On May 11, 2011, Agudath Israel of America held a “Halacha Conference for Professionals”, where one of the sessions was led by noted askan Shlomo Gottesman entitled “Molestation Issues and Reporting: Current Halachic Thinking.” The audio is available at: http://www.archive.org/
The lecture was lengthy and complex and discussed various teshuvos including one alleged to have been authored by Rav Elyashiv (I say “alleged” because to my knowledge, Rav Elyashiv rules by judicial fiat and I have yet to see an actual teshuvaauthored by him in recent decades). To briefly summarize the position of the poskim discussed at the lecture and as expressed by Shlomo Gottesman, no individual – including mandated reporters – may contact law enforcement about a suspected child molester unless a posek has decided that based on the facts conveyed to him, there is a “raglayim ledavar” that the accused is guilty as charged. Gottesman conceded that “raglayim ledavar” cannot be defined with any modicum of specificity and that ultimately, the decision lies within the sound discretion of a qualified posek (the necessary qualifications of which were not delineated).
Much can be said of contemporary attitudes towards mesira and of the of the piskei halacha discussed at the conference. However, what struck me was not the substance of the approach outlined by Gottesman, although that is cause for grave concern in and of itself, but the necessity of this panel discussion in the first place. Can you imagine a panel discussion of when it is permissible to call the police when you suspect a violent crime in progress? Do you think Agudah would devote a full session to pontificating as to when it is permissible to call the police to stop an armed robbery or attempted murder? Clearly, however, Agudah and the community it purports to represent do not view child molestation and sexual abuse with the same gravity as other violent criminal behavior. That Gottesman was able to spend an hour pouring over teshuvos offering vague guidance as to the “complicated” shaila of reporting a suspected child molester to the appropriate authorities speaks more to the laxity with which these evil acts are viewed than it does to the complexity of the halachic challenges posed by mesira. If a rebbe was suspected of bringing a knife to a classroom and attempting to stab a child, would the Agudah advocate the same deliberate analysis of whether the allegations rise to a level acceptable to a posek before involving the authorities? [DB: If a rebbe was suspected of bringing treif food to a classroom and attempting to distribute it to the children, would Agudah etc etc..?] Sadly, even today, sexual abuse and child molestation is not viewed as being on par with assault and murder. Until that day comes, the attempts by organizations such as Agudah to address these ills will be viewed more as a public relations stunt to protect teachers and schools than an earnest determination to protect children.
The most upsetting element of the presentation entitled “Molestation Issues and Reporting: Current Halachic Thinking” was not what was said, but the fact that the Agudah (and the poskim cited) thought that it was necessary at all.