A Religious Imperative to Stamp Out Abuse

July 29, 2011 by Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence
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It has become painfully apparent that child abuse exists within the Jewish community and even in religious schools and institutions.  It is an evil which has no place in civilised society and it should not be tolerated….writes Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence.

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence

It is very difficult for victims to come forward as they often feel violated and ashamed as well as fearful of the repercussions of speaking out.

The Organisation of Rabbis of Australia, the NSW and Victorian Rabbinic Associations, the Sydney Beth Din and others have made clear statements in recent weeks, deploring those who might seek to conceal abuse, protecting abusers or the reputation of affected organisations and their staff.

Internal rabbinic discussion has as of necessity discussed historic and contemporary religious sources which are relevant to confidentiality as well as all dealings with the non-Jewish world and its institutions.  Pilpul, the critical discussion of source-material is a part of rabbinic methodology.

One should not contest the right of the rabbis to debate every subtle nuance within Halacha on any issue.

The concern is whether the debate shows the rabbinate sensitive to the gravity of abuse and its traumatic impact on the victims.  As well as scholarship, does our religious leadership show moral leadership, a respect for society and the law?  Do they project values that sanctify God’s name in His world?  These are no less halachic issues than adherence to Shabbat and Kashrut.

Rabbi Chayim of Brisk was asked, ‘what is the function of a Rabbi?’

He replied, ‘To redress the grievances of those who are abandoned and alone, to protect
the dignity of the poor and to save the oppressed from the hands of the oppressor.’

This entails familiarity with welfare resources, the fullest cooperation with the police as well as knowledge and compliance with all mandatory reporting legislation.

There is no question that a Rabbi must recognise his duty of care to the child who feels abandoned and alone.  Also his duty to society at large; to protect the community from the oppressive grasp of predatory abusers.

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