Jul 24, 2011

The Agudah's Disconnect With Rabbonim On Reporting Child Abuse

In the ongoing debate of whether a possible molester should be reported to authorities [i.e. the police and/or social welfare and/or child protection services] or only to rabbonim, I think it is worthwhile pointing out the post released by Avi Shafran in which he states the policy of Agudath Yisrael of America on reporting suspicions of child abuse.

Shafran writes on Cross-Currents:
Agudath Israel of America has received several inquiries in the wake of misleading claims that have recently been made about our stance on reporting suspected child abusers to law enforcement authorities. We take the opportunity to clarify our position.

As Torah Jews we live our lives in accordance with halacha. The question of whether and under what circumstances one is halachically permitted or required to report to the authorities suspicions of child abuse (including sexual molestation) has attracted the attention of a number of our generation’s most prominent rabbinic authorities. Many of their responsa have been collected in the respected Torah journal Yeshurun, Volumes 15 and 22. As elaborated at a recent Halacha Conference sponsored by Agudath Israel of America, these responsa make clear that when certain standards have been met it is not only permitted but in fact obligatory to report suspicions of abuse or molestation. The general principles that emerge from these responsa are as follows:

1. Where there is “raglayim la’davar” (roughly, reason to believe) that a child has been abused or molested, the matter should be reported to the authorities. In such situations, considerations of “tikun ha’olam” (the halachic authority to take steps necessary to “repair the world”), as well as other halachic concepts, override all other considerations.

2. This halachic obligation to report where there is raglayim la’davar is not dependent upon any secular legal mandate to report. Thus, it is not limited to a designated class of “mandated reporters,” as is the law in many states (including New York); it is binding upon anyone and everyone. In this respect, the halachic mandate to report is more stringent than secular law.

3. However, where the circumstances of the case do not rise to the threshold level of raglayim la’davar, the matter should not be reported to the authorities. In the words of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, perhaps the most widely respected senior halachic authority in the world today, “I see no basis to permit” reporting “where there is no raglayim la’davar, but rather only ‘eizeh dimyon’ (roughly, some mere conjecture); if we were to permit it, not only would that not result in ‘tikun ha’olam’, it could lead to ‘heres haolam’ (destruction of the world).” [Yeshurun, Volume 7, page 641.]

4. Thus, the question of whether the threshold standard of raglayim la’davar has been met so as to justify (indeed, to require) reporting is critical for halachic purposes. (The secular law also typically establishes a threshold for mandated reporters; in New York, it is “reasonable cause to suspect.”) The issue is obviously fact sensitive and must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

5. There may be times when an individual may feel that a report or evidence he has seen rises to the level of raglayim la’davar; and times when he may feel otherwise. Because the question of reporting has serious implications for all parties, and raises sensitive halachic issues, the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment to determine the presence or absence of raglayim la’davar. Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi who is expert in halacha and who also has experience in the area of abuse and molestation – someone who is fully sensitive both to the gravity of the halachic considerations and the urgent need to protect children. (In addition, as Rabbi Yehuda Silman states in one of his responsa [Yeshurun, Volume 15, page 589], “of course it is assumed that the rabbi will seek the advice of professionals in the field as may be necessary.”) It is not necessary to convene a formal bais din (rabbinic tribunal) for this purpose, and the matter should be resolved as expeditiously as possible to minimize any chance of the suspect continuing his abusive conduct while the matter is being considered.
It seems the main issue is the need to determine if raglayim l'davar is present in any given situation. If there is any question, Agudath Yisrael says you must first check with your rav to determine if there is or is not. If there is no question of raglayim l'davar, one must go straight to the authorities, secular or otherwise.

Nowhere in the Agudath Yisrael guidelines is there a set of guidelines laid out by which the rav is going to conduct an investigation and act as an alternative to the police/welfar services. At most he is going to speak to professionals in the field about the details to determine if there is raglayim l'davar, and if he finds that there is he will tell you to go to the police.

This is very different than what we hear from many rabbonim. For example, a local RBS rav, a neighborhood where this has been a serious ongoing issue in the past 7 or so years, recently gave a shiur to his constituents, and has made the shiur available for download to the general public. It seems an ambiguous "sod Hashem L'Yerai'av" is more of a determining factor than determining raglayim l'davar.

Ignoring the accuracy of the details of what he says regarding this or that organization, his policy is nothing like what Agudath Yisrael of America dictates. Is he obligated to follow the policy of the Agudah? I guess not, but then what is he talking about when he describes "community", the need to work with the community, the style of the community, etc? Talking to an anglo community, one would think that the Agudah would be the main source of direction in most issues. So, either he is making up his own rules (not just this specific rav, but rabbonim in general who advocate their controlling the investigation) or else the Agudah is all talk but the rabbonim don't actually follow the policy.

I don't mean to pinpoint any one specific rav. I have heard the same regarding rabbonim all over, in the haredi community, both in chutz la'aretz and in Israel. They might say that ultimately one should go to the police, once it has been determined that there is definitely enough suspicion, but they will almost never follow that in practice. Instead of just seeking advice to determine raglayim l'davar, they will try to conduct full-scale investigations.

Does the Agudah not have any sway over rabbonim in the anglo-haredi community? Are the statements put out by the Agudah simply for public consumption but not actually meant to be followed? What is the point of the Agudah at all, if their own rabbonim don't follow their guidelines?


  1. Where are Our Leaders?July 24, 2011 5:41 PM


    You are oh too kind in not mentioning the name of that rav.

    My wife heard first hand his opinion about the policies of abuse and reporting.

    Rabbi Kornfeld openly mentioned Magen in his drasha and not in a complimentary way.

    The people of magen have been the only ones courageous enough to stand up for our children and battle the covering up and sweeping under the carpet of our rabbinic leadership.

  2. the fight with Magen is really irrelevant, from the perspective of this post.
    I get the idea of working with the community, which the rav talks about in his drasha. makes sense. but, again, that should be only from the goal of coming t a quick decision of whether there is raglayim l'davar, and nothing more than than that.

    I have nothing wrong with a person who is not sure going to his or her rav and asking for advice. If your kid should chas v'shalom come home with a story/incident, and you are not quite sure he hasnt made it up or just repeating talk from others, go ask advice. that's what rabbonim are for. The frum community asks advice of rabbonim when unsure what to do. If you are sure your kid is telling you something, lo aleinu, and you dont doubt him/her, you might not have a doubt, you might already have raglayim l'davar.

  3. Mehadrin Standard=Double StandardJuly 24, 2011 5:55 PM

    This shitta of the rabbonim brings up some interesting questions.

    What if the chiloni/mizrachi/etc janitor in their shul, school, etc came under suspicion for abuse?

    Do the same rules apply or do we give "special treatment" to charedim alone?

    What if we catch a charedi looking guy breaking into our home in the middle of the night? Do we call the police or the rav?

    What would we say if the police adopt the same standards...like: we won't respond to you because you guys like to handle things yourselves?

    I mean if we really take the concern and sensitivities of the "community" into consideration the police should never be called..on anyone.

  4. And Who Will Protect Magen?July 24, 2011 6:01 PM

    The fight with Magen is very relevant.

    Unfortunately many of those who follow these rabbonim do so without thinking for themselves.

    Whatever the rav tells me I will do, regardless of the effect on me, my marriage or my children.

    As we have seen in our community there are children in schools who are at risk and in danger.

    If Rabbi Kornfeld successfully "posuls" Magen, an important resource for parents and kids will be taken away.

  5. And - I didnt mean the fight is irrelevant, just that from the topic of this post it is irrelevant.

    Mehadrin - regarding the question of catching the thief, I'd say call police. you caught him in the act, there is no more raglayim l'davar then that. I wonder if with molestation if you caught the guy in the act if they would then say to go to the police...

  6. Rabbi Kornfeld FanJuly 24, 2011 7:42 PM

    Rafi - I find it hard to believe you listened to the Shiur linked to your post...

    At around minute 40 (after a lot of sipurei tzadikim and other 'uplifting' and patronising words to the women) Rabbi Korfeld gets to the crux.

    The real problem with child abuse in Ramat Bet Shemesh is...MAGEN!!

    His main charge is that Magen isn't "from our tzibbur".

    Even if true (which he knows it's not - several Magen volunteers are from his own Kehilla) since when has this been a justification for trashing people successfully helping the whole community?!

    Rabbi Kornfeld has every reason to be scared of Magen.

    In its first year of operation Magen has exposed an alleged pedophile operating in Rav Kornfeld's own shul, the Gra, for several years.

    And another alleged pedophile operating in Rav Kornfeld's own school "Avi Ezri".

    In this case also, the perp had been operating for years on R.Kornfeld's guard, until Magen exposed the perp. Meantime, dozens of kids were allegedly molested.

    Both perps have now been arrested, charged, and are awaiting trial for crimes against children.

    No open enquiry has been carried out by either the parents of the school or the shul to determine what extent Rav Kornfeld was previously aware of these perps nefarious activities?

    Sure Rabbi Kornfeld, the problem isn't pedophiles.

    And the problem isn't rabbis enabling the perps.

    The problem is MAGEN!

    Way to go Rabbi Kornfeld!!

  7. Rafi,
    This statement does not actually correspond to what was stated at the Agudah conference.The Agudah conference stated under ALL circumstances one must go to a Rav.
    Even mandated reporters,professionals must first go to a Rav.
    In Israel everyone is a mandated reporter.

  8. daat y - I dont know what was said at the Aguda conference. I do know what the Aguda spokesperson (avi Shafran) wrote on the unofficial Aguda blog i the name of the Aguda.

    there isnt much of a difference, in reality, as even on cross currents he basically says that you always have to go to a rav first to determine raglayim l'davar.
    Besides for that though, the rav's role according to the aguda is only to help determine raglayim l'davar. not to investigate and decide innocence or guilt.

  9. fan - I listened. i know what he said about Magen. I chose not to relate to that part of the shiur for my own reasons. I dont work for Magen or for Rabbi K and I dont need to mix into their power struggles or their kavod struggles or whatever one wants to call their bickering. There is absolutely no reason they cannot get beyond all that and work together, or not work together but following the Agudah's guidelines still work in a way that Magen would not try to interfere in his domain. But they are caught up in turf wars. (whether you believe they are bi-directional, only one way, which way or whatever)

  10. For both the Aguda and *some* of the local rabbis in RBS, the most important issue is RABBINICAL CONTROL.

    And even when it puts the whole community on the wrong side of the law.

    Even when this comes at the expense of the kids.

    Since when are we all required to become common criminals (by breaking mandatory reporting laws), for this RABBINICAL CONTROL?

    Since when are we required to sacrifice our children for this RABBINICAL CONTROL?

  11. Garnel IronheartJuly 24, 2011 9:17 PM

    The Agudah statement is deceptive:
    You can go to the police if there are valid suspicions.
    Only a rabbi can tell you if the suspicions are valid.
    So short of witnessing the act yourself, you still have to go to the rabbi!

  12. parent in realityJuly 24, 2011 9:42 PM

    what is wrong with Rav Kornfeld that he will not work with Magen. Is he afraid they might expose other molesters withing the anglo chareidi community? Magen is only out to protect the children of this community from predators. Why in the world would Rav Kornfeld try to stop them. Who cares how the molesters are put away as long as the job is done. Are we waiting for another avi ezri situation to happen? Its 2011 and molesters are getting busted all over the world. Its time for the ramat beit shemesh community to face the reality and dangers that are out there and support people who really care about our future and the future of our children. Black Hats and payos do not come before safety of children. Maybe Rav Kornfeld and his community needs to be reminded of that. Let safety and truth reign.

  13. Kornfeld is just upset (jealous) that when the kids finally spoke up and told their parents about the jerk (yemach shemo- may he rot in jail until 120) who was molesting them in his little shtetle school – Avi Ezri - the parents did not go to him (bec they obviously knew absolutely nothing would happen) they went to a different community rabbi (one with his head screwed on) who told them to go to the police and thank g-d the molester was quickly taken care of by the authorities.

  14. food for thoughtJuly 24, 2011 10:00 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. please, if you have accusations to make, either call the police, Magen or the rabbonim.. this is not the place for accusations against specific people

  16. Question. Have the local police ever attempted prosecution in any of these cases when Rabbinical intervention ruined a conviction. In the boys school abuse a few years ago ( the school that closed), it was made clear that a local rav's interview made a conviction impossible. Why was he not charged with interfering with evidence? Are the police afraid of rioting or are they just overwhelmed. I'm wondering if any such cases have ever been brought.

  17. The police here claim they don't have whatever resources it takes to take care of Bet Shemesh - number of patrol cars, staff, equipment, whatever. Whether that's the real reason or they're just lazy or they take bribes, they are not very effective at catching anyone.

    The plumber-thief had his way with Bet Shemesh for over a month before Modiin caught him within 2 days. Schools (with alarms!) were being robbed every Shabbat for 14 weeks running before the Arabs were caught by national authorities after the crimes were linked to other crimes near Beitar.

    Sadly there are many more examples.

  18. Rafi what makes you think a Charedi Rabbi here has anything to do with Agudas Yisroel in the US? Agudah smiles favorably on baalei batim, the Charedi derech here sees baalei batim as good for 2 things: (1) sending their kids to the kollel-for-life derech and (2) fundraising for the kollel-for-life derech.

  19. Israeli Hareidim operate under a tautology: The Gedolim say not to go to the Police. Who is a Gadol? Only those who say not to go to the Police. That is to fire the arrow first and draw the bullseye around it.
    No, Israeli Hareidim have no respect for Agudah or anyone who does not tow their line.Heck, they have no respect for their own "Gedolim" when it doesn't suit them.

  20. Google "Milgram Experiment" for some interesting info re obedience and conformity.

  21. BTW, the Agudah has a tautology of its own: If there are "raglayim ladavar" of course you should go to the Police. PS, since there are never any witnesses other than the child victim, this can never constitute "raglayim ladavar" so you must always go to your Rav.

  22. A Parent Who Has Been ThereJuly 25, 2011 9:36 AM

    For those of you who may question the intentions of Rav Kornfeld let me tell you a story.

    We had a child in Rav Kornfeld's school. We had suspicions that our child might have been abused. learning from stories at other local chadarim we chose to go to the Pikadat Saad/Child Protection center. We also sought out a qualified therapist for our son.

    Somehow Rav Kornfeld found out about our situation and called our home. Until this day I think that perhaps the rebbe himself told Rav Kornfeld that we might complain (as the rebbe knows who his victims were)..otherwise how would he know.

    He told us that the cheder had a therapist available and we should use him and only him. We told Rav Kornfeld that we had found a therapist. Rav Kornfeld asked..is he Charedi? I thanked him for the call and said good night.
    Rav Kornfeld persisted. "Is he Charedi? You must use a Charedi therapist." I answered that "it isn't a he but a she and yes she is religious."
    "But is she Charedi?" At this point I put the phone down.

    At no point during that call or since has Rav Kornfeld asked about the welfare of our son or our state of mind. His only concern was that his therapist should be used.

    If in fact Rav Kornfeld is so concerned about the sensitivities of "the tzibbur" why has he never been concerned about the victims and their families?

  23. Been There - I can't even imagine. Much chizuk to you and yours for all your days, and may they be long and productive.

    That said, Rav Kornfeld's answer to your question "why doesn't he ask after the welfare of the child" is obvious - he did once, you indicated you had no interest in his involvement both by not following his implied recommendation and by ending the conversation.

    This is why Rabbi Shafran's statement on behalf of the Agudah is difficult: "the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment....Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi..." There is a lot to be said for a parent's instinct, and the requirement to go to a Rabbi risks disregarding that.

    Come to think of it Rafi the only aspect that local don't-tell-police Rabbonim are doing differently than the Agudah statement is that they are reviewing cases yet lack "experience in the area of abuse and molestation" - which is why a specially organized commission including Rabbis would be a better recommendation.

  24. To "A Parent"
    We are also former Avi Ezri parents. Can you tell us when this occurred?

  25. To Parent:
    Also, was it the mefakeach or a different Rebbe?

  26. the whole "you have to ask a rabbi before doing anything" is very questionable. that attitude used to be adhered to solely in the hassidic and perhaps sefardic communities.

    In the non-hassidic communities (we can bunch it all under litvishe if it pleases you even though it is broader than just litvishe) there was never such a concept of asking the rabbi anything and everything. You asked the rabbi when you had a safeik and did not know what to do, or if you were ignorant on a certain issue. The non-hassidic community always promoted thinking for yourself, making your own decisions, while the rabbi was there for those times where you were unable to.

    so, I dont know why in this issue suddenly everythign needs to be asked. if you are unsure, you ask, if you know, if you treat your kids claim seriously (rather than a situation where you suspect it might be made up), I dont see why you should need to go to the rabbi at all.

    Perhaps much of the litvishe community has adopted hassidic styles in their behavior, but I mostly have not.

  27. Miriam - good point about not wanting the involvement. But in reality there are two different roles at play. there is the role of running the investigation, playing point with the police/therapists or whatever, and in that issue the parent felt the rav was not needed.

    there is a second issue of the welfare of someone in the community. I dont know where they daven but their kid was in that specific school. As head of that community, the rav has a role of being concerned with the well-being of his parishioners. Regardless of the fact that they did not need/want his involvement in the first role, the 2nd role was still neglected (according to the person posting).

  28. For readers of this post who are not familiar with the RBS scene, this is the context of Rav Kornfeld's "shiur" to the women of the Gra (link in Rafi's post):

    Here's the story....

    1. 2009 - David Morris of Lema'an Achai was quoted in the Jerusalem Post saying there's a problem of child abuse in RBS and no-one's dealing with it properly.
    2. 2009 - R.Malinowitz and R.Kornfeld get Jonathan Rosenblum to trash Morris in the JPost etc, and claim the rabbis are dealing with it very competently in RBS, and everything's just fine.
    3. 2009 - Malinowitz bans Lema'an Achai (local tzedaka org) from Beis Tefilla, as revenge for the Jpost article.
    4. 2010 - Morris moves ahead, starting a new org, "Magen" specifically focused on helping victims of child abuse, and more effectively chasing down the perps. All within halacha, the law and professional protocols. All community rabbis are invited to work with Magen.
    5. Magen gets loads of calls from people in Kornfeld's shul, school and street.
    6. 2011 - Big busts of Mr S (Gra shul) and Rav G (mefakeach at Avi Ezri cheder) - who both operated for years on R.Kornfeld's guard. Both arrested, charged, awaiting trial for multiple offenses against children.
    7. July 2011 - little girls sexually attacked on the busy Revivim Street, on a shabbos afternoon, heart of R.Kornfeld's self-declared fiefdom. Several parents call Magen.
    8. July 2011 - R.Kornfeld invites all the women of his shul, to talk to/at them about child abuse. R.Kornfeld says the big danger in the community is not child abuse (everything's fine, no cause for panic, or any action whatsoever, etc), but the danger is "Magen". Why? "Not from our tzibur". Everyone should therefore come to R.Kornfeld if there's any problem, not Magen.
    9. Women drink R.Kornfeld's cool aid.

  29. Anonymous asked: "Have the local police ever attempted prosecution in any of these cases when Rabbinical intervention ruined a conviction?"

    Good question.

    EVERYONE in this country is a Mandatory Reporter, if one suspects a case of child abuse.

    This does, of course, include rabbonim who B'H are not above the law in this country.

    Regular folks face a three months prison sentence for failure to report.

    Whereas "professionals" face a more severe six month sentence.

    It's interesting whether a rabbi would therefore be facing a three or six month sentence, for failing to report.

    In addition to this, it is also a crime to interfere with a police investigation (such as sending victims to a therapist prior to reporting - which corrupts the evidence). Not sure what the standard sentence is for that.

    I guess we may find out.

  30. police will never prosecute a rabbi for this. they will draw the wrath of the rabbis entire community plus probably the general haredi community.
    they have shown themselves to not be antagonistic in this sense.

  31. The police are only likely to implement that law, when there's a major "fashla".

    For example, the husband of the "burka" lady ("Talibanit") was charged and imprisoned for failure to report child abuse, right here in RBS (Bet).

    If there were to be a tragedy, chas veshalom, such as Leiby in Borough Park, then heads of those involved in a cover-up, might topple.

    Even rabbinical ones.


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