With Raglayim Ledovor, We Can Step Forward

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sad-childBy Bracha Goetz, Matzav.com

Agudath Israel of America has been making numerous statements recently clarifying their position on reporting abuse to civil authorities. Outrage about these statements (which advocate the reporting of abuse to rabbis before the civil authorities, if one did not actually witness the abuse) has been coming fast and furious.  There is a great deal to celebrate about the Agudah’s important clarification, however.

On public transportation, recently many signs have cropped up, advising us: “If You See Something, Say Something” – referring to unattended packages or suspicious activities that need to be reported to the police.  We are further advised by metropolitan transit authorities not to try to investigate these suspicions on our own.  Likewise, the Aguda is now getting the word out to us as well that “If You See Something, Say Something.”  If one sees abuse, that person is obligated to report it to the police.

We are also advised not to investigate suspicions about abuse on our own.  In contrast to the public transportation campaign, though, eizeh dimyan, the phrase which Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv uses for mere suspicions or conjectures, about abuse need to be brought first to a rov well experienced in both cases of abuse and the halachos pertaining to reporting, in order to determine if the suspicions have “raglayim ledavar” – legs to stand on, halachically – which are required in order for those that did not actually see the abuse to make a police report.

During an interview on the Zev Brenner radio show on the Motzei Shabbos following a published clarification of the Agudah’s stance, Rabbi Chaim David Zweibel, Executive Vice President, emphasized that it is not only halachically permissible for a survivor of abuse to report to the civil authorities a perpetrator who is still at large and a danger to others – it is an obligation. This point never seemed to be as clearly and strongly emphasized before, and it is of utmost importance to publicize this vital information.

Rabbi Zweibel pointed out that our halachic obligation is much more stringent and far-reaching than the secular law. All Jews who have been abused by a perpetrator who can still be a danger to others are required by halacha to report their abuser directly to civil authorities.  Others, learning of the abuse, can only report to the civil authorities after first checking with a knowledgeable rabbi to determine if it is halachically permissible for them to report.  Thus, every single Jewish person becomes a mandated reporter when necessary.

When an adult female who was a survivor of abuse called the radio talk show to ask if she should report the abuse inflicted upon her by a relative in her childhood, Rabbi Zweibel clarified that if the abuser could still harm others, then according to halacha, she had an obligation to report the abuse to the civil authorities, whether it be the police or a child protection agency.

If children are molested, while still children, they would not have an obligation to report abuse, just as they do not have an obligation to do any other mitzvah, like keeping Shabbos or eating kosher food, but the mitzvos are considered necessary for their training to become responsible Jewish adults.   Nobody else can do these mitzvos for them, but parents can help support, assist and train their children as much as possible so that they can fulfill mitzvos. Children who are survivors of abuse certainly need a substantial amount of assistance, support, and training in order to be able to make a report to a civil authority as well, and this chinuch is vital for the wellbeing of our victimized youth.

Our community is gaining the clarity needed to understand the importance of finally containing our predators.  As this discernment builds, the essential encouragement required for children, as well as the adult survivors of childhood abuse to report to protect others, can be provided more and more readily.

It is a major step forward for Agudath Israel to publicly seek to clarify that according to halacha, the survivors themselves are obligated to report directly to the civil authorities if the perpetrator can still be a danger to the public. All others, upon hearing second-hand about the abuse from a survivor, would still need to check with a rabbi who is an expert in both abuse and the halachos pertaining to abuse. Those that did not suffer from the abuse directly would need evidence that reaches the threshold of raglayim ledavar (“roughly, reason to believe“) before reporting what they heard to the civil authorities.

The same strong Torah obligation to report abuse that the actual victims have, does not apply to those who have been told about the abuse by the victim.  This means that those who hear about a survivor’s abuse at the hands of a perpetrator who is still of danger to others need to encourage the actual survivors to report to the civil authorities. As more and more rabbis publically clarify how vital it is for survivors to make these difficult reports, the community will gradually rally more and more around the survivors rather than the predators, for the betterment of all.

Then Rav Elyashiv’s directive will finally be widely put into practice. When the Rav was asked whether a community member who has sexually abused a child should be reported to the police, he responded: “One should report to the government when one knows [from circumstantial evidence] that the accused has transgressed; and in this there is benefit to society” (Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Yeshurun, XV, Nisan 5765, p. 641).

“However,” as the Agudah makes clear in its most recent published statement on the subject, “where the circumstances of the case do not rise to the threshold level of raglayim ledavar, the matter should not be reported to the authorities. In the words of Rav Elyashiv, perhaps the most widely respected senior halachic authority in the world today, “I see no basis to permit” reporting “where there is no raglayim ledavar, but rather only ‘eizeh dimyon’ (roughly, some mere conjecture); if we were to permit it, not only would that not result in ‘tikkun ha’olam,’ it could lead to ‘heres ha’olam’ (destruction of the world)” [Yeshurun, Volume 7, page 641].”

Those who have not witnessed the abuse themselves need to seek the aid of a rov competent to make these types of decisions about whether it is permissible to report.  The actual victims know what has taken place. The circumstances of their cases rose to the threshold level of raglayim ledavar, the moment their innocence got ripped away.

Rav Hillel Weinberg, Rosh Yeshivas of Yeshiva Aish HaTorah in Yerushalayim, Israel, wrote last week:

Let us unite to find the lost, torn, injured children of the Al-mighty and return them with healthy bodies and spirits, neshama and nefesh, to their Father, our Father, who cries out for them – Ayekka? (where are you?).

Agudath Yisroel has stepped forward with vital help.  We, in turn, can help the Agudah’s statement to be actualized loudly and clearly.  Through providing the extensive support necessary for survivors to have the courage to report abuse to the civil authorities as halachically required in order to protect others, may we all be blessed with the revealed goodness of Divine protection.  And may we soon bring back all our lost, torn and injured children.

Bracha Goetz is the author of fifteen children’s books, including  Remarkable Park, Let Your Fingers Do the Mitzvos and The Invisible Book. She also coordinates a Jewish Big Brother and Big Sister program in Baltimore, Maryland. Mrs. Goetz can be reached at bgoetzster@gmail.com.

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30 COMMENTS

  1. Agudah has not changed any position. They’ve simply reiterated what they’ve always maintained on this issue. And that is what Maran HaRav Yosef Shalom Elyashev shlit”a paskened long ago.

    It’s important to note, as the Agudah has, that Rav Elyashev’s psak always requires that a person ask a shaila from a competent posek to determine if a particular situation rises to the halachic level of Raglayim Ladavar. Rav Elyashev clearly stated (as the Agudah pointed out) that a layman cannot determine himself if Raglayim Ladavr has been reached in a situation, and he should chas v’shalom not be moser a yid unless a posek authorizes it.

  2. It should also be pointed out, as HaRav Chaim Dovid Zweibel shlit”a did on the aforementioned radio show, that if abuse occurred a while ago, and the perpetrator is no longer committing abuse, it is halachicly strictly prohibited, per mesira, from reporting him (since he is no longer actively abusing.)

  3. Most people are not sharing the writers optimism. If anything, things are more vague than before.

    You can’t say “report if you have raglayim ldavar” and then say ” but to determine whether its raglayim ldavar-ask a Rav”

    You are defacto then telling everyone that in all cases – they must go to a Rav-by enagaing in this ‘deliberate ambuguity.’

  4. Mrs. Goetz,
    I admire your article and your tenacity on this issue. Yes, this is a big step forward however, I think we might be dressing this up too much. Much is lacking.

    I am being told to check with a Rov “Competent in these matters” first.

    Not easy, but I can live with that framework, IF there was indeed
    A. A list of approved poskim “with experience in these matters”
    B. A hotline to reach them, day or night

    If we are going to insist that we do this, then we have to make it available. Otherwise, its smoke and mirrors. How is a small-fry guy like me going to reach a posek “with experience in these matters”? I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHO THAT IS, AND NO ONE HAS TOLD ME!

    All of this tells me one thing. It is not enough.

    I hope and daven that this is a watershed moment. Until then, I am deeply worried, scared and hurt.

    Umacha Hashem Dimah ma’al kol panim….

  5. Rav Elyashiv’s own words are:?????? ???? ?????? ????? ???? ??? ????? ?????? ?????

    Which means that the only time there is a heter to go to arka’os shel akum (????? ?? ????? ??? ???), is if the abuser will continue to abuse and there is no way for us to stop it.

    How can people ignore what Rav Elyashiv says?

  6. this type of abuse totally kills the victim and its family. its terrible and the victim unfortunately has to work crazy hard for years to become a survivor and not commit suicide c”v

  7. Rav Elyashev was very makpid to ensure that an innocent person’s life is not ruined bgy chas vshalom being falsely massered and accused. That’s why the posek hador said you can’t automatically report and must ask a shaila first.

  8. Mr. Burstein (comment #6) is 100% correct. Rav Elyashev strictly holds if it is at all possible — and if so all such efforts must be expended — to stop the abuse without involving the goyishe authorities, it must be done so rather than call any outside authorities.

    Furthermore, stipulates Rav Elyashev, that if the abuse occurred in the past and it is no longer occurring (i.e. the former abuser is no longer abusing), it is strictly prohibited (per hilchos mesira) to report him to the authorities — sinc he is no longer an immediate danger to society.

  9. “When an adult female who was a survivor of abuse called the radio talk show to ask if she should report the abuse inflicted upon her by a relative in her childhood, Rabbi Zweibel clarified that if the abuser could still harm others, then according to halacha, she had an obligation to report the abuse to the civil authorities, whether it be the police or a child protection agency.”

    Let me get this straight. So if the woman feels that the abuser may not harm others even thought he abused her she should not report it? I find this to be unempathetic and unrealistic.

    I worked as a teacher in a public school, and reported child abuse to the authorities when unfortunately a Jewish child showed me marks on her arm that were inflicted by her mother. One thing I did not do before I reported her was to ask myself whether this child’s mother would be a threat to her other children.

  10. The posek hador was very clear. He did not say go to a Rav he said to go to the authorities if you have raglayim l’davar and he will NOT stop. Statistics prove that HE will not stop. If your child tells you that someone touched him inappropriately or tried to drag him into a car, you have raglayim l’davar. That is a fact. And that is something that needs to be reported to the authorities and not something to be discussed with a Rav. Stop that person before he hurts and molests your neighbor’s child THAT is your achrius.

  11. It seems to me that many of you are missing the ENTIRE point of the article. “Rabbi Zweibel pointed out that our halachic obligation is much more stringent and far-reaching than the secular law. All Jews who have been abused by a perpetrator who can still be a danger to others are required by halacha to report their abuser directly to civil authorities.”
    The issues of Raglayim Ladavar are not relevant to the Agudah’s change in position.

    The point is that if one HAS WITNESSED the abuse, e.g., those who have been abused, or have watched others being abused, have an absolute halachic obligation to report the abuse the CIVIL authorities. There is absolutely no need to poskim any Rav of any kind, as the halacha was made clear by Rabbi Zweibel. That is the change or the clarification. People who have been abused may no longer keep it a secret; they are OBLIGATED HALACHICALLY to report it.

  12. Bracha,
    I am astounded and shocked that you of all people would cave into such ridiculousness! What does Raglayim Ladavar mean? Oh! Go to a rav to find out! Every single scientific study shows that perpetrators do not stop molesting and 99% of cases reported are valid. And the 1% that isn’t, always involves custody battles.
    it needs to be done with a tremendous amount of support and not before the survivor is emotionally prepared for the process.

  13. It seems that we care more about the abuser’s feelings, future, situation that that of the abused. Before you jump on this, allow me to explain. Many agree. The truth is people are screaming and angry as the writer implies. I highly doubt this can be the correct interpretation from a compassionate Torah. My father A”H, a simply man old timer used to say that “seichel iz a tiere zach”. I believe common sense must always apply. Sometimes a Rav is not accessible and even if so it is not easy to find one that is educated in this complex area.
    In order to implement a serious thing such as this this has to be priority 1. This is not a case of geneivah which itself is terrible – It’s our children’s lives at stake R”L.

  14. Don’t whitewash the truth: victims, their families, and advocates are censured, marginalized and even have their homes burned down for reporting the truth about abuse to the police.

  15. Jake,Ben Torah and Feivel,

    The premise of the question presented to Rav Elyashiv is that we are unable to stop a predator without utilizing law enforcement. If you believe otherwise, say so and kindly provide some support for your position.

    Instead of selecting a few words and using them out of context, read the entire exchange between Rabbi Feivel Cohen and Rav Elyashiv. Start with the detailed shaila and read all the way through to the answer Rav Elyashiv gives to the follow up question.

    When you do read the letters, you may note that there is only one very limited and specific situation where Rav Elyashiv instructs that a knowledgeable rav be consulted. This is in a case where a boy will be removed from his parents’ home and sent to a non-Jewish or Chiloni home.

    Even in this situation Rav Elyashiv states clearly that a shaila may only be asked in a case where the boy is not in physical danger.

    Every other situation in the psak is a directive from Rav Elyashiv to the hamoin am. No shailas or rav needed.

    Why the deception? If you disagree with Rav Elyashiv’s psak say so. You’re entitled to your opinion. You’re not entitled to distort his clearly written words.

  16. Ben,

    The issue you raise poses a halachic question. If someone were to impede a Hatzala vehicle from getting to a person in medical emegergency by blocking their path, or if someone were to obstruct a fire engine from getting to a fire, would this not also be reportable as a rodef to the authorities?

    So why is there not clarification that those rabbis who forbid people from going to the police IN KNOWN CASES where there is more than “raglayim ladavar” are just as dangerous to society as the molesters themselves and should be reported to the authorities for obstruction of justice?

    Until we address the issue of cover-ups that has been going on, it is a “Bracha Levatala” to tell people to go to the police. As you note, people have been punished for even speaking up about the issue. Families have literally been run out of town for publicizing the abuse of their children or reporting it to the police, and great pressure is placed on victims of abuse to drop charges.

    It is perplexing why we still do not address this issue head on.

    Asher
    lipnera@gmail.com

  17. Comment #6 is 100% correct. Rav Elyashev strictly holds if it is at all possible — and if so all such efforts must be expended — to stop the abuse without involving the goyishe authorities, it must be done so rather than call any outside authorities.

    Furthermore, stipulates Rav Elyashev, that if the abuse occurred in the past and it is no longer occurring (i.e. the former abuser is no longer abusing), it is strictly prohibited (per hilchos mesira) to report him to the authorities — sinc he is no longer an immediate danger to society.

  18. This piece is absurd. Its about control and appeasement. Ask any cop or therapist. If you have the slightest suspicion of abuse they want your call.

  19. I am pleased to see this out-pouring of response.
    But make no mistake about the intent of the article. The writer has been working to get the word out for several years now. Mrs. Goetz is an activist in the field, in person and in print.
    If she gives a nod to Agudah, it is to both encourage their forward movement, and to give courage to those of us (most of us) who are too timid to speak out, for fear of being ostracized.
    Mrs. Goetz devotes considerable time and energy, advocating for reform to root out this uncivil and heinous behavior that infests society at large, and has wormed its way into the heart of our community.
    So, read the article again, with this in mind, and you will see that the concerns you express are deeply shared by the writer.
    I hope that this out-pouring of response will encourage her to continue in this important work.

  20. I agree, Bracha Goetz has been an advocate for these issues for a number of years now and i give her tremendous credit for her work. As a survivor who suffers tremendously from all that occurred in my life, I do not have the patience for these detailed, confusing discussions. I am glad that others are making the effort, still not near enough is being done for those of us who are victims.
    I so agree, if all the issues with perpetrators are taken care of, “the community will gradually rally more and more around the survivor’s rather than the predators for the betterment of all”. Thank you for listening.

  21. Rav Feivel Cohen shlit”a, whom Rav Elyashev shlit”a addressed his psak to, has said Rav Elyashev very clearly insisted that a Rov FIRST be consulted prior to considering calling the secular authorities. This fact can easily be confirmed by calling Rav Feivel at his shul in Flatbush.

  22. Rav Elyashev insisted that a Rov first be consulted in cases involving child abuse by parents as well as molestation claims against third-parties. In no teshiva whatsoever has the posek hador Rav Elyashev shlit”a ever authorized going to the authorities based on a claim that a Rov hasn’t first vetted.

  23. Bracha Goetz does justice in this respectful article that points to some of the existing problems. She is commended for departing from those who throw schmutz at Torah leaders, opting to work WITH them to get needed clarification.

    There are more perps out there, and we must have a system to weed them out. We may never prevent certain tzoros, but all those possible must be addressed. As a Torah community, this must be done with bold leadership.

  24. I commend our Torah Sages and Jewish communal leaders for insuring that innocent people who are falsely accused of molestation are protected from being falsely charged by the secular authorities. The lengths Rav Elyashev went to insure such a travesty does not occur is truly remarkable and commendable. We must always follow Rav Elyashev’s instruction in insuring not to report someone to the police on a whim, since he may be innocent — and a false accusation will permanently destroy his reputation and potentially his very freedom.

  25. It’s clear to me that people still have the WRONG priorities. Worried about mesirah? Worry first about the children whose lives are at stake!

    The Torah does NOT want cover-ups. As “Stop the Deception” stated, the only time to ask a shaila is, number one, when a child is NOT in danger. Are you really willing to risk your child on “maybe the abuser ‘got better’ or ‘stopped’?” THEY WILL NEVER STOP. It has been proven time and again. They don’t stop. They will keep abusing as long as they are free to do so. Raglayim ledavar would include knowing that this person is a legitimate threat.

    Do you know that in the Kletzky case, my best friend told me “Oh yes, this murderer lived around the corner from me… all the children knew to stay away from him.” So…. basically the kids are smarter than the adults… and the adults knew and kept quiet!

    The blood of the innocents is on our hands unless we step forward and DO something instead of standing idly by.

  26. It would be greatly appreciated if the letter can be written in a manner which is clear and concise , not being ambiguous in is interpretation.

    This issue has been going on for approximately one month and it appears that there isstill a lack of clarity concerning the psak or statement of the Rasbhag, Maran Hagoan Harav Elyashev Shlita.

    It should be explained like the Kitzur Shulchan Orech , which is understood by the masses of our people.

  27. #27 “Unwilling”: Stop trying to use Leiby’s blood for your agenda. The murderer in that case had no history that would have allowed anyone to do anything to him or about him before the crime.

  28. #27:
    The fact that “all the kids knew to stay away from him” means nothing more than that the guy was creepy and weird and so kids stayed away from him.

    There are no words to describe the horror of what this rotzeiach did. But #29 is correct: there was no history.

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