Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mesira VII: The Heter Meah Rabbanim - The Genie is Back





אַבְטַלְיוֹן אוֹמֵר: חֲכָמִים, הִזָּהֲרוּ בְּדִבְרֵיכֶם, שֶׁמָּא תָּחוּבוּ חוֹבַת גָּלוּת וְתִגְלוּ לִמְקוֹם מַיִם הָרָעִים, וְיִשְׁתּוּ הַתַּלְמִידִים הַבָּאִים אַחֲרֵיכֶם וְיָמוּתוּ, וְנִמְצָא שֵׁם שָׁמַיִם מִתְחַלֵּל.



I am a typical Torah-minded baal-habos. I barely read magazines or other publications. I only pay actual money for two publications: Mishpacha Magazine at the behest of my eishes chayil, and Zman Magazine at the behest of my kids. The Zman Magazine I almost never look at, but Mishpacha Magazine usually gets a 15 min to half hour going over.

I read like most of us do – check out the columns and features that I usually like, ignore those that I don’t usually like, and as for the articles, just flip through the pages to see what catches my attention. Oh, and skip all the ads. Usually.

Well, in a somewhat recent issue (Issue 574 Aug. 26, 2015), something indeed caught my eye that was not a column, feature, or article. It was a three page ad on pages 53-55, just beyond the midpoint staples. All three pages were full of names and signatures. Nothing too remarkable by itself. But it wasn’t by itself.  It was under two paragraphs of text which was itself under the banner headline:


So, I thought, if it is an “Important Announcement” (and warrants three pages) I suppose I should read this “Important Announcement”. So I did. I did not like what I read.

Then I wondered, what kind of person would affix their name to this “Important Announcement”? So, I looked over the list of names. I did not like what I read.

Then I wondered who is sponsoring this “Important Announcement”? So I glanced at the bottom of the page. There was almost nothing there to read. Only an email address for additional rabbanim and a fax number with a Lakewood area code "for more information". I sent an email to the printed email address requesting more information. I did not present my self as a Rabbi (I am not a Rabbi). I received a reply that they do indeed need more money to place more ads but no additional information.
This ad was signed by approximately 107 prominent Rabbanim from numerous American communities. (Curiously, every single signature was in English.) I am familiar with many of the names on the list. Some I know personally, such as those from my pre-Aliya community and some wayback Yeshiva acquaintances. A few are well known Roshei Yeshiva. Others are names that I have heard here and there along life’s yellowbrick road. A few are real heavyweights. And, of course, two Rabbanim in California are cousins to my wife.
So I got some kind of impression by noting the names of those who signed it – and I got another kind of impression by noting the names of countless other Rabbanim that I know or have heard of…who didn’t sign it (including the Rav in California who is a cousin from my side). As an example, the 732 area code of the printed fax number indicates some kind of base in Lakewood. Yet, only two Rabbanim from all of Lakewood Ir Hakodesh signed the Kol Koreh. And these two are not local heavyweights. This augmented my wonderment about those who agreed to sign it even more.

So, I called up one of the signatories on the list. An old Yeshiva chum of mine and spoke with him. He was able to reassure me that the signatories were not as outlandish as I feared and made me feel a little better about the whole thing. Still, I can’t imagine that I would ever sign such a document even (or, especially) if I had semicha and ran a shul or yeshiva.
What bothers me?

A number of things struck me. I was  a bit disturbed at the relative anonymity of the sponsors of the notice. But chiefly, what struck me was the crudeness of the letter, how indiscriminate it is, how it caters to a prevalent presumption of guilt and how it misrepresents Halacha.

Let’s look at the text of the Kol Koreh (main text in green and I will colorize the trouble clauses):

Over 100 Rabonim Urge Communities: Report Child Abuse to Civil Authorities

We, the undersigned, affirm that any individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable basis to suspect child abuse has a religious obligation to promptly notify the secular law enforcement of that information. These individuals have the experience, expertise and training to thoroughly and responsibly investigate the matter. Furthermore, those deemed "mandated reporters" under secular law must obey their State's reporting requirements.

Lives can be ruined or ended by unreported child abuse, as we are too often tragically reminded. The Torah's statement in Leviticus 19:16, "Do not stand by while your neighbor's blood is shed," obligates every member of the community to do all in one's power to prevent harm to others. In conclusion, every individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable cause for suspicion of child abuse has a Torah obligation to promptly notify the proper civil authorities.

In a nutshell, approximately 107 Rabbanim are telling us – that is, “any individual” – that if you so much as “suspect” any degree of “child abuse” whatsoever, even without any “firsthand knowledge”, the Torah obligates you to go be moser to the police without any compunctions whatsoever. Don’t bother asking any shaylos. It’s a Torah mitzvah! And what’s the mitzvah?

לא תעמוד על דם רעיך

It doesn’t matter how closely or loosely you are connected to the parties involved. No need to verify if the “suspect” is truly guilty. No need to distinguish what "class" of abuse we are dealing with. And, likewise, no need to be discriminate if this degree of “abuse” (which you merely suspect – with reason, of course) qualifies as rodef achar haervah or not. No need to confront or forewarn (hatraah) the suspect. No need to consider any other less severe and possibly more effective course of action. No Siree! Just turn him right over to “law enforcement” for prosecution (oops, I mean "investigation") in the non-Jewish penal system because “These individuals have the experience, expertise and training to thoroughly and responsibly investigate the matter”. We can depend on these goyim to do the right thing!

Open season. Report first and ask questions later (if at all). איש כל הישר בעיניו יעשה!   Endorsed (in English) by over 100 American Rabbinic community leaders!  Oh, and the mitzvah of  לא תעמוד על דם רעיך  has now been officially upgraded to a matir issurim (a tremendous chiddush endorsed by 107 Rabbanim).

Is this really going to make our communities a better place?
I don’t really want to clash with over 100 musmachim (I am not a musmach) including superiors, friends and relatives. Let me be 100% clear that I fully acknowledge that, when it is absolutely necessary, the option to call in intervention from secular law enforcement can be exercised. I wrote it in my post in 2008 and I wrote it in my post in 2009 and repeated it throughout the previous six posts that I have posted here. There are significant teshuvos to this effect.

Hence, if the Kol Koreh was a responsible set of guidelines, there would be no need to protest it. But this indiscriminate text goes way beyond these boundaries. And when boundaries are crossed, bad things happen.
  כיון שניתן רשות למשחית להשחית, אינו מבחין בין צדיק לרשע.   

Now, I did call one the signatories and we had a little schmooze. He initially told me what I wanted to hear: He and many other signatories had issues with the looseness of the language of the statement and were reluctant to sign it as written. In fact, several of his colleagues refused to sign it for this very reason.

But then he told me what I didn’t want to hear: He was urged to sign it “as is” by some of the senior Rabbanim, including one Torah sage who did not sign it himself, and he, as being in a more junior position, could not refuse their entreaties. At a different point I asked him if he felt pressured or compelled to sign it, meaning – under any level of duress, and he said: Not at all. Despite that, at this point he intimated there was substantial “peer pressure” and he otherwise may not have signed it.

I asked him who is behind this entire project? I had assumed that if so many communities coast-to-coast were reached, it must have been spearheaded by a sizable organization. He told me, to my surprise, that this is basically due to the efforts of a single devoted individual.

It truly scares me to discover that a single person could exert enough influence to get over 100 community Rabbanim to sign a Kol Koreh with such indiscriminate, ambiguous, and consequently, hazardous language.

Getting more to the point, I asked my Rabbinic friend the key question: What is the purpose of this Kol Koreh? What is its objective?

He told me a number of things:
  • The Rabbanim have been receiving a lot of criticism for being too lenient with predators.
  • Victims or parents of victims are regularly discouraged from reporting the predators because it’s “lashon hara” or “mesira”.
  • Too many predators are just getting away scot-free because they do not fear being turned over to the police.
  • Apparently, these Rabbanim felt that if there were to be a united voice throughout the country that sanctions reporting predators to the police, these people will be more motivated to curb their activities and possibly to voluntarily apply for rehabilitation.

This is all very commendable. Yet, one question still stood out: Couldn’t we accomplish all this with a statement that reflects the Halachic complexity (and limits) of this issue instead of an indiscriminate, loosely worded text that is asking to be misused by the trigger-happy masses?

He did not offer to me a satisfactory answer to this question. He did say that this Kol Koreh is not intended for irresponsible people – i.e., those I called the “trigger-happy masses”. It is for level headed people who want to do the right thing and are reluctant or feel they are being stonewalled by the Rabbinic establishment.

He went on to say that the current situation is as hefker as the Wild West. Though he acknowledges the flaws in the language of the Kol Koreh, if it prevents one person from being molested, it would justify the Kol Koreh. Then he said that he was told that there have already been dividends; in one community a suspected child molester voluntarily turned himself into the Rav for rehabilitation on account of this Kol Koreh.

As he told me this I wondered: If there were any negative dividends, such as if somebody, on account of this Kol Koreh, was turned over to “law enforcement” when it was not really warranted (perhaps this Kol Koreh negates such a possibility since it states unequivocally that it is always warranted – even a Torah obligation) or if a case that could have been handled quietly and did not need public exposure received an inordinate amount of public exposure thus causing an unnecessary chillul Hashem on account of this Kol Koreh, would he be told about it as well?

In any case, this basically sums up the highlights of our conversation. He did not explain to me why it is not mesira or lashon hara – though, in fairness, I did not ask him to. I did learn the following:

  • He (and presumably some of the others) are fully aware of the flaws and potential pitfalls in the document but agreed (or felt compelled) to sign it anyway.
     
  • One reason for this Kol Koreh is a window dressing for the Rabbinic community to counter the shouts of complacency. כי יראתי את העם !

  • Because the situation is reminiscent of the Wild West, the proper response is to just form a posse and head ‘em off at the pass. As of now, the “responsible” level headed people are being urged to behave like the “trigger-happy masses” with the blessings of 107 Rabbanim (plus Harav Dovid Cohen, Shlita).
  • Oh, and about Lo Taamod, I gather that not one of the 107 Rabbanim looked up the gemara in Sanhedrin 73a before they signed it.

This friend is not the only person I spoke to (or, more accurately, listened to). I also heard a 13:52 minute interview with Harav Dovid Cohen. There were some things he said that I could agree with (like this Kol Koreh is totally unnecessary) but some things I found shocking. Primarily the contradiction between what he said at 1:23 to what he said at 7:28. Likewise, I read a statement from Harav Yechiel Perr which I found to be incomprehensible. I cannot elaborate on these in this post.

I understand that I have not been specific about the issues with the Kol Koreh. I basically covered them all in the 3 paragraphs above that begin with “In a nutshell…” And if you have been following my previous six posts, the issues should be self-explanatory. Perhaps I will elaborate in future posts.

The alarming thing is that the problem with the Kol Koreh is not with its basic message or intent. If somebody is proven to be an incorrigible child molester, let's get rid of him. It’s the broad brush it was painted with along with the anonymity of the sponsorship. The same Kol Koreh with the same basic intent could have been written properly and more openly and, thus, secure the dividends without the pitfalls; without misusing Halachic instruments for a seemingly virtuous cause. (And perhaps it would have merited many more signatures.)

But it wasn’t. And this spells out an agenda. And, just as with the Patriot Act where constitutional rights are trampled upon because that’s the way we get bad guys, but then they are no longer upheld for the general population; so too, when Halachic restrictions can be trampled upon for the purpose of routing out bad guys, then they can be trampled on in any situation – with you and me on the short end.

This is the Genie of Ochel Nefeshמתוך שהותרה, הותרה.

מתוך שהותרה כשברור שהוא רודף שא"א להצילו בדבר אחר, הותרה כשלא ברור ולא רודף


Mitoch she’hutra mesira as a last resort, hutra mesira as a first resort!


107 (108?) Rabbanim are supporting it as written! This is scary. The Genie has come to the chareidi community. And he will not go back into his bottle.

 I can tell you three Rabbanim who would never sign this Kol Koreh:

  • Rambam (Hilch. Rotzeach 1:7)

  • Chafetz Chaim (Shmiras Halashon 10:2)

  • Harav Moshe Feinstein, ZT”L (Igros Moshe Ch”M 1:8)

But they are all in Olam HaEmes.

חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין



אַבְטַלְיוֹן אוֹמֵר: חֲכָמִים, הִזָּהֲרוּ בְּדִבְרֵיכֶם, שֶׁמָּא תָּחוּבוּ חוֹבַת גָּלוּת וְתִגְלוּ לִמְקוֹם מַיִם הָרָעִים, וְיִשְׁתּוּ הַתַּלְמִידִים הַבָּאִים אַחֲרֵיכֶם וְיָמוּתוּ, וְנִמְצָא שֵׁם שָׁמַיִם מִתְחַלֵּל.




3 comments:

Harry Maryles said...

The nice thing about your blog is that there are so few people that read nonsense like this. Your post is insulting to the people that signed it. And don't be so sure that RMF wouldn't have signed it too.

Hamasig said...

Rav Doniel Neustadt of Detroit is also not signed on it.
Want to hear from his own mouth why he, and others didn't sign?
Listen to this :
http://audio.headlinesbook.com/audiofiles/headlines_10-3-15.mp3

Of course, some might say that too is all nonsense..

Anonymous said...

thank you for linking me to Rabbi Neustadts interview with david lichtenstein
finally a voice of reason... I wish all Rabbonim would be so fearless and knoq how to take all angles into account, and not let the emotions of this sensitive topic overtake seichel.
Thanks To David Lichtenstein for being fearless and airing for the masses the proper and true perspective
I agree fully with the author of this article (which begs the question how can rabbi dovid cohen proclaim all molestors should be thrown in jail and throw away the keys?!! are they all the same?? are they all guilty?? what is stopping people with an enemy from making false accusations and ruining lives and families??!!)