R Michael Broyde & R. Moshe Soloveichik / Many years ago, I wrote an article on halachic issues related to mesirah, 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.

Reporting Abuse

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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.[1]

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.


[1] 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 ….

About Michael Broyde

22 comments

  1. Rabbi Broyde,

    Can you please comment on how we should relate to rabbis who rule that we should not report child abuse? Do they lose the status of rabbis that we are obligated to respect?

  2. . 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.
    ======================================
    The reisha unfortunately seems contradicted by the facts on the ground in certain communities(unless should means in a better world)
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/nyregion/ultra-orthodox-jews-shun-their-own-for-reporting-child-sexual-abuse.html?_r=1

    KT

  3. I wish we had more rabbonim like Rav Moshe Soloveichik on so many levels.

  4. This comment by R. Broyde is perplexing in that he brings proof to his opinion regarding sexual abuse from the Nishmat Avraham which discusses physical beatings that will likely lead to death. Sounds more like apples and oranges to me..

    I’m not necessarily disagreeing on calling the authorities, but he presents a faulty argument. He could do better..

  5. Fotheringay-Phipps

    There is a huge distinction between cases in which one knows of abuse and cases in which one merely suspects it. The blurring of this line is disingenuous and dishonest.

  6. FP – In the respect you’re alluding to, no there isn’t. In neither cases do rabbonim have any expertise, and in neither should they get involved, especially because they frequently have so many negios that it’s like asking a fox to guard a chicken coop.

  7. Fotheringay-Phipps

    That’s your opinion. You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m not interested in arguing with you about it.

    All I’m saying is that if rabbis say “you have to go to the police” in cases in which you have actual knowledge of the abuse, and someone else pretends that these rabbis have said that you should go to the police in cases when you only suspect abuse, then that person is being disingeuous and dishonest.

    This is true regardless of whether that person personally feels that you should go to the police in both circumstances.

  8. I’m frankly astonished that anyone could read the press coverage of the last few days and maintain otherwise. Do you really believe that rabbonim should vet child abuse claims before they are reported? Do you think that this will lead to more or less molesters roaming free or do you not care?

  9. Fotheringay-Phipps

    I’m frankly astonished that anyone could read “You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m not interested in arguing with you about it” and immediately attempt to launch an argument about it.

    There’s a lot of astonishing things going on …

  10. So you wrote a comment with a clear subtext that aims to promote a particular (execrable) view, declare yourself unwilling to discuss the ramifications of that view, and are then astonished when someone calls you on it. Nice.

  11. MiMedinat HaYam

    i’m not disagreeing with the tenor of this post, but i note two separate “exonerations” just this week in the new york city area.

    are the police / DA the right party to evaluate such accusations, after having ruined both these person’s lives?

    (not that the charedi system is appropriate, cause they seem to have other considerations.)

  12. One wonders which Poskim Agudah is relying on in its insistence that such complaints be dealt with within the community, as opposed to reporting the same to the police. It is indeed a trageedy that such views result in the NYPD in such instances being viewed as the equivalent of the forces of the Czar of Russia or worse.

  13. “i’m not disagreeing with the tenor of this post, but i note two separate “exonerations” just this week in the new york city area.

    are the police / DA the right party to evaluate such accusations, after having ruined both these person’s lives?”

    I never realized, until now, that we didn’t live in a perfect world. Ah well, my illusions are shattered.

    More seriously, were the exonerations truly “exonerations” or rather reversals on technical grounds — you know, the same question asked by some death penalty supporters about exonerations of people on death row (where, in fact, many though not all, are truly exonerations).

  14. The view of RMF that views Mesirah as being an appropriate defense in the US is a Teshuvah dated 1961. Yet, RMF also wrote a teshuvah in the late 1970s condemning the participants in a school lunch progam in which he warned against such conduct in the US, which RMF called a Malchus Shel Chesed, a decidedly different view of the US than R Menashe Klein.

  15. FP wrote:

    “There is a huge distinction between cases in which one knows of abuse and cases in which one merely suspects it. The blurring of this line is disingenuous and dishonest”

    Actually, the degree of knowledge that is required is a “reasonable suspicion”, as opposed to the two extremes of actual knowledge or the mere suspicion. I think that my fellow attorneys on this blog would agree that the failure of any mandated provider or a rav or mnahel to honor a subpoeana duly issued by any court in this state either for their appearance and/or the production of records, if any, in the appropriate case, would be grounds for the issuance of a charge of civil contempt. I tend to doubt that most judges would be favorably inclined to vacate or quash a subpoena if Mesirah was raised as an objection to the subpoena.

  16. How can anything so simple be made so complicated. Something is wrong.

  17. MiMedinat HaYam

    j kaplan — both had documented alibis for the times involved.

    after one was exonerated, an “enhanced” picture was broadcast within 24 hours, indicating loose “reasonable suspicion”. but i guess reasonable suspicion is enough to ruin someone’s life with such accusations. (as for contempt of subpeona, it seems the subpeona is a subterfuge for incviting perjury; wouldnt be so valid. nevertheless, the “mesira” issue you raise is now in play in los angeles, as discussed here. and its not working there, like you say.)

    e pasik — yes, something is wrong. the “rabonim” involved dont want to make a credible procedure (for what they call “raglayim”.) so yes, there’s no real alternative.

  18. MMHY:

    Is there anything we can look at other than your say-so about these exonerations?

  19. MiMedinat HaYam

    this was big news last week. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/11/nyregion/karl-vanderwoude-wrongly-accused-and-cleared-by-the-nypd.html dont have time to find the other one, that was also big the last couple of weeks in the new york area media, but you’ll recall if you follow. if you dont follow …

    i’m not objecting to the idea. i just challenge (charedim, other opponents) to establish a credible committee to evaluate such issues before they go public (or go to DA, another related issue.)

    (didnt DL rabbis have such a structure in israel that eventually “outed” certain rabbonim, (though the rav’s supporters still oppose)?)

    another pblm — satmar has such a structure, but it (supposedly) turned into an extortion plot, threatening to “out” even if not true.

    (“out” here does not mean SSA issues, though i guess that’s included.)

  20. Oh THAT case, where (a) no one reported that he did it (he was arrested based on a photo and then there was a lineup), (b) it was a case of mistaken identity where no one denies the molestation occurred, and (c) adults and not children were molested. What does that have to do with the issues we’ve been discussing: i.e., cases of child molestation where the child says a specific person molested me?If the point is that innocent people sometimes get accused of child sexual crimes then yes, in our imperfect world, innocent people are sometimes accused, and even convicted and imprisoned, for all sorts of crimes. So?

  21. MiMedinat HaYam

    that was originally reported as a cut and dried case. photo id, adult (not child line up id), etc.

    many child accusations are even molestation questionable (unless there is physical evidence, in male cases.)

    i mean to say, it may be good for the secular world, where an improper accusation will only lead someone to move to another town to avoid future embarrasment.

    in our jewish world, that doesnt work. you cant move, you cant marry, etc. if you’re a teacher, forget it. hence, my call for a credible review panel. which we dont have. so my argument is irrelevant. (i note a certain state assemblyman started setting up such a panel, but the beyond question volunteers were immediately hounded out of their volunterrism by the charedi powers that be.) (then there is the legal (madated reporter) issue, but thats simply not enforced, so its just irrelevant.)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: