Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Reason to Believe, or just Conjecture

The 14 July 2011 posting to this Blog speculated as to the possibilities of the Agudath Israel of America being concerned for collateral damage from the media feeding frenzy regarding the murder in Brooklyn of Leiby Kletzky. If the speculations did not hit the bull's eye, neither were they too far off target.

To square everything up front, I do not consider myself to be an opponent of the Agudath Israel of America, and respect and appreciate its many good works on behalf of the religiously observant Jewish community (of which I am a member). But neither is the Agudath Israel above criticism, nor should it be.

Having learned the harsh and painful lessons of history, the Jewish community inherently takes a very dim view of Jews reporting their fellow Jews to the secular governmental authorities. It is more than a social norm; the Rabbis inserted a section into the daily prayer routine addressing the issue.

This is not to say that one should NEVER report a wrongdoer, even under Rabbinical law. But the presumption is that whatever wrong the wrongdoing Jew has done to his fellow Jews does not warrant intervention by the secular authorities, and that the situation is best dealt with by Rabbis and community leaders.

Unfortunately, the theory has not panned out in practice. I shall not now get into the psychosocial analysis; suffice it to say that certain types of aberrant behavior are not adequately understood by non-experts, and that ordinary rabbinical training in a Yeshiva does not constitute adequate expertise.

The Agudath Israel of America is essentially a political organ that does the bidding of the leaders of the European yeshiva world which has been transplanted to America following World War II. A legitimate purpose, if followed correctly.

But the problems of sexual abuse have been amplified on account of the failure of the Rabbis to recognize the dynamics of the crime and the criminal. There has been a big cover-up, analogous in many (but not all) respects to the problems now facing the Catholic Church.

And certain Rabbinical leaders have made statements to the effect that one must obtain permission from a rabbi to report the misdeeds to the authorities.

The Agudath Israel has issued so-called "clarification" of its position. Distilled to its essence, the AI's position per its "clarification" (which has many attributes of a back-tracking) is:

A. One is allowed to report it if one has sufficient reason to believe ("raglayim la’davar" in Hebrew) that it is abuse.

B. One is not allowed to report it if it is only conjecture ("'eizeh dimyon" in Hebrew). This is not a bad thing, inasmuch as many innocent people's lives have been destroyed by false accusations.

C. The differences between certainty and speculation are so complex and intricate that one needs to consult with a rabbi to really determine which is which (unless, perhaps, one actually saw it happen in real time).

I shall not now add to the feeding frenzy by linking to the numerous posting made with the past 24 hours; and I don't want to unnecessarily parrot other commentators. This Blog is not intended to be a "me, too" organ. It suffices to now say that the Agudath Israel's "clarification" has, in many quarters, created more controversy and confusion than it has clarified. Many individuals and organizations who, even a year ago, would have been squarely in the Agudath Israel's corner are now beginning to ask questions.

Some background: A number of years ago I was on the board of a Jewish day school. To the best of my knowledge, there was never any problem regarding abuse of students by school employees (though we did have other types of problems to address). During that time, however, I did have many occasions to compare notes with board members of other institutions.

One such board member (with whom I had a legal case unrelated to either of our institutions) told me that he had an abuser in the employ of his institution, and that the abuser was quietly fired, and was teaching at another institution. My acquaintance told me that he mentioned at board meetings that, as an attorney, he would be concerned regarding liability of the institution (this is before such a thing became the big concern it now is), and he threatened to do the reporting himself if the Executive Director did not. Within a week, he was preempted by the abuser's girlfriend (or rather, ex-girlfriend), who learned that her daughter had been abused by this guy.

The norm was to quietly fire the abuser, and keep quiet about it, even as the abuser went somewhere else to teach and abuse. I am not convinced that the practice has totally ended (though the threat of lawsuits has curtailed it significantly).

Perhaps the litmus test should be whether one feels strongly enough to terminate the employment of the person in question. If you truly believe that he may be the victim of false accusations, then you should have the fortitude to keep him in your employ, and stand behind him and back him up.

If, however, you yourself are not confident enough to keep him in your employ, then that should be your "raglayim la’davar," your sufficient reason to believe. When it comes to sexual abuse, if he's bad enough for you to fire, he's bad enough for you to report to the authorities.

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