Below is a letter by Ben Hirsch published in Jewish Action: The Magazine of the Orthodox Union in their August 2013 issue. It relates to the ruling about reporting Jewish child molesters to civil authorities by Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, ztz”l (1910-2012). At the time of the ruling, Rabbi Elyashiv was accepted as the preeminent Jewish Law authority by non-Hasidic Ashkenazi Haredim and was highly regarded throughout the orthodox Jewish world.
Reporting a Molester
Editor, Jewish Action,
Respectfully, Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer’s summary of Rav Elyashiv’s ruling on reporting a child abuser to secular authorities seems to confuse salient points (“Discovering Rav Elyashiv,” summer 2013).
In his letter to Rav Elyashiv, Rabbi Feivel Cohen carefully crafted several scenarios—the underlying premise of all being the reporting of a child abuser to the secular authorities without a prior rabbinic ruling—and accordingly, Rav Elyashiv’s response must be read in this context.
With this foundation, Rabbi Cohen presented three hypothetical situations:
1. An instance where one has absolute knowledge of the abuse.
2. An instance where one has a credible allegation of abuse (raglayim ladavar).*
3. An allegation lacking even raglayim ladavar but instead is based upon some suspicion or rumor.
Rav Elyashiv responded that in instances where the matter is clear, one should report the child abuser to the secular authorities. However, allegations lacking even raglayim ladavar but based only upon eizeh dimyon, some imagined thing, may not be reported to the authorities.
One knows when one has clarity over a matter. This leaves us with the task of defining raglayim ladavar.
The term raglayim ladavar is introduced to this exchange by Rabbi Feivel Cohen and accordingly deference is given to his intended meaning of the term. Rabbi Cohen and Rav Elyashiv knew each other well and corresponded regularly; they understood each other.
Rabbi Cohen was recently asked to define the term raglayim ladavar as used in Rav Elyashiv’s pesak. He explained that the pesak directed one to “use his God-given common sense” to determine whether an allegation met the threshold of raglayim ladavar and should thus be reported to the secular authorities.
Indeed, Rav Elyashiv’s pesak is glaring in its absence of any directive to ask for a rabbinic ruling before reporting to secular authorities. Instead, working within the underlying premise of the she’eilahas posed, he provides guidelines for instances when one should report and when one may not.
Respectfully, Rabbi Bechhofer’s appendage of clear witnesses, beit din and evidence to this dialogue may confuse the implementation of a clear pesak.
Rav Elyashiv’s written ruling is an expression of his intent that cannot be challenged in good faith. In short: all credible allegations of child abuse should be reported directly to the secular authorities without first seeking a rabbinic ruling.
Only the secular authorities have the expertise to properly investigate allegations of child abuse and determine whether an arrest and prosecution are warranted, and the resources and policing power to protect children from this exigent danger.
Brooklyn, New York
Ben Hirsch is a co-founder of Survivors for Justice, an organization that advocates and educates on issues of child safety.
Ed.: Please note that as of press time, we have been unable to reach Rabbi Feivel Cohen to corroborate the views expressed in Mr. Hirsch’s letter.