Dealing with Scandal

       Last week’s media reports of lurid allegations of abuse by several distinguished rabbis and educators are dismaying, horrifying and shocking – but not surprising. I start with three premises that inform the entire approach to these sordid tales.

     First, all human beings are flawed, rabbis included. All people sin, some people’s sins are crimes, and like for any sin or crime, there are gradations of severity that pertain and ultimately define the act.  The abuse of children is especially heinous. Please note that this is not intended at all as a comment on the guilt or innocence of the accused herein, but is meant as a general statement. I cannot pass judgment on the allegations herein.

Second, all crime victims should report the alleged victimization to the police – especially when the allegations involve the abuse or molestation of minors. This is a matter which I addressed in our congregation well over a decade ago, and have reinforced several times: don’t come to me. I cannot investigate or make arrests. Go right to the police and prosecution. They make arrests and prosecute. The judicial system exonerates or punishes. Rabbis have no role, despite what others might argue.

Crimes are police matters, and crimes against children are a classic case of pikuach nefesh (saving lives) that override even the laws against mesira (informing on another Jew). Anyone who thinks it necessary to first consult a panel when children are in potential danger might as well consult a panel when the question becomes whether or not to desecrate Shabbat for someone who is ill. By the time the panel convenes, the patient can be dead. By the time the panel decides whether to report the crime, more children could have been harmed. So crime victims should go right to the police.

Third, the media lie. Sometimes their lies are outright falsehoods, and sometimes their lies are just exaggerations – but lie they do, wantonly and persistently. Some media outlets lie in order to sensationalize their stories and attract more readers, and some media outlets lie in order to further a religious or political agenda they have. This, unfortunately, I know from first-hand experience.

To give but the most recent example, the Israeli broadsheet Haaretz reported last month that I had come under fire for writing in this space about the “Decline and Fall of the American Empire,” especially some comments about the intelligence of the typical Obama voter. To their writing, I had come “under fire,” the congregation was in an “uproar,” the Board was meeting and letters was being circulated. The pressure on me was allegedly intense.

But every single word was an absolute falsehood, an utter fabrication. Haaretz even contacted me before printing their story, and I graciously informed them that it was all untrue. There was no uproar, no fire, no Board meeting, no letter from the Board, no pressure – nothing. A complete invention.  Less than a handful of people disagreed with what I wrote or said, which is likely a weekly occurrence, anyway.  I told Haaretz that if they print such a story, they should know that they are printing a complete untruth. Naturally, they printed it the next day. All it took was one person to tell them (anonymously, of course) that such-and-such was happening, and that the offending party (me) offended their far leftist agenda, and it was published, and then picked up and embellished by web sites that traffic in innuendo and anti-Orthodox bashing. And people read it, thought it is true, and – irony – my reputation was enhanced in the circles I admire most. Nonetheless, lies remain lies, and media lying is a daily occurrence.

The upshot is that, therefore, I take these allegations with less than a grain of salt, especially the anonymous ones.

But here’s my main problem with the lurid allegations that surfaced last week. Of course, we have sympathy for the alleged victims, and we must have sympathy for the alleged victims, both genuinely and because it is politically correct to have sympathy for alleged victims. But the limits of my sympathy are tested when victims do not come forward and prosecute in real time – when the events occur – and instead wait for 20, 30 or even 40 years to come forward and do nothing more than besmirch the reputations of their alleged abusers.

The flip side of coming forward and lodging a complaint with the police is that the accused then have the ability to defend themselves, to have their proverbial day in court. The victims inform the police, testify before the Grand Jury (if appropriate), and testify at trial. They are cross-examined. The victim’s credibility can be impeached.  The defendants can testify as well and mount a defense. A jury of their peers decides their fate.  At the end of the process, the accused are either convicted and punished, or exonerated and pray that they can recover their reputations. Either way, the system is set up to protect both the victims and the accused.

Today, we are operating in an absolutely reprehensible system in which victims choose not to prosecute, and then long after the Statute of Limitations has run and prosecution is impossible, they prosecute through the media – and anonymously to boot. In the judicial system, the accused have a presumption of innocence. In the media, the accused have a presumption of guilt. They cannot defend themselves. They are tarred and feathered, hung out to dry, losing friends, family and supporters. They lose their jobs, and no one wants to be seen with them publicly.  A lifetime of good deeds with a sterling reputation is erased in an instant, never to be regained and never to be recovered.

That is mob justice, and it is grossly unfair, not to mention an odious violation of Torah law. It is rank lashon hara, which Jewish law obligates us to disbelieve. It serves no one well, and serves no legitimate purpose.

Well, there could be a purpose, a to’elet (a benefit, in the language of Jewish law) that would permit such exposure: if future harm to others will thereby be prevented. I.e., if the accused – say, a teacher – is still in a position to harm children, then there is an interest and a justification in going public, exposing him and his misdeeds, and protecting children. (Was that a realisitic factor in this case? I don’t know, but from the information to date, it certainly doesn’t seem so.) One might then fairly ask: if that is the motivation of the victims, then why didn’t they seek to protect their peers 20, 30 and 40 years ago? Why didn’t they prosecute when they should have?

Pure vengeance is not a legitimate purpose, nor is catharsis a legitimate purpose. One who wants vengeance should confront the accused directly, and one who seeks catharsis should speak to a therapist, not the media. But civilized people do not address grievances by anonymously running to media decades after the event. It is outrageous and shameful conduct, notwithstanding the sympathy one feels for them, whatever happened.

Again, there are often cogent and plausible reasons why victims do not come forward, usually to avoid stigma, publicity, or other personal issues. To me, it is the most vexing aspect of these squalid stories. I reported some incidents to the local police last year – and the local prosecution – both of which investigated but were stymied because the victims refused to cooperate. Will those same victims come forward anonymously in 2040 and castigate their abuser? I would hope not, despite my revulsion toward the accused. NOW is the time.

Victims who choose silence when they could prosecute have a moral obligation to remain silent when they can no longer prosecute. The media grant the charges an aura of credibility that would necessarily be challenged in a courtroom. It is simply uncouth, these days, to even question the reliability of these anonymous complainants to the media. Their allegations are invested with an authority that they may or may not deserve. We have thus created a system that is inherently unjust, pat ourselves on the back for our imagined superiority, and then smirk at the accused – never imagining that some vengeful or disgruntled contemporary of ours might someday do the same thing to us. (Indeed, allegations of sexual abuse of children by one spouse are staples in custody/visitation litigation.)

That is why trial by jury (or judge) is the way civilized societies resolve their legal disputes, and not that the resolutions are always fair either. Guilty people on occasion are acquitted, and honest complainants become even more disenchanted. By the same token, I vividly recall the day when former Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan stood on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse after being acquitted, and said “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?” The system is not perfect, but it is the system under which we live – and the demands of Jewish law are even more stringent for the accused and their accusers.

And that is why the heroine of the Jewish people in 2012 is that young Satmar woman who prosecuted her now-convicted abuser, Nechemya Weberman, and withstood all the ignominy heaped upon her by shameless members of that community. I hope, too, that his other alleged victims come forward as well, and testify, too, so the Satmar community should have no doubt about the monster they allowed in their midst and protected at all costs.

Two final points: some of the allegations herein involve behavior that, if not criminal, was at least weird and creepy. But there is a fundamental difference between weird/creepy – and criminal. Criminal is illegal, while weird/creepy is not illegal but might be unbecoming a teacher or administrator. It is best to let the police and prosecution decide which is which. And schools should be intolerant of the criminal, the weird and the creepy.

And some of the alleged victims who reported their abuse to school authorities back when it allegedly happened erred, but understandably so. In accordance with the times, and the way these matters were handled back then, it probably seemed like a reasonable approach. But in retrospect, if the allegations were serious and substantial enough, they should have been brought right to the police, not the school authorities. And certainly the school authorities should have taken them more seriously, if they were credible. But we should take care not to impose our standards of vigilance on an era when people were – sadly – more lackadaisical about these matters.

Again, none of this is intended as an adjudication of the information that has emerged to date. Fairness and justice demand that the accusers have our sympathy and the accused have the presumption of innocence.

That is civilized. The media circus that we indulge as the weapon of choice for delayed prosecutions is nothing less than the modern equivalent of the public lynching of old.

And we should not tolerate that anymore than we should cover-up abuse of any person, especially a child.

52 responses to “Dealing with Scandal

  1. Rabbi Steven Pruzansky said:
    “…all human beings are flawed, Rabbis included. All people sin…”

    You would never know that from the Gedolim biographies being printed today.

    Furthermore, the Chareid Olam seems to expect all of its members to practice pristine flawless righteousness at all times, and G_d have mercy on anyone caught doing otherwise.


  3. I strongly agree with the general sentiments you express here, but I think you may have overlooked one potential reason why we should encourage victims to speak out even if the statute of limitations has passed: deterrence of future criminals. In classic law-and-economics theory, a criminal will commit a crime whenever the benefit he receives from doing so outweighs the expected value of any potential punishment. The knowledge – and fear – that one’s victims may publicly shame you, even decades later, would seemingly be a strong factor in raising the expected cost of the crime. The increased cost may tip the potential criminal’s cost-benefit analysis from committing the crime to abstaining Thus, while victims’ belated accusations may be unfair to the accused, they may help society overall.

    • You are correct, although it is hard to see that as a deterrent for someone who is sick. But – how can we just accept the credibility of delayed claims? Based on what? There may be a benefit to society to warn potential predators that they can be outed in the future, but at the expense of how many innocent people? You? So it is unfair to the accused. That is troubling. In fact, the whole thing is troubling.


      • I agree that it seems troubling to trample an innocent man’s reputation for the sake of society at large, and even contradicts the general halachik precepts mandating extra protection for the accused (“v’hitzilu ha’eidah”, etc.). But we do occasionally see halacha allowing the deterrence factor to permit behavior that would seemingly otherwise be prohibited. For example, Rav Shlomo Zalman (Minchas Shlomo 7:2:3-7:2:5) permits a ba’al ha’bayis in a bah b’machteres situation to put his LIFE at risk and confront the intruder – even when the ba’al ha’bayis is unsure if he will prevail – for the stated reason that it will prevent future bah b’machteres situations. I think you could conceivably make a kal v’chomer that if one can put their life at risk for the sake of deterrence, then one can also put a reputation at risk for deterrence’s sake (although granted, there is a big difference between one’s OWN life and the reputation of ANOTHER).

  4. Srully Epstein

    Fantastic and sober analysis, as usual, Rabbi.

    (As you don’t use their names, neither will I.) What offended me the most was that they linked Accused A with Accused B. Accused A has stood accused for many years and is now being confronted by three named individuals.

    By contrast, Accused B has never before been accused of criminal, or even weird, behavior, and is now being accused by one person, anonymously.

    The OU is now investigating. I pray they will uncover the truth and report it without the weight of political correctness tipping the scales.

  5. There is a legal doctrine — the fresh complaint rule that allows for the admission of past complaints to corroborate testimony by a complainant many years after the fact. The law understands the social complexity of the issue. Based on reports in the Forward, it appears that complaints were indeed made. But the core issue is not the legal case, but the tendency of Jewish organizations –especially in the frum world, to sweep such matters under the rug. The distinguished YU past president explained the rationale. Let them go quietly, he said. What should we make of such a policy?

    • “the tendency of Jewish organizations –especially in the frum world, to sweep such matters under the rug….” That’s what the Forward wants you to believe. But no, it was anyone back then – you think this stuff didn’t happen in public schools and get handled “internally”? 30 years ago I had a chem teacher who asked me out – I just said no, didn’t think to report it. My classmates said another student said yes (a girl I was tutoring, I guess she wanted to work both options). The teacher had already been moved out of his role coaching the girls’ volleyball team, but soon after was encouraged to leave the school. He joined the police force.

      • Hi Melanie,
        My point is not to turn an eye away from what happens in the secular world, or in the Catholic Church, etc. Rather it comes from familiarity with an insular and defensive culture. It is very difficult for many of these institutions to act as openly as would be in their best interest because of fears of stigma. But, it is to be noted that the issues go far beyond the behavior reported; they extend to even minute deviations which are magnified in the fishbowl context of a judgmental culture. Having said this, I would emphasize that YU is doing the right thing, and Richard Joel is to be commended for not being defensive. The Rabbi’s comment correctly note that we are in a different environment today than thirty years ago. Things must be judged in context.

  6. Today? Horrible policy, even repugnant. It was horrible then too, but that was the standard. One problem these cases always had, even fresh, was corroboration. One complainant, one accused. Hard to resolve. Schools are never the forum to adjudicate that. It should have been a police matter then too if the circumstances warranted it.

  7. A few comments/questions:
    1) It is unfair, in my opinion, to criticize YU for its (mis)handling of the allegations 30 years ago. Back then, we – both Orthodox Jewry and society in general – had no idea how rampant this was, and that outwardly decent and honorable people are capable of such crimes. It was normal and acceptable back then to dismiss isolated accusations of this nature. I am 100% sure that if allegations were made against a YU staff member today, the administration would take it seriously.

    2) Do you have any thoughts as to why we are producing so many molesting rabbis? Two rabbis with whom I was directly involved in my youth have been convicted of molestation, and two others have been publicly accused. Besides the need to expose and indict abusers, is there a way our educational system can address the problem at its core by doing something to stop youngsters from growing into molesting rabbis?

    3) For whatever it’s worth, after the original Forward article was published, there was a follow-up article in which at least person who identified himself by name corroborated the allegations. So they’re not all anonymous.

    4) In your view, even assuming the allegations are correct and several decades ago the men in question committed horrible acts – either criminal or “creepy” – should they be allowed to continue teaching Torah and/or working in Jewish communal service? Or do these offenses disqualify them for life?

    5) Knowing what we know now, I can’t help but feel uneasy every time I open a sefer. If distinguished rabbis of today can have this ugly side to them, isn’t it possible that gedolim of yesteryear had similar issues? Perhaps some of the leading poskim and mechabrim whose sefarim we use were also secretly abusers? And if they were, does that matter? Am I wrong for harboring such discomfitting thoughts? The reports over the last decade or so are obviously very disillusioning for many of us, and we need to somehow to regain confidence in rabbinic leadership both past and present.

    • I can’t answer all your questions, but many of them were already addressed in the article. I will reiterate that if victims come forward in real time and prosecute, a lot of these problems would be averted, and other victims would be protected.
      To assume misbehavior on the part of anyone would engender a very dark view of mankind, not to mention gedolim. That is the essence ofdan l’kaf zchut. There is enough time to be disappointed in people, and not everyone disappoints. Suffice it to say, I have known great Rabbis – truly righteous and brilliant people. They do exist.
      And of course, people who indulge in criminal or creepy behavior should not be teaching.
      Again, I pass no judgment on the allegations herein, but write this as a general comment.

  8. shmuel ben Shmrayahu Yitzcok

    Dear Rabbi Steven,
    Fantastic piece of writing, i admire your intellect and your courage. It was always a pleasure seating behind you (and to the right) at Rabbi Chait’s shiurim…and passing you the ball at the baseline for your left-handed (the only thing LEFT about you!!!)jumper…Keep up the good fight…shmuel

  9. I really do like your article – it represents a view that I have been hearing from members of my family involved in Jewish education. Lives and reputations have and are been destroyed by media allegations and countless ‘alleged victims’ who never do come forward. I know several cases of traumatized educators who were threatened with accusations (one simply the result of a student’s parents divorce cross-fire).

    I am a bit puzzled though by your comment on the Weberman case. In this case as well, the man was prosecuted by the media (the forward ran a good article on this recently) and while ultimately convicted by a jury of his peers was never confronted by more than a single victim. I seek not to question either the validity (perhaps yes- the fairness) of his trial – but rather your harsh language and reference to his other victims (who by your own standard might not even exist!)

    Satmar arguably really believes in his innocence (and while their behavior towards the victim is truly deserving of another backward era), and feels confronted by a version of your current discomfort – unsubstantiated allegations and media trumpeting that biased the case against a person in their leadership. Does YU deserve a different standard of justice by virtue of them being more ‘civilized’?

    • A conviction is a conviction. If it is reversed on appeal, then he is exonerated. There are a small number of people whose convictions are reversed. Nonetheless, the system we have decrees a person’s guilt based on a jury verdict, and that is good enough for me.

  10. “But – how can we just accept the credibility of delayed claims? ”
    In some countries, the statute of limitations has been abolished for child sex abuse, because it takes time
    1) for the children to comprehend that what was done to them is not “normal”

    2) For the children to understand that what was done to them was a criminal offense

    3) for the children/now adults to cope enough to be able to report

    Furthermore, they may feel alone in the world. As soon as other victims of the same perpetrator come out, they learn that they are not alone. Furthermore: look what was done to this courageous satmar girl. She was alone, none of the other victims agreed to testify on the stand. Weberman supporters still use this argument, even after his conviction: there were no other victims, so she is telling a lie.

    In several countries, several sex abuse scandals that took place in the 60ies or 70ies have exploded over the last years. It is a good thing they were made public. The world would not be a better place if they had been kept silent and the victims were obliged to continue suffering in silence.

    • In most states, the statute of limitations extends years past the child’s achieving his majority. I.e, he can decide well into his 20s whether or not he wishes to -prosecute.

  11. Most victims who “choose not to come forward” when they can prosecute do not, in fact, choose at all. They are children. They are either too traumatized by what they have endured and too focused on survival to tell anyone or simply too little to make any well-informed, well-reasoned, meaningful choice of their own and their parents make that choice for them. Blaming the victim is bad enough. But blaming the child-victim…?

    I am the mother of a boy who was molested over a number of years by his assistant principal, along with dozens of other boys in his cheder. As soon as we found out, we went straight to the police and our son’s molester was prosecuted by the State. My son testified on videotape (we are not in the US) and my husband testified at trial. Almost NO ONE ELSE allowed their children to come forward and NO ONE joined us as witnesses at trial. My son was the only complainant of record. His molester was acquitted.

    While I have plenty to say about the other victims’ parents, I most assuredly don’t hold their young children responsible for their parents’ irresponsible choices. And in fact, I pity them because one day they will hopefully reach a place where they are ready to make their own choice to speak out against this serial molester and warn others about him and they will have no legal recourse since the statute of limitations will have expired. Speaking out is not about revenge; it’s about shining a light on a very dark and ugly corner and exposing the filth hiding there so others know to be careful. Which is, in fact, well within the bounds of hilchos lashon hara l’toeles.

    If you’re really interested in meaningful improvement of the situation, instead of telling survivors to shut up, push for extending the statute of limitations so that by the time child-victims are emotionally ready to prosecute, there is still judicial recourse. In the meantime, I for one hope that when my son’s friends are older and hopefully have healed from their trauma (and their anger at their parents) regardless of whether they are within or without the statute of limitations, which is far too short, they will CHOOSE to speak out and warn others about the sick and dangerous man who molested dozens in their cheder and who is currently free to continue his pursuits unfettered. You don’t have to believe them. You just have to protect the children on the possibility that it might be true.

  12. If we are uncomfortable judging the actions of YU 30 years ago by today’s standards, shouldn’t we have some squeamishness about viewing the actions of sexual assault victims 30 years ago through the lens of 2012? As many have said, it was a different time, and many victims didn’t understand that this was an act of violence against them that should be reported to the police, or that failure to do so would leave other potential victims vulnerable.

  13. While your account generally raises some good points about the need to protect innocents from spiteful false accusations and the difficulty of doing so when an accusation is made of an act beyond the statute of limitations, it is markedly flawed on two very important accounts.

    First: It ignores the psychological tendencies post trauma of suppression, anxiety, fear, and dis-empowerment which are present in adults and even more so in children. This is a big part of why child abuse is so heinous, as the victims often feel helpless to protest or seek help, and many times cannot confront their realities until years later, if ever. Therefore, the expectation that an abused child should readily step forward is unreasonable.

    Second: If the accusations are true, it should not matter how long has passed. A person guilty of such crimes should indeed face the consequence of revelation even should they no longer be able to face the punishment of the criminal justice system. It is only the innocent who are wrongfully accused that need protection. As such, a position that advocates actual victims to remain silent in no way addresses the actual problem (false accusations), and instead simply suppresses our capacity to restore the victim to a place of empowerment, allowing them to move on with their lives and ensure that those criminally capable are kept clear of the vulnerable in our society.

    While we must certainly find ways to prevent and root out false accusations, what you advocate does not accomplish this. Real victims may be swayed by Rabbinic leadership to stay quite (a negative result), while those with Malicious intent bent on slander will certainly not be swayed by a request from the Rabbinic establishment. I encourage us to continue to seek ways to protect the innocent and arrive at truth. Transparency is the only answer I can see, along with training of our leadership to properly set boundaries and restrictions on interaction that prevent the possibility of even the perception of impropriety, and thereby remove the ability for false accusation.

    • “If the accusations are true, it should not matter how long has passed.” Really ? If a teacher yelled at me in the 1970s (only now defined as “abuse”), can I run to the media or publish accounts of that abuse 40 years later? (Almost all teachers yelled at me at a certain point; this is not theoretical!) Are there other bad acts thatg should be exposed – all should any bad act – even not criminal – be exposed, so as to act as a deterrent to others? Why don’t the media publish lists, e.g., of people who talk in shul, so they can be branded publicly? Or people who are bad parents? Or bad drivers?
      And how do you root out false accusations when trial by media is the option? Will their be a financial motive here, and in other cases, lawsuits for money? Should credibility be assessed like it is in every case, or do we give current complainants a pass on that – their credibility cannot be impeached, nor can their accounts be questioned?
      Perhaps we should do that for all crimes – skip the arrest and the trial and proceed right to the punishment phase, to be determined, of course, by the mob.
      Note that I have no dog in this hunt. If school officials covered up, that is reprehensible and intolerable. That is why the police are the appropriate tool of investigation. When they are bypassed for whatever reason – even good reasons (a child didn’t know what to do) – then all the alternatives are poor, and the most attractive to the mob seems to be… the mob.

      • “Really ? If a teacher yelled at me in the 1970s (only now defined as “abuse”), can I run to the media or publish accounts of that abuse 40 years later?”

        This is an unfair parallel. A teacher yelling at you is not a crime. Child molestation is. If a paper would run with the story that a teacher in the 70’s raised their voice against a child, no one would bat an eye. Few would even today. Even in the 70’s child molestation was wrong and criminal.

        “Why don’t the media publish lists, e.g., of people who talk in shul, so they can be branded publicly? Or people who are bad parents? Or bad drivers?”

        People who talk in Shul are not violating secular law. While as the Rabbi you would be entitled to call them out on it from the pulpit, many would likely agree this is not a proper response and would rather you approached them in a less embarrassing manor. Most importantly, in such a case there is no victim!

        In terms of Bad Parenting and Bad Drivers, the media do publish stories about these people when legal lines are crossed and others are endangered or victims of their poor behavior.

        As a Rabbi, I’m sure that you can understand that Pikuach Nefesh (did I say that right, not sure as I’m not in your Jewish community), trumps other concerns (like embarrassing someone). Actively preventing further child abuse is indeed Pikuach Nefesh, in this generation and the next.

        Another commentator suggesting lifting the Statue of Limitations entirely on cases of Child Abuse. To me, this seems to make the most sense. Would you agree to this, as it absolves your issue of trial by media, and shifts things back to a courtroom. Allowing an Abuser to go unpunished and thereby enable them to continue abusing is a price I’m unwilling to pay simply to prevent the loss of reputation of a potential innocent person being accused.

  14. From your article, you make it seem like this was all anonymous and the allegations unsubstantiated. But Norman Lamm stated the reason for the dismissal of the principal, and that he did not tell Hillel School in Florida about the reasons. That is not anonymous but fully substantiated. And numerous students have come forward with their names (I remember some of them from my days at MTA), so the allegations are not anonymous. As sexual abusers are generally considered not to be curable, how can it be loshon hora to let the world know of the sexual abuse committed by this man. It is rather a mitzva to protect others from being potentially exposed. And if there were no potential for this man to abuse again (and we cannot know this), then isn’t there an element of fundamental justice that a man who has escaped prosecution for whatever reason (every victim has great trepidation and often shame in reporting their abuse) still has to bear some onus for his terrible behavior, if only in the form of a punishment to his reputation and perhaps loss of employment. Lastly, your dichotomy of police investigation and reporting or staying totally quiet is a prescription for letting evil continue unpunished. Drew Peterson, prior to the unearthing of his second wife, was lambasted repeatedly in the media for the disappearance of his third wife. By your lights, that would be wrong. Let the police investigate, you say, and do not indulge in Loshon Hora. I would say differently. It is a mitzva to put the spotlight on evildoers and to not do so lets the evildoers escape any justice and creates a society in which evildoing much more frequently has no consequences. Think of Sodom. The Torah strongly opposes such a society.

    • I think if you read more carefully what I wrote, you would come to a different conclusion. I am FOR justice – but real justice, not mob or media justice. We put the spot light on evildoers by exposing their crimes through reporting, indictment, testimony, conviction and incarceration. It is really quite shocking how people prefer the mob when it suits them, but would scream shrilly if they were the accused and had their reputations blemished without the ability to defend themselves. Where is the yashrut – basic integrity in this process? If you feel that certain crimes do not deserve to be punished through the legal system but through the media, or that we need a Star Chamber that decides guilt or innocence – actually, just guilt will do, thank you – then say so.
      That is not the Jewish society to which I aspire, nor a non-Jewish society in which I would choose to live. You might disagree – but then know that allegations can be lodged against you as well in the wilfully complicit media, and just deal with it.
      The “Mitzva” to put the light on evildoers means going to Bet Din and testifying, or in the absence of a Bet Din that can handle criminal matters, the court system; that is the mitzva. Every other reference to “mitzva” is contrived.
      And Drew Peterson is in prison.

      – RSP

      • And if a Bes Din absolves a wrongdoer, as was the case in the NCSY scandal, should then everyone be silent? Was the Jewish Week wrong in publishing its story in 2000 about the cover-up by NCSY for 20 years? After all, noone at the national offices of NCSY was ever indicted, let alone convicted? Was there even anything to report to the police about what the national NCSY office did? And if there is nothing that a Bes Din or the police can or will do, should then the national NCSY office be allowed to continue its policy of standing by when abuse happens because to let the world know what they are doing is a Star Chamber? There is no mitzva for the Jewish Week to make that report? Really? How about the Dreyfus affair? Let the police do their investigation? Why not acknowledge a much more complicated reality? That the press does good and bad things. It accuses innocent people and also accuses the non-innocent. Is there no cost to letting NCSY or the French government to continue in its ways? Is there no cost to Secretary Donovan? The answer is of course there is cost both ways. The question then becomes who should be the decider of the relative costs.

  15. I don’t usually agree with you, Rabbi P,. but here you have summarized my somewhat conflicted feelings very well, and I commend you for doing so. I am far too close to both people accused to be comfortable with this entire situation. As a former and early member of the congregation you now lead, I can say that to the best of my knowledge, not one allegation of this or any similar impropriety of this nature has ever come out against your illustrious predecessor. He remains, to me and I’m sure to many others, a beloved teacher and rebbe .His chlldren were and are good friends, and deserve better than this. As you said, trial by media, thirty years after the alleged incident, is nothing more than lashon hara, and I am personally sickened by this.

  16. Former YU Student

    If a teacher, accused in the media after the Statute of limitations is over, feels that he is being unjustly persecuted in the court of public opinion, then let that educator sue for libel. Both parties will then have their day in a real court of law.

    • Libel is nearly impossible to sustain in America. If the teacher ever appeared in the newspaper, he can be defined as a “public figure,” who can be legally libelled as long as it not done with “malice.” Try proving that.

  17. Agree or disagree–thank you for providing this forum for people to air their views on this and other important topics.

  18. the Forward is only interested in attacking Orthodox Judaism and using all of you as a ploy. ALL SHOULD STOP COMMENTING AND perhaps this would die out. The students involved are now remembering things that happened in the 60’s and 70’s AND 80’S . D. The bottom line is why didnt the parents go to the police. The excuse that they were afraid the children’s reputations would be destroyed is ludicrous. I would have taken action immediately. DR. LAMM is being used as a fall guy. It would be best if all invilved no longer made comments to the press. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

    • Rabbi Rosenberg: With all due respect, you ought to take your own advice. Even a cursory reading of the comments at the Fwd website will show that you replied numerous times. I don’t for a second doubt the pain that this is causing you (and countless others, as well) nor the sincerity of your remarks, but you can’t request a cessation of responses when you have put out dozens of them.
      OTOH, unfortunately not responding will do nothing to quell this story.

  19. As someone noted above, if we’re going to judge the culpability of institutions through a 1970’s lens, we also have to judge individuals who are only now coming forward regarding molestation in the 70’s through the same lens. In other words, when a middle-aged adult comes forward to day, after the statute of limitations has run, and claims molestation by a Jewish educator (or anyone), we should understand that their failure to make a timely accusation may very well be due to the societal indifference to such accusations 30 or 40 years ago. So we should give them, if not the benefit of the doubt, at least an open-minded hearing through the media. But I do agree that, going forward into the coming decades, because of today’s societal awareness and concern with such issues, an individual who was molested should be expected to prosecute within the statute of limitations, and we should not condone untimely claims through the media.

    On a somewhat unrelated note, what motives would any of these accusers-through-media have to claim they’ve been sexually molested? Have their motives been investigated? Have any recanted? If there are examples of recanting and/or discovery of malicious motives, I would be much more convinced of your position, Rabbi.

  20. Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum

    There is no such concept in Halacha as a statue of limitations. Period.

  21. Carmen Sporidis

    I was on my one a victim of abuse in my early childhood and feel the pain still today. Nobody from the doctors to the social workers takes action then, and by chance I fund the doctor report what was happen to me. No religion no society give the appropriate attention to protect the child then. Only when the victim’s speak open than things change, even after 40 years, some time it takes so much courage to speak open. Sorry Rabbi but the broken soul from so many victims counts more in my eyes.

  22. Dr. Gerald and Rebecca E. Weinberger

    To Rabbi Pruzansky,

    Shavua Tov, from Jerusalem.

    Before we comment on your article we would like to recommend to you and your congregants the following recently published books on Halacha, abuse and the theraputic process.

    I – Breaking the Silence – Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community – by David Mandel and David Pelcovitz (Ktav 2011)
    2 – Child and Domestic Abuse- Torah, Psychological and Legal Perspectives – by Daniel Eidenshon and Baruch Shulem ( Emunah Press 2010)
    3 – Abuse in the Jewish Community– Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims – by Michael J. Solomon Ph.D (Urim Publications 2011).

    We are responding to the particular point you make regarding the delay in reporting a sexual abuse case for many years; as you write, ” but the limits of my sympathy are tested when victims do not come forward in real time”. This indicates, lack of awareness, appreciation of and education on this topic. Hence the suggested reading. A well informed Rabbinic leader and congregation, regarding the subject of abuse, the halachic obligations concerning Rabbis and congregants, is well advised in these times. We are witnessing a new beginning in the system of reeducation in this area.

  23. What did I misunderstand? All of the quotes below came directly from
    R. Pruzansky’s post:

    “Victims who choose silence when they could prosecute have a moral obligation to remain silent when they can no longer prosecute.”

    “But the limits of my sympathy are tested when victims do not come forward and prosecute in real time – when the events occur – and instead wait for 20, 30 or even 40 years to come forward and do nothing more than besmirch the reputations of their alleged abusers.”

    “But civilized people do not address grievances by anonymously running to media decades after the event. It is outrageous and shameful conduct, notwithstanding the sympathy one feels for them, whatever happened.”

  24. I was reading and rereading this trying to figure out what bothered me so much and it finally hit me: The author speaks with complete ignorance of the psychological factors, such as fear of repercussions and identification with the abuser (just as quick examples). It just ain’t that easy to come forward, and there needs to be a supporting and nurturing environment, which clearly nobody will get from this rabbi. Suggesting that our leadership pass the buck and calling it progress is asinine. What we really need is better education and training for leaders, apparently in particular for certain rabbis.

    • Actually, training for rabbis won’t help, if victims refuse to come forward. That is the bottom line. The fear of repercussions is real, as should be the fear of future victims who suffer because of the refusal to come forward. No training can possibly avert that sad fact. All else is platitudes, and quite nasty ones at that.
      – RSP

      • Good training is helpful in a) preventing abuse, b) helping rabbis and others create an environment in which victims feel safe coming forward, and c) helping those in need get in touch with proper resources. The claim that victims need to take more responsibility and bring their complaints to the justice system reveals a great deal of ignorance regarding abuse and the justice system, and prevents those in positions of authority from learning information that is sorely needed. I don’t disagree that claims brought to the media creates its own host of issues, but this cannot and should not be shunted solely to the police. Good training in the education and pastoral fields is critical for the above noted reasons. I’m sure you mean well and I understand your points but your words suggest you are not speaking from a place of knowledge- I second the recommendations of good reading materials from another poster.

  25. Rabbi
    I will try and give you the my perspective as a victim. I did not ask for this I did not ask to have to relive the horrors and nightmares. I had tucked these memories far far away and now I can’t get them out of my head. I dealt with this by hiding it. I now can’t sleep can’t concentrate and can’t remove the flashbacks.

    I feel like a victim all over again. If you ask me do I feel the forward or the media in general took into account the victims they didn’t. Words can not describe my hurt.

    For those that question why I didn’t run to the police this is one of the questions I am internally struggling with. Had I gone who knows what happens maybe I prevent other victims. Yes times were diffrent but people should realize the true victims are being forced to relive the horror all over again that is what the media doesn’t seem to care. It is not just one or 2 men’s reputation it is the lives of the victims as well who are being destroyed

  26. I know Simi Weber, who is named as an accuser in the Forward’s article. He has tried on several occasions to get action from the leaders of the Yeshiva University educational establishment. It is the negative response of these leaders over the years which make him so eager to be heard now. The case in the Satmar community was brought by someone who left the community with no love lost, who was willing to go to the authorities even if it hurts the community and its institutions. The boys at YU were nice boys, and are good adults, they love their yeshiva and detest only those who abused them. For that reason they did not run to the police. To blame the victim for coming late is to hurt them once again, and to be certain of the innocence of the accused is a distortion of our traditions. We are told to judge people favourably, but not to be absolutely certain of their innocence.

  27. So far there is an anonymous accusation against Rabbi Macy Gordon

    MY SOURCE TELLS ME MR. ANONYMOUS GRADUATED EINSTEIN. MEDICAL SCHOOL OF YESHIA UNIVERSITY SEEMS LIKE HE OWES Y.U. HIS CAREER. YESHIVA UNIVERSITY is the school where I spent most of of academic life. Do not lecture me on what I owe or do not. For your information, RIETS and .J.S.S. made be who I am. I will fight for the school that produced abbey that cared for me and nutured me. It is not my fault that parents who knew of these acts did nothing including showing up in mass to punish the individual who did malice to their child. Do not lecture me on sexual violence. Where were the parents who knew. ? Stop whining and trying to destroy Yeshiva University and have Rabbi Lamm resign. He did what was proper at the time. Prove that Rabbi GORDON molested anyone. The story about the toothbrush is ludicrous. I have had my own issues with the R..C.A. AND Y.U. , but I did not wake up 35 years later to realize I was molested. Go to ISRAEL AND CONFRONT these abusers , they are still alive. I call upon current students and alumni to speak up on behalf of their school. I FOR ONE HAVE HEARD ENOUGH UNPROVEN ALLEGATIONS THAT HAVE RUINED TWO LIVES. DO NOR RESPOUND SHAME ON YOU OR I DO NOT UNDERSTAND SEX ABUSE. I understand if this happened to my child and I knew of it I WOULD HAVE CALLED FRIENDS and made sure the culprit never did this to any child again. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  28. Rabbi Pruzansky why in the world would any frum person make up allegations that a rabbi abused them? I just can’t imagine it.

    • I’m not saying it happened here -but it does happen. Someone especially troubled can unconsciously protect a father/uncle/family friend/another rabbi and accuse someone else falsely. It is possible and it does happen, although incidences are very few.
      Of course, why would a “frum rabbi” abuse a child? That’s still mindboggling, even though we know (r”l) that it happens.

  29. Over the past few weeks I received communications from those who were sexually abused . I have learned a lot regarding the suffering they have gone through. Each person handles trauma differently and no one including me can judge their reaction to this trauma. The outcry of these individuals must be heard and answered. However, I refuse to stop defending the institution which has produced great scholars and Jewish leaders. Attacking me for having an opinion or trying to discredit me as professor, says more about the writer than it does me. If they have proof by now the victims have hired an attorney. Now it comes down to follow the money. I do not work for Yeshiva University any more and hope that a reasonable settlement is reached for all concerned. This story is not about me.
    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  30. Rabbi Pruzansky,

    Canada has no statute of limitations for child abuse. If a charge is brought 20 years after its occurence in Canada, the defendant will have his day in court. The system does lay the burden of proof on the accuser. Do you have any objection to such a charge being brought twenty years later.?

    • I can certainly understand jurisdictions in which there is no statute of limitations. The problem is – and the reason why SOLs exist in the first place – the difficulty in mounting a defense after so many years. Invariably, it becomes one person’s word against the other, always more credible when prosecutions are timelier.
      The other problem is that delayed prosecutions allow abusers to continue to abuse long after they could have been stopped, and that sickens me.

      Regarding your other point, a specific fact pattern of sexual abuse: I can’t answer that, because much depends on the state of mind of both parties. An analogy would be to “date rape,” which in college settings often is a post-facto conclusion (even days or weeks later). I would leave it at “weird and creepy,” as well as disgusting and immoral, possibly criminal, and let the courts decide that ultimate question.

  31. Rabbi Pruzansky,

    You write, “Crimes are police matters, and crimes against children are a classic case of pikuach nefesh (saving lives) that override even the laws against mesira (informing on another Jew).”

    According to the BDA, RCA and the Rav (per R. Aaron Lichtenstein) there is no question of mesirah for any crime in a country such as the U.S., a medinah shel chesed. I am just wondering if you uphold that view or feel that a special exception needs to be made for some crimes? If so I am curious why you mention mesirah at all. Is it just to refute the argument from those in the haredi world who disagree, or do you also see others in the modern orthodox world who see things that way? If so, to whom are you directing that argument?

    Thank you in advance for considering my question.

    PS It might be helpful if you had someone reset the dates and times for the blog. Something you posted in the last few days is dated 12/18/2012 and the clock is set 4 hours ahead of EST, which I assume is your intended time since your pulpit is in NJ and not Alaska.

    • Indeed, it was only to counter those in the Jewish world who say mesirah is an issue, oddly even in a case of pikuach nefesh.
      And thank you for the time suggestion.

  32. Rabbi Pruzansky,

    Since halachah has no statute of limitations, do you have any objection to a tort action for damages in a beit din such as BDA 20 or 30 years after the alleged abuse? As you have said, the system affords both parties the protection of a legal arbiter which can reach a conclusion one way or the other. If a a beit din finds for a plaintiff in such a case, do you have any objection to publicizing the finding since there might be a toelet in protecting the community from someone with a known history of offending?

    • I have no objection to both of your conclusions. Indeed, I subscribe wholeheartedly to both.