KOSHER DELIGHT - YOUR JEWISH ONLINE MAGAZINE!
Am I My Brother's Keeper?
By Rabbi Shea Hecht,
Posted: February 18, 09
A horrific story broke earlier this
month, which really made me question the good sense and
intelligence that we Jews like to pride ourselves on. The
Jerusalem Post reported that several neighbors of a Jerusalem
family had been aware of the ongoing sexual abuse in their
household. Some of them had even been eyewitnesses to the abuse.
But no one reported this crime to the authorities.
What’s more, it seems that the parents of these children turned
a blind eye to the abuse of their children by a male relative,
who molested their children over the course of seven years.
When questioned, the hapless parents claimed to be unable to
intervene, as the family's rabbi warned them that they would be
violating Torah law.
While the investigation of this story is ongoing, and all of the
details have yet to emerge, the fact remains that there are some
very unhealthy misperceptions in our communities when it comes
to reporting abuse.
Firstly, there is the notion that reporting abuse amounts to the
Torah prohibition the grievous sin of mesira, betraying another
Jew into the hands of the authorities. The fact is that numerous
poskim have already affirmed what a cursory look into the Codes
of Law would tell us: saving a child from an abuse situation is
not mesira—to the contrary, the Torah obligates us to save a
“pursued” person (i.e. the abuse victim) from the hands of the
“pursuer” at any and all costs, and explicitly forbids us from
sitting idly by.
Another concern which keeps us from reporting child abuse is the
fear that the Police and Child Welfare agents will kick down the
door in the dead of night, and whisk the child off into foster
care. Yet, contrary to popular belief, a child is not
immediately taken from his family at the first report of
trouble. Government agencies are themselves reluctant to break a
The nature of the abuse and the possibility of impending danger
would determine whether the child (or the abuser) must be taken
from the home. In the event that child is taken from the home,
the government works alongside various Jewish children’s
agencies in order to place the child in the care of Jewish
Finally, because police and child welfare agencies will protect
our anonymity, there is simply no excuse for closing our eyes to
the physical and emotional torture that the child undergoes. Our
unwavering obligation as parents, teachers, neighbors and even
total strangers is to be as attentive to the wellbeing of our
neighbors children as we would be to our own.
The relationship with their parents is one of the most essential
building blocks of a child’s life. The child looks to his
parents for protection, guidance and unconditional love. When
these basic needs are neglected or, worse still, violated the
child loses his one and only G-d given entitlement.
When the parents breach their role, or when they fail to protect
their child from others, they willingly, permanently change the
course of their child's life. The process is sadly simple:
Children who are abused are likely to become abusers as adults.
In other words, the problem that we don’t want to deal with
today will likely come to visit us tomorrow.
True, it is very uncomfortable and embarrassing to involve
ourselves in someone else’s household problems. But reporting
child abuse is a burden that was put upon us against our will—we
abandon it at our own risk.
Now, let’s talk. If you knew that your neighbor’s child, or your
child’s classmate, or your student or nephew was being abused
would you report it to the police? Would you report the crimes
being done to this child? Would you step up to the plate and do
what must be done? I wonder…
|Rabbi Shea Hecht
Chairman of the
National Committee for
Furtherance of Jewish Education .
His web site is:
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