R’ Hershel Schachter whom I admire greatly, is in a bit of hot water. The Forward published an article that is misleading and inflammatory about R’ Schachter.
The lede is particularly egregious: “A top rabbinic dean of Yeshiva University has warned rabbis about the dangers of reporting child sex abuse allegations to the police because it could result in a Jew being jailed with a black inmate, or as he put it, “a schvartze,” who might want to kill him.”
Sounds pretty bad, huh? Well once you actually read the article you see that it’s not quite so simple.
Let’s go in reverse order. R’ Schachter is not a racist. This is a certainty. He doesn’t have a negative bone in his body. He is one of the nicest, sweetest people I have ever met. He also speaks in yiddish a lot. When he says the “S” word, he does not mean it in a negative sense. He means it as the yiddish word for black person. There may be a little of this here as well. Sure, it sounds bad when he adds “who wants to kill him” but in all likelihood he was simply using an example, a poor example, of someone who would be in harm’s way if they went to jail. (Edit: It’s pretty clear he was referring to the Nation of Islam as a potentially dangerous cell mate.) More on that later.
A for the abuse and the reporting of abuse, the Forward totally hides the ball. For all his genius and piety, R’ Schachter is a genuinely committed halachic Jew. He does everything in accordance with halacha and his approach is to show how halacha would handle any potential situation.
R’ Schachter is among the most liberal halachic authorities when it comes to reporting abuse or any other crime to the secular authorities. I was in the room when I heard him say that there is no prohibition of mesira today. (For more on mesira see this: Mesira in Halacha.) This is a huge statement. One that the Forward should be championing. The primary obstacle to reporting abuse has classically been a misguided reliance on mesira. R’ Schachter says there is no mesira. That’s huge. Pop the champagne.
However, in R’ Schachter’s opinion, one can’t go to the authorities unless one has something to report. Unless a victim can state facts with a fair amount of certainty, there is nothing to report. So if a victim comes forward and says “So and so abused me,” and there is reason to believe the victim, I am under the impression that R’ Schachter holds that one is obligated to go to the authorities.
But the Forward doesn’t learn in a yeshiva. So the Forward doesn’t know that most of what we focus on in yeshiva are the non-obvious cases, the close calls, the cases that cut two ways or more. So R’ Schachter spends considerable time on the borderline cases. He explains that when the veracity or factual basis of the claim is unclear you need to bring in professionals to assess the situation. That’s also the right idea! But it’s only in a small number of cases. Most cases are more clear cut. But in our Talmudic fashion, these abnormal cases become the focus of the discussion.
R’ Schachter sprinkles in an anecdote too. In the anecdote he is harsh to a possible victim. He advises the victim to go to a professional because he doesn’t have enough information to go to the authorities. The victim does not go. R’ Schachter says that the victim is playing with fire. This is because more than anyone else, R’ Schachter understands the gravity of allowing an abuser to run free.
So it is easy for the uninitiated to focus on this part of the conversation. The non-automatic cases. But that is a mistake. The primary points were already established: No mesira, if a victim comes forward go to the authorities. Sure, there are grey area cases and in those cases, one should try to figure out how to proceed using the best available professionals. This is absolutely correct.
R’ Schachter also wants to show the gravity of a false accusation simply to show that halacha is concerned for everyone. The victim, the abuser, the falsely accused. All of them can be dealt with in the framework of halacha. Going to the authorities is very serious business. Halachically, we take responsibilty for what happens after we report abuse. We need to be careful and if we are careful, we must go to the authorities.
In my opinion, R’ Schachter is one of our greatest authorities on this issue should be praised by the Forward, not maligned.
If you can’t see the difference between R’ Schachter’s situation and R’ Manis Friedman’s and you need help, I am happy to assist you. But they have nothing to do with each other. Don’t even try to compare them.
Link: go find it yourself on the Forward’s website
Link to a discussion on Facebook about this post: Facebook.com
UPDATE: READ THIS –> The Forward Was Wrong, But So Was R’ Hershel Schachter