Anyone who has read more than one article on the subject of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community will be aware that for too long there has been a culture of coverups by Rabbis, schools and powerful communal leaders. For those who have not yet seen any evidence of this, you can read detailed case studies here, here and here.
As our communities slowly “tune-in” to the magnitude of the damage caused to those who have been abused and their families, there is usually an additional hidden victim that is rarely mentioned, and that is the Torah.
Torah and Halacha (Jewish law) have been weaponised to enforce the agenda of silence, shunning and further abuse. Some of the loudest cries of perpetrators and their supporters will be “Mesira” (reporting a Jewish person to secular authorities), Lashon Hora (spreading gossip), Motzei Shem Ra (spreading lies) and most ironically, “causing anti-Semitism” (sometimes referred to Chilul Hashem, desecration of Gds name).
Whilst these are all totally valid Halachic principles in their contexts, they are not operating in isolation and a wider analysis is required. The same is true of any secular legal system. Let us consider the following examples
1. An ambulance speeding through a red traffic light to treat a patient in an urgent life-threatening condition.
Would it be reasonable to criticise the driver of the ambulance because they are in violation of traffic offenses?
2. A mugger who tries to take personal posessions from someone who was able to defend themselves and subsequently causes injury to the attacker in self defence.
Do we simply say that any form of violence is wrong and criticise the person who was able to prevent themselves from being mugged?
These two examples show that laws cannot be applied in a blinkered manner. In real-world cases, there are usually far more aspects to consider, all at once. A healthy judiciary will have experienced courts and judges to assess each situation as widely as is relevant, and produce a written conclusion detailing how a ruling was reached, having studied the laws and the circumstances surrounding the events. Similarly, in halacha, over the ages, there have been numerous sefarim (books) written about “teshuvas” (case studies) of various queries that were presented to respected Rabbis and their halachic rulings. Talmudic principles are usually referenced from a large number of sources and a coherent narrative explains how the outcomes were deduced.
Only a fool would judge a case on a single legal principle. There are plenty of ignorant people (both online and offline) who use soundbites and simplistic “Torah” arguments about sensitive and involved situations. They are not only doing themselves a disservice, but also abusing the Torah at the same time.
Here are some halachic principles that tend to be forgotten when discussing abuse cases.
lo saamod al dam reecha – literally “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor”
rodef – preventing a “persuer” from harming someone
lifnei iver – literally “Before the blind, do not put a stumbling block” – the prohibition against misleading people
As if it is not terrible enough that abuse happens to innocent children, it is routinely followed by an abuse of Torah, Halacha and everything Judaism stands for, usually by the very people who claim to be its closest adherents.
Just to be absolutely clear, if a well-researched, fully transparent discourse was produced by a knowledgable halachic expert, written with no conflict of interest, then it can and should be discussed in a fair manner. The aim of this piece is to identify and disregard lazy comments by amateur halachists whose trolling activities only serve to bring more abuse into the world.
This piece is written by a third party and does not necessarily reflect the views of Migdal Emunah.