On the Halachic Obligation to Report to the Police Every Case of Physical or Sexual Abuse of Children
Guest post by Rabbi Michael J. Broyde
Michael Broyde is a law professor at Emory University, was the founding rabbi of the Young Israel in Atlanta, and (most importantly for the purposes of this short note) is a member (Chaver) and Dayan in the Beth Din of America.
Editorial note: In the wake of a NY Times article about some attitudes within the Orthodox community regarding reporting abuse to authorities, I am reposting this from Dec. 2, 2010 – Gil
Many years ago, I wrote an article on halachic issues related to mesirah (see here: link), and I continue to get mesirah questions posed with some regularity. Some of them are complex and some are less so, but one category of them is heartbreaking – child abuse. Although I wrote clearly in that article that halacha permits one to report child abuse, sadly enough I still find that people are hesitant to actually do so. Such hesitation is mistaken, and people who engage in child abuse ought to be reported to the police.
I write this brief post to bring to the attention of our community the fine video presentation of Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik of Chicago which can be found below.
Members of our community should listen to his presentation.
Although Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik’s views hardly needs my endorsement, I write publicly to endorse all three of his conclusions.
First, it is completely proper as a matter of halacha to promptly report child abuse allegations. A person who engages in child abuse is a danger to the community and reporting such conduct is not a violation of the rules of mesirah. Reporting such abuse to the police is absolutely consistent with halacha.
Second, it is right as a matter of common sense to promptly report such issues to the police. There is no need to seek rabbinic license before making such a report to the police. Such reports to the police should be made as soon as possible and expert therapists, social workers and other professionals should be welcomed into our community to help address the consequences of child abuse.
Third, it is good for the Orthodox community to promptly report child abuse to the police. A policy of promptly reporting all cases of child abuse to the police makes our community much less likely to be the victim of such conduct over the long term. People should have no fear of social stigma in filing such reports to the police, and anyone who stigmatizes those who make such reports is assisting in a terrible wrong in our community.
 This is true even if the child will be removed from his “Orthodox” home where abuse is taking place and placed in foster care that is not Jewish. See Abraham Sofer Abraham, Nishmat Avraham Volume 4, pages 307-11 who quotes responsa from Rabbis Auerbach, Elyashiv and Waldenberg in agreement on this point, that one must report cases of child abuse. No alternative view is quoted in this enclyopedic work. Rabbi Abraham writes:
A child or infant who is brought to a hospital with symptoms of being a battered child… it is prohibited, after an investigation to return him to his home as they will continue to beat him until he might die. Because of the real danger, it is obligatory for the doctor to inform the courts, and with an order from the court, place the child with a foster parent or agency. There is no problem of informing since we are dealing with danger to life and the parents are the pursuers. This is permitted even if they will place the child, due to no choice, with a family or agency that is secular. It is incumbent upon the Jewish court to do everything in its power to insure that the child is placed with an observant family or agency. Particularly in the diaspora it is important that the Jewish court work to insure that the child not be placed with a Gentile family or agency. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach agreed with all of the above.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv recounted to me that it is permitted for the doctor to inform the authorities even if it is possible that the child will be placed with a family or agency that is not Jewish ….