Adopted by the Rabbinical Council of America - May 28, 2003
WHEREAS, in recent years there have been reported a number of incidents of sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse perpetrated by rabbis and teachers, including members of the Rabbinical Council of America, against members of the communities that they serve and others, adults and children, in violation of Torah law and of civil law; and
WHEREAS, failure to respond to such cases is a violation of the verse, "Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor" (Lev. 19:16; see Hilkhot Rotseiach 1: 14); and
WHEREAS, it is the duty of the Rabbinical Council of America to protect the integrity and welfare of the members of the community that its members serve; to serve and help its members in times of crisis; to represent to the community the best of Torah values; and to protect the dignity of Torah and Orthodox Judaism; and
WHEREAS, events of the past have proven, to our great dismay, that organizations and individuals have not always dealt with these incidents in the best possible way; and
WHEREAS, rabbis must conduct themselves in ways that are exemplary in their religious, moral and interpersonal conduct, not only because of their personal obligations that are governed by the Torah and the Halachah, but in fulfillment of the ideal of ahavat Hashem, "And you shall love the Lord your God: that the Name of Heaven be beloved because of you" (Yoma 86a)., an obligation that calls upon each Jew to conduct himself/herself in ways that reflect nobly on the Torah and God, and to refrain from any improper conduct in all areas including, but not limited to, sexual, personal, and economic behaviors; and
WHEREAS, the verse, "And you shall be guiltless before the Lord and before Israel."(Numbers 32:22) extends the concerns of conduct to mar'it ayin and heshad, suspicious behaviors, and places a higher responsibility on personal and professional conduct of all Jews, especially rabbis; and
WHEREAS, improper behavior can cause a hillul Hashem, a desecration of God's Name, a transgression that it is more difficult to atone for than for any other sin, so that not even repentance, the atonement of Yom Kippur, and personal suffering can absolve one of this offense (Yoma 86a); and
WHEREAS, the Halachah recognizes that an adam hashuv (a prominent person) is held to a standard of behavior and morality higher than that to which others are held and must refrain from any improper behavior, even if not explicitly prohibited or illegal, lest he cause a hillul Hashem, a desecration of God's Name. An adam hashuv, a well-known and well-respected person, and a talmid hakham, a pious, learned scholar, are expected by others to live according to strict moral standards-therefore, the greater the desecration when they fail to live up to these expectations. Their failures reflect negatively not only upon their personal reputations, but upon the Torah that they claim to uphold and upon the God they represent. Among others, these behaviors include embarrassing one's colleagues due to the nature of the rumors that are spread about him (Yoma 86a), embarrassing one's colleagues by the less-than-dignified activities in which he engages (Rosh to Moed Katan, ch. 3, no. 11) and degrading the honor of Torah (Pesahim 49a); and
WHEREAS, the Mishnah, Avot 4:4, reminds us that sequestering a hillul Hashem will always be unsuccessful: "Whoever desecrates the name of Heaven in private will ultimately be punished in public, whether the desecration was committed unintentionally or intentionally." Hence, a conspiracy to conceal information about abuse will ultimately be made public, creating an even greater hillul Hashem; and
WHEREAS, the Talmud, Berakhot 19b, posits, "Wherever a profanation of God's Name is involved no respect is paid to a rabbi"; and
WHEREAS, R. Akiva explained the biblical verse, "And you shall love your friend as yourself (Lev. 19:18)" by positing, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend." (Shabbat 31a), we are obligated to respect and protect the integrity, welfare and dignity (kevod ha-beriyot) of our fellow humans;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT:
The Rabbinical Council of America condemns in the strongest terms any act of sexual, physical or emotional violence, abuse or impropriety, perpetrated by any of its members against any child or adult and declares to all victims that the abuse is the responsibility and sin of the abuser and is not the responsibility or sin of the victim; and
The Rabbinical Council of America recommits itself to fulfilling its responsibility for the welfare of the members of the Jewish community at large and the general community as well, especially to those who have been victims or who claim to be victims of an act of sexual, physical or emotional violence, abuse or impropriety; and
The Rabbinical Council of America commits itself to reevaluating its policies and procedures in cases of accusations of acts of violence, abuse or impropriety made against any of its members and to develop and enact, in a timely manner but no later than June 30, 2004, those policies and procedures that will effectively and responsibly respond to accusations made against any of its members including:
- a reevaluation of the role and function of the Vaad Hakavod;
- the adoption of standards, policies and procedures for the reprimand and censure of members of the Rabbinical Council of America, as well as provisions and procedures for the suspension and revocation of membership;
- the adoption of provisions for reporting convicted or admitted abusers to the Placement Committee so that they will be prevented from assuming positions that will place others in possibly harmful situations as well as to develop responsible means to identify abusers to those communities or institutions to which they may move;
- the development of plans to help members who have been involved in improper behavior find appropriate therapeutic support, as well as the development of procedures to help the families and congregants of these members deal with the very trying circumstances they face;
- the education of rabbis in proper conduct in interacting with others as well as in ways to being falsely accused of improper behavior. We are also concerned about the possibility of a false accusation made against a member and commit ourselves to develop means to evaluate the veracity of an accusation and to help and support a rabbi who is falsely accused. We recognize the great difficulties involved in evaluating an accusation and in determining its veracity. The Rabbinical Council of America commits itself, in developing these new procedures, to proceed with careful and responsible deliberation in developing guidelines for investigating and trying to determine the validity of accusations; to take into account the issues of confidentiality as it applies both to the accuser and the accused; to respect the need for integrity and timeliness in the investigative process; and to consult with such professionals as lawyers and psychologists, as well as with victims and their families who can contribute in many significant and important ways in formulating and executing these policies.
The Rabbinical Council of America maintains that reporting acts or suspicions of child abuse is not mesirah* and commits itself and its members to reporting acts or suspicions of child abuse as required by civil law; and
The Rabbinical Council of America recommits itself and its members:
- to assert responsible leadership in publicly condemning acts of sexual, physical and emotional violence, abuse and impropriety and in formulating
- to execute educational materials and programs that will educate its rabbis and lay persons in the areas of sexual, physical and emotional violence, abuse and impropriety,
- to execute procedures and policies that will safely, sensitively and effectively protect the members of the community from violence, abuse and impropriety,
- to deal appropriately with its members who have perpetrated such violence, abuse or impropriety; and
The Rabbinical Council of America urges its members to assert responsible leadership in their individual synagogues, schools, organizations and communities in publicly condemning acts of sexual, physical and emotional violence, abuse and impropriety and
- in formulating and executing educational materials and programs in their synagogues, schools, organizations and communities that that will educate the members of their institutions and organizations in the areas of sexual, physical and emotional violence, abuse and impropriety.
- to establish and execute procedures and policies in their individual communities that will safely, sensitively and effectively protect the members of those communities, synagogues and schools from violence, abuse and impropriety, including the proper training and education of all staff members and the publishing of guidelines for acceptable behavior as well as guidelines for the reporting of suspicions and acts of inappropriate behavior, and guidelines for effectively dealing with those reports; and
- The Rabbinical Council of America commends those organizations and individuals that have raised these important issues in our community; that have developed programs that have helped victims of violence and abuse to acquire therapeutic, psychological and legal help; that have furthered public awareness of these issues; and that have furthered the physical safety, emotionally integrity and spiritual well-being of individuals and of our community at large.
- Arukh HaShulhan maintains that mesirah was prohibited because of the nature of autocratic governments under which Jews lived throughout much of our history. Such informing often led to dangerous persecution of the entire Jewish Community. He posits that this injunction no longer applies in those communities in which the government is generally fair and non-discriminatory. (Arukh HaShulhan, Hoshen Mishpat 388:7. This source is cited authoritatively by Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz in "The Abused Child: Halakhic Insights." Ten Da'at, Sivan 5748. p. 12). Accordingly, it is obligatory in the Western world today to inform the civil authorities about individuals who abuse others.
- The prohibition of mesirah applies only when testimony assists civil authorities in illegally obtaining the money of another Jew, not when it aids a non-Jewish government in fulfilling such rightful duties as collecting taxes and punishing criminals. When, however, the information concerns the criminal activities of a fellow Jew - as long as the Jewish criminal has also violated a Torah law, and even if the punishment will be more severe than the Torah prescribes (RaN to Sanhedrin 46a) - the ban of mesirah does not apply. (Rabbi Herschel Schachter, "Dina deMalchuso, Dina,"Journal of Halachah and Contemporary Society, I, p. 118.)
- Even should one hold that the prohibition of mesirah is relevant today, reporting child abusers to civil authorities is nevertheless mandatory. According to Rema, even when the prohibition of mesirah is in force, "a person who attacks others should be punished. If the Jewish authorities do not have the power to punish him, he must be punished by the civil authorities." (Hoshen Mishpat 338:7 and Shakh, no. 45. See also Gloss of Rema to Hoshen Mishpat 338:9.) Our Batei Din today have neither the power nor the authority to handle such matters.
- Shulhan Arukh rules that the prohibition of mesirah restricts an individual who is being harassed from making a report to the civil authorities. However, when there is a meitzar hatzibbur (public menace), mesirah is permissible. (Hoshen Mishpat 338:12, see Shakh, no. 59 and Gra no. 71.) Child abusers and molesters clearly endanger the welfare of many children with whom they have contact. (Rabbi Waldenberg quoted in Nishmat Avraham, Vol. IV, p. 209.)
See Rabbi Michael Broyde, "Mesirat Meida al Avaryanim lidei ha-Shiltonot be-Artzot ha-Berit," Hadarom, vol. 72-73, Elul 5762, pp. 7-38; p. 37, note 90.