Sunday, January 16, 2022

Upon Further Review...

Rabbi Zev Cohen (Mishpacha)
One of the things that I have been particularly religious about is my belief that all incidents of sexual abuse must be reported to the police. That rabbis are not the ones to determine whether accusations are credible or not. I have not changed my view. There are several reasons for this which I discussed recently. To more or less recap...

Rabbis are not trained to know whether allegations of sexual abuse are true and which are false.  And then there is the fact that often those accused of it are prominent contributing members of the religious community that have excellent reputations. This cannot help but bias their judgment regardless of their sincere commitment to be objective. There have been too many cases where that bias ended up with the abuse continuing - while victims suffered. Sometimes even being accused of lying! 

I can’t imagine the pain of being sexually abused and then not being believed by rabbis that represent the moral compass of their community. 

The fear among many rabbis in the past has been about an innocent man or woman being falsely accused and having their reputation ruined for life. While that is a legitimate concern and has happened, it is way overemphasized since the incidences of false accusations are very rare according to all experts in the field. 

This is why I was skeptical about the idea of setting up Batei Din (religious courts) specifically designated to deal with this plague. The track record of such courts has in the past been dismal. I believed that these courts would be an impediment rather than an aid to justice. 

However, after reading an article in Mishpacha Magazine about what is happening right here in my city of Chicago I have come to the conclusion that there is role for rabbis to play if done the way Rabbi Zev Cohen does it. 

Rabbi Cohen is a Charedi Rav who arrived in Chicago as a young Avreich  by way of the Chicago Community Kollel back in the early 80s. He was among the first ten Avreichim that comprised the new Community Kollel established by Lakewood’s BMG. Since leaving the Kollel he has been serving as the Rav of Congregation Adas Yeshurun in Chicago’s West Roger’s Park for over 35 years  

Rabbi Cohen was interviewed by Jonathan Rosenblum about the Special Beis Din he created for the purpose of dealing with sexual abuse. As far as I know, it is the only one like it in the world. 

What about the concerns I have about such courts? They are pretty much answered in that article.  The most important of which is that when a victim comes to them expressing a desire to go to the police, they are strongly encouraged to do so. No questions asked. But as he pointed out some people are uncomfortable doing that and would rather talk to a rabbi they have learned to trust.

This Beis Din works hand in hand with mental health professionals that have expertise in sex abuse cases. Who  guide them in how to properly handle it. This court has to approval of Chicago’s police department. Who freely admit that the rabbis of this court know their own community better than they do and – with the help of those mental health professional have been doing the right thing.

Another important thing about this Beis Din is that it has the support and participation of the broader Orthodox Jewish Community – including 3 of Chicago’s  leading rabbinic figures. Until his death, RCA and CRC Av Beis Din, Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz (a well known champion of this cause) was an integral part of that Beis Din. His participation speaks volumes. Joining him was the late Telshe Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav  Avrohom Chaim Levine. Joining them and still active is Rav Shmuel Fuerst, Av Beis Din of Agudah of Illinois. (You gotta love my city. Religious politics are always put aside to serve the greater good.)

I found the interview with Rabbi Cohen to be very informative and have come around to the belief that courts with rabbis like these can play a very constructive role if they are structured the way this one is. 

Is this Beis Din Perfect? I doubt it. Nothing is perfect except God. Have they made mistakes over the years? Perhaps. But to the best of my knowledge there were very few if any. I believe that most cases of abuse were (and are) dealt with to the satisfaction of the victims and the protection of the Jewish community. 

There is a reason Rabbi Cohen is such a widely respected religious figure. Respected well beyond the borders of Chicago. It is not about his personal charisma (which he has in abundance). It is about his decades long sincere dedication to the Jewish community and every single individual in it – even those outside of his very popular Shul. This is a man who does not compromise his principles and yet is not a divider. He is a true uniter. And although he surely has his detractors as would any man with decades of service to a community with widely disparate religious views I believe his supporters worldwide outweigh them by order of magnitude. His accomplishments speak for themselves  

My proverbial hat is off to this man.