Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, David Lau issued a public statement about child abuse. As far as I know it is his first to date.
Below is a translation of its flowery language gracefully executed by *Danny Wool. An image of the original in Hebrew is at the end of the article.
It is addressed to religious educators. I suspect it was written in response the arrests of yeshiva teachers last week. See, 6 Alleged Offenders, 22 Children (Ages 2-10), Over 11 Years in Tel Aviv Belz School
It may have also been a response to a statement by Rabbi David Stav, head of Tzohar, that not reporting sexual abuse violates the Torah. Stav was Lau’s main competitor in the election for chief rabbi.
It is interesting that he managed not to make public statements about other sex abuse scandals involving prestigious religious teachers such as Motti Elon, Ezra Sheinberg, Naftali Maklev, Meir Pogrow, Elimelech Meisels, Eliezer Berland, Ben Tzion Sobel, and Matis Weinberg. Lau doubtlessly knows of many others who escaped public exposure, criminal prosecution, or any sort of consequences.
But he has finally spoken, so let’s read it and then evaluate it.
Tammuz 29, 5776
August 4, 2016
To All Who Work Educating the Children of Israel in Good Faith
Re: Awareness of Injuries Caused to Students
Much to my regret, terrible incidents occurring in our courtyards and domains have recently been made public. Cases in which boys and girls alike have been hurt in their homes or educational institutions have taken place recently, shocking anyone with a heart. How painful it is to hear that those very places, which should be a support, a stronghold, and a source of succor for our children and youth have turned into a nightmare and source of terror for them.
At this time, it is incumbent on parents, educators both male and female, family members, and anyone else involved in the sacred work of education to open their eyes and assist anyone who needs help insofar as possible. Turning away is not an answer to these difficult and painful issues, and everyone must know that they bear responsibility, even if the matter does not affect them directly.
I do not want to go into detail about matters for which modesty is preferable, and I am disgusted by the very fact that we must refer to them at all. Nevertheless, it has become a necessity for which there is no shame. All of you in particular for whom pure education is your greatest priority, and that is where you have turned, have been laden with the great burden of opening your eyes and paying maximum attention so that you can identify phenomena that might harm the delicate souls of our young.
Under no circumstances should these matters be swept under the rug, nor should people avoid dealing with these harsh phenomena, which, if not stopped, could lead many more people to be hurt. Heaven forbid that we stand by in silence. Instead we must increase awareness and continue teaching in the way of modesty, in the way of the Torah, toward values deeply rooted in the ways of Israel’s ancestors.
May you be strengthened in your teaching out of love,
Chief Rabbi of Israel
It is good, however late, that he acknowledges the problem of abuse and urges yeshiva teachers to be concerned and to help the victims. But he does not talk about policies to prevent abuse, or about reporting abuse to the authorities. Nor can he without criticizing the normal practice of rabbis in the rabbinate. As documented, most rabbinate rabbis discourage reporting abuse to the police.
Rabbi Lau is better than the head of Agudath Israel of America. The Novominsker Rebbe, head of the Agudah lashed out at bloggers calling them mockers and liars. Of course, until now, Lau has not been in anyone’s sights because his indicted crooked predecessor, Yona Metzger really lowered the bar. Somehow, Lau escapes harsh criticism for some of the other scandals in the rabbinate because everyone knows the Chief Rabbi, these days, is nothing more than a figurehead to be trotted out for visiting dignitaries. Besides, how much can be expected of a pair of Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis who got a leg up on their competition by being the sons of previous chief rabbis and quite compliant to their political backers.
I will also give Lau credit for eloquence. But given a choice, I much prefer this forthright, powerful statement by the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Ephraim Mirvis. Read his statement and shake you head at the pareve pablum of Lau’s lament.
Statement by British Commonwealth Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis
It’S SEXUAL abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week across the UK – the first of its kind, aiming to generate a frank and necessary public conversation about a crime as old as the taboo that has, shamefully, protected it. It is a poor reflection on our society that such an awareness week is necessary. Sadly, it is.
Sexual violence and abuse are among the most insidious of evils, with devastating lifelong consequences.
Let there be no illusions – the campaign to end the scourge of sexual abuse is as pertinent for the Jewish community as it is within all of our society.
The Torah links the way we speak to others, to the prohibition of being an inactive bystander: “You may not go about as a talebearer among your people; neither may you stand idly by the blood of your neighbour” (Leviticus 19:16).
The inference here is that just as harmful speech can sometimes be a killer, so too can silence. If keeping quiet has the effect of allowing others to be victims of cruelty, there is an obligation to speak out against a perpetrator, regardless of the implications on his or her reputation.
The Talmud, based on this verse, defines the role of the bystander in the following way: “One may not stand idly by while others are in danger. One should exhaust all means to rescue people from rape, drowning, attack by criminals or attacks by animals. Until the victim has been fully extricated from the dangerous predicament, the obligation still obtains.” (Sanhedrin 73a). There is no doubt that this unequivocally denotes a responsibility to prevent a child abuser from destroying lives, now and in the future.
Our sages further teach us that in such a situation, one should not wait until summoned. Rather, if one is in possession of relevant evidence one must come forward voluntarily in order to “destroy the evil from your midst”.
In recent years, we have achieved a great deal. Debate about whether to involve statutory authorities where cases of abuse are identified, is all but over.
Support is now readily available for victims of abuse. Training for rabbis and rebbetzens, certainly for United Synagogue communities, is better than it has ever been and our procedures and policy documents are constantly under review. Yet, there is still so much more work to do.
Our community is blessed with countless rabbis, teachers, leaders, parents and family members who epitomise all that is good about Judaism and are forever deserving of our reverence and veneration.
But in this context, when we encounter shameful exceptions to the rule, we have a responsibility to recognise how difficult it can be for victims of abuse to come forward and share their experiences.
While all around you are conferring praise and respect upon someone in (or close to) the family or a prominent member of the community, how can you possibly even begin to report them for committing such a terrible crime? Even if you try to speak up, will anyone really be inclined to hear your story?
Let the message go out that we will receive victims of abuse with warmth and sensitivity and create a culture of support for them right across our communities. Neither stature nor reputation should be a barrier to our willingness to report or comprehensive investigation. Perpetrators of these crimes, particularly those who have sought to hide within the infrastructure of the Jewish community, have desecrated the name of God and destroyed lives. Their actions often steal innocence and betray trust and are among the very worst crimes that can be committed.
I salute the bravery of those victims who have found the courage to speak out and hope that their example might give others the strength to do the same.
Many campaigners have made it their life’s mission to tackle this problem and we are indebted to them for that invaluable work.
We must not stand idly by the blood of our neighbours.
*Danny Wool is a writer, editor, and translator, who specializes in Jewish and Israeli themes. He is deeply involved in the Israeli film industry, having worked on such films and projects as The Gatek.