Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Molestation... and the Lakewood Response To It.

The Asbury Park Press is reporting about a recent case of a Lakewood father who decided to notify the authorities when his son accused a yeshiva teacher of sexually abusing him for about a year.   The teacher has since been arrested, pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. 

But there is another story here, aside from the child and the molester.  As it turns out, the father now facing opposition in the community for having chosen to go to the police rather than have the matter handled internally by a local Bais Din. Attempts were made to get the father to drop the charges.  Notices were distributed as a recent charity event decrying the "shameful thing" that was done -- not the abuse, of course, but the fact that the victim's father went to the police.  One Lakewood resident has been charged with witness tampering in the case.

Personally, I believe that most people, if they felt confidence in the system provided, will use it.  People will go to Bais Din for civil cases when, and only when, they feel confident that justice will be served.  If people feel that an institution is corrupt or unable to solve their problems, they will find another system that can do so.  If this is true for civil cases, how much more so will it apply to criminal cases when people may fear for the safety of their families or others? 

I think it's evidently clear that, in the case, the father of the victim did not feel that Bais Din was capable of handling the matter -- and, in truth, I can't say that I blame him for having such feelings.  Given their inexperience with such matters, the past track record of rabbinical organizations in sweeping such allegations under the rug and and lack of any true enforcement and prevention mechanism, there probably isn't a great deal that any communal rabbinical organization can do alone to stop molesters.  That's not to say that at some point in the future they may not come up with a valid, reliable method for handling such cases in the future, but, for the present, there is no evidence of any credible method for dealing with criminals in our midst.  And with no assurance that the rabbinic authorities can prevent this person from harming his son or anyone else, he turned to the ones he felt were best able to ensure that this does not happen again.

But aside from all that, there is another dimension to this case -- that of the implied social contract between ourselves and our neighbors.

Rabbi Shmuel Meir Katz, a senior Dayan in Lakewood, was quoted as saying the following:

"We have our own system. We have our own laws, and as long as the Bais Din (rabbinical tribunal) feels competent on taking care of something themselves, that's our surest recourse in our circles.''

What Rabbi Katz doesn't seem to realize is that we don't live in isolation.  In Lakewood, as in most places in the world, we live side-by-side with non-Jewish neighbors.  And since we live side-by-side with them, actions taken by either group tend to affect the other.  If there were a murderer, a rapist, a child molester, or even a simple cat burglar in our neighbor's midst and they struck, we'd want to make sure that they are brought to justice.  Even if we don't care about our neighbors, we'd want to at least be sure that the criminal will not strike us.  But how would Rabbi Katz feel if the molester's community defended him saying "we have our own laws, we will take care of it internally?"  Would he feel confident that the matter is resolved?  Would he feel safe that his community is secure because his neighbors have decided to handle it amongst themselves with no outward accountability?   Or would he demand that the police get involved to remove the molester from the Lakewood area so that children will once again be safe?  My guess would be that most people would not be satisfied with such an arrangemnet.

But that being the case, how can Rabbi Katz expect that his non-Jewish neighbors will be satisfied with such an arrangement?  How can he, in good conscience, tell reporters "we have our own laws" when he would not accept such an argument from any other group?  And, with the knowledge now public that we won't turn over criminals to law enforcement, how can he ever in the future, in good conscience, complain when another group refuses to hand over someone who harms a Jew?

The Wolf

Hat Tip:  VIN


E-Man said...

Your problem is that you are approaching this rationally. These people have shown time and again that they are not rational. Why anyone would want to live in that community is beyond me.

Many fathers have said to me that if someone touched their kid like this, the (curse word) better HOPE he (the father) goes to the police.

Mark said...

I grew up in Brooklyn in the 60's and back then when something like this occurred, the balabatim "took care of it". The police had almost no capability to handle such crimes at the time.

Mike S. said...

Even leaving the Gentiles out of it, the idea is poor. First of all, batei dinim have a very poor record of protecting children in yeshivah, much less the Gentiles. And no training or jurisdiction to conduct investigations. Furthermore, at least in the US (Lakewood is still in the US, right) they have no compulsory jurisdiction. Even if they find that the accused is a molester, they can't jail him, and can't keep him from leaving town and molesting kids elsewhere.

I understand the reluctance from an ideological perspective to admit there are things a beit din can't handle, but in galut, there are.

JRS said...

the fact that the rabbi could say something like that (was it to a rep. of the secular press?!!) to anyone, with not a hint of irony, self-consciousness, even a dim awareness of how badly such comments play to the general public (incl. most Jews outside Lakewood) perfectly illustrates Lakewood Bubble Syndrome---a real disconnect from people & events in the world outside [frum] Lakewood.

Larry Lennhoff said...

One reason we are prohibited from going to secular court is that the implication is that the secular courts or secular law are perceived as more just than Torah law.

So if that perception is perfectly accurate (at least with regard to the courts) who is committing the chillul hashem? The person who goes to the secular courts or the dayanim of the religious courts that are less fair and just than the secular ones?

Garnel Ironheart said...

This Rabbi Katz is using high sounding statements to say "Let us sweep this under the carpet".
Beis Din works when you have a civil or financial dispute and both parties sincerely intent to hold by the final decision. If any of those elements are working, the Beis Din system in North America (and Israel, frankly) is useless.
Then there's the problem with halacha. As it is set up, the rabbinical courrts are useless in cases like this because you require witness testimony. What are the odds you'll get it? And without it, there is no case. That's why, during Temple times, the civil goverment ran its own court system where the rules weren't as strict as those of the rabbinical courts. It was there that murderers, thieves and others actually got punished.
Judges have no power to enforce their rulings on unwilling litigant and certainly no jailing powers in criminal ones. And the last time I checked, sexual touching of a minor was a criminal offence. Therefore this father has no recourse other than to go to the police.
You know what will happen to this family, don't you? The kid will leave the faith and the parents will wind up having to move somewhere else and hope no one publicizes their name to the "gantze velt". The abuser will ultimately get off because people will lie for him in court. Justice will be served.

SubWife said...

Well, I am no expert in halacha, but we are in galus, and when in galus are expected to follow the laws of the land, no? well, it is a law of the land for teachers, social workers, clergy and many, many others (in some states for EVERYONE) to report SUSPECTED child abuse to child protective services. I am not sure what the recourse is for rabbis who are not licensed and who did not report cased of confirmed child sexual abuse. I am surprised that they have been off the hook on this for so long.

SubWife said...