Rabbi Schwarz is a lone wolf, he is not: 

In 2013 an episode of Dispatches on Channel 4 showed undercover footage of Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, an ultra-Orthodox authority, telling an alleged child abuse victim that he should not speak to the police.

 Padwa is the leader of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations. More than 100 synagogues are members of the union, and many other ultra-Orthodox organisations, including schools, are affiliated to it.

 Which gives lie to the following claim by the organization he heads: 

The union said the evidence given on its behalf to the inquiry last year “clearly and unambiguously presented the position of the union that mesirah does not apply where the person being reported is suspected of causing criminal harm to others, such as in the case of child abuse”.

I have no patience for a rabbi like this. Saying one thing in public while saying the complete opposite in private is a huge Chilul HaShem. He might have thought he could get away with deceiving the public about his religious beliefs. But in today’s world of investigative reporting, that is a fool’s errand. 

I get why these rabbis feel that informing on an alleged sex abuser is so terrible: 

(W)hen the abuser is married with children… his family would be “destroyed” 

That is surely an unfortunate outcome. But what about the damage caused by that abuser to their victims and their families? Where is their sympathy for them? And what about the liklihood that there will be other victims in the future – if he is allowed to walk the streets with impunity? A community unaware of what he is and what he has done? And will probably continue to do.

Interestingly Rabbi Schwarz suggests that there are medical ways to treat sex abusers. I assume he means chemical castration. I doubt that is a Halachic option. Sterilization is Halachicly forbidden.  

And what about justice for the victim? Is he or she supposed to suffer in silence?  What about the fact that a life has been ruined? What about the victim’s family? Are their lives not also ruined? Is the absuer’s family the only thing that counts? 

What about the fact that in so many cases of abuse, the victim goes OTD? Is there no sense of responsibility among these rabbis for throwing them to the wolves in order to spare the abuser’s family? And if the victim ends up committing suicide, will they absolve themselves of any guilt for that? If they are going to have compassion, it needs to be applied fairly. 

The article ends with the following: 

A source close to the union had said Schwarcz was “entitled to his opinion”, but yesterday a spokesman claimed his paper was “merely an unaddressed, unsigned, incomplete” draft of an academic dissertation that he “sent for review and consultation regarding its standing in English law”. 

I disagree. He is not entitled to his opinion when it can so easily end in tragedy. Even if he might believe his intentions are good.  Because as I’ve said many times, we know where the road that is paved with good intentions leads.