Schachter, a top Y.U. rabbi, calls for panels to screen abuse claims

(JTA) — Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a top rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University, called for the creation of panels to evaluate the veracity of abuse claims before they are forwarded to the authorities.

At a rabbinical conference in February in London, Schachter called "ridiculous" the idea that Jews should not turn fellow Jews over to secular authorities for fear of violating the principle of "mesirah," or betrayal — the traditional Jewish prohibition on informing. In fact, he added, failure to cooperate with the authorities is a desecration of God’s name.

However, Schachter warned, communities need to ensure that the claims of abuse are accurate before passing them along to the police. To that end, he called for the creation of boards made up of mental health professionals who are also experts in Jewish law to evaluate whether accusations are credible.

Schachter warned that a false accusation could end up tearing apart families. He also raised the fear that a false allegation could land an innocent person in prison where he faced physical danger. For example, he said, someone convicted for abuse could end up in prison with a "shvartze" — a Yiddish term for a black person that is often dergatory — who hates Jews.

In state prisons, “the warden in the prison can kill you. They can put you in a cell together with a shvartze, with a … black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews,” Schachter said.

The comments were made public in a recording posted March 14 on the blog FailedMessiah.com.

Responding to the racially loaded remarks the following day, a spokesman for Y.U. called them “inappropriate” and “offensive” following a query by the Anti-Defamation League, the Forward reported. A day earlier, a spokesman for the university had stressed its faculty’s freedom of speech.

“Not all statements made by faculty members are consistent with the views of the University," the earlier statement said, according to the Forward. "Any offensive or derogatory comments about any people or groups are inconsistent with the values or mission of Yeshiva University.”

In speaking about the boards, Schachter says in the recorded remarks, “Before you go to the police and before you got to family services, every community should have a board … to investigate whether there’s any ‘raglayim la’davar’ [substance] or not.”

The Forward has been running stories since December about allegations of abuse by former faculty members at Y.U.’s high school for boys. The alleged incidents took place decades ago.

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