Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, the Gateshead Rav Hair, recently spoke about “The Halachic Obligation of Reporting Abuse to the Authorities” in a telecast aimed at an Australian rabbinical audience.
Rabbi Zimmerman is a Haredi who holds a prominent pulpit as the main posek for Gateshead, a Haredi community centered around the UK’s first kollel formed during WW II by R. Eliyahu Dessler and others.
R. Zimmerman showed courage in the case of Todros Grynhaus by publicly declaring the community erred in the past in trying to manage his abuse by counseling. This was in contrast to the former mashgiach of Gateshead, R. Matisyahu Salomon, who continued to run back channel interference to obstruct the legal process. In the end, Grynhaus was convicted of sexually abusing two minors. Rabbi Zimmerman’s testimony contributed to that conviction.
In this talk he demolishes most of the pseudo-halachic misrepresentations put forth to conceal abuse from the authorities. At one point he declares that those who invoke the shulchan aruch on mesirah to block reporting are either ignorant of choshen mishpat or deliberately misrepresenting it.
Watch this video if you want to have the ammunition you need to justify reporting when contending with ignorant or dishonest protectors of abusers.
I do not have the time to summarize all the points covered in this 55 minute lecture. Suffice it to say he covers the obligation of lo saamod al dam reyachah, loshon horah, mesirah, raglayim ledavar, being dan l’kaf zchus, teshuvah, the collateral damage to the family of the offender, testimony by single witnesses, testimony by minors, complaints by people who are not frum, relying on non-religious or non-Jewish experts, and a number of other points.
Regarding raglayim ledavar, he makes it clear (contrary to Agudath Israel’s claim) that R. Elyashiv never clarified his intent. But R. Zimmerman, per its usage in the Talmud’s tractate of sotah, assumes it means preponderance or balance of evidence, not near certainty. This is something I have noted for several years, but it is the first time I have seen it raised by a rabbinic authority. I do not presume to be more original or brighter and I am certainly not learned. It was obvious from the moment R. Elyashiv used the phrase, raglayim ledavar. It is an unusual phrase. A simple, online Talmud search shows that it is primarily used to describe a lower threshold of evidence. I can only assume that loads of rabbis picked up on R. Elyahiv’s intent, but till now, most deliberately chose not to draw the attention of the public to this detail. Kudos to R. Zimmerman for making the point explicit in an English language lecture that was posted online. He also states that rabbis are not expert in evaluating such evidence but this is the terrain of psychologists. I would add on that it is also the special skill of law enforcement.