NEW YORK (JTA) — Two Orthodox Jewish groups have released statements attempting to clarify their positions on reporting child abuse.
Agudath Israel of America and the Rabbinical Council of America were responding to what the former called “misleading claims about our stance on reporting suspected child abusers to law enforcement agencies.”
The statements come in the wake of criticism over comments by a leading American Orthodox rabbi, Shmuel Kamenetsky, that abuse should be reported to rabbis rather than police. Kamenetsky is the vice president of Agudah’s Supreme Council of Rabbinic Sages.
Agudah in its statement referred to rabbinic arguments that authorities should be notified when a certain threshold of evidence is met, but “where the circumstances of the case do not rise to threshold level … the matter should not be reported to authorities.”
However, in order to distinguish whether the threshold has been met, the statement continued, “the individual shouldn’t rely exclusively on their own judgment … rather, he should present the facts to a Rabbi.”
Kamenetsky said in a speech July 12 in Brooklyn — while a search was being conducted for an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy, Leiby Kletzky — that the sexual abuse of a child should be reported to a rabbi, who then would determine if the police should be called. Leiby’s dismembered body was found the following day in a dumpster and in the apartment of Levi Aron, who has been indicted for murder.
The speech came under criticism after a recording appeared July 17 on the Failed Messiah blog, which reported that Kamenetsky was repeating Agudah’s official policy banning Jews from reporting sexual abuse to police.
In the recording, Kamenetsky corrects a man who begins a question to the rabbi by saying, “As far as I know, your yeshiva is of the opinion that victims should report these crimes to the authorities.”
“Only after speaking to a rav,” Kamenetsky said.
Survivors for Justice, an advocacy, educational and support organization for survivors of sexual abuse and their families from the Orthodox world, described Kamentsky’s comments as “dangerous,” and called on Agudah to issue a retraction.
The RCA in its statement said that "Consistent with Torah obligations, if one becomes aware of an instance of child abuse or endangerment, one is obligated to refer the matter to the secular authorities immediately, as the prohibition of mesirah (i.e., referring an allegation against a fellow Jew to government authority) does not apply in such a case."
It also says that "As always where the facts are uncertain, one should use common sense and consultations with experts, both lay and rabbinic, to determine how and when to report such matters to the authorities."