Will Motty Borger’s Suicide Make Any Difference?



Motty & Mali Borger had been married for just two days when Motti “fell” from a seventh-floor balcony at the Avenue Plaza Hotel on 13th Avenue at 47th Street in Brooklyn, NY.

It is reported that Motty had disclosed to his new bride that he was a victim of sex abuse, and that when she was asleep, he went to the balcony and threw himself off.

I have no idea as to the veracity of the reports about the background to the Motty Borger case. We should clearly leave the investigation to the police and relevant authorities, while encouraging anyone with information related to the case to report it immediately to the police. 

What is certain, is that the effects of child-abuse often have long term impact upon the victims/survivors, resulting in severe psychological, psychiatric and physical illness even decades later; and there are many cases in which abuse victims have tragically resorted to suicide.

Indeed there is initial research which indicates that the abuse as a child even results in genetic changes which results in this increased propensity for suicide.

In addition to the ‘regular’ linkage between abuse and suicide, victims of abuse in the Jewish orthodox  community face additional pressures and trauma.

An important article was written since Motty’s tragedy, by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Dr Benzion Twerski, which encourages abuse victims/survivors to seek therapeutic help and intervention. Effectively, a call for past victims to come out-of-the-closet and seek professional help. 

While absolutely true, this article is confined to advising past victims to seek out therapy; it does not touch on the related and still contentious issue of victims reporting child abuse cases to the state authorities. An especially severe problem in Jewish orthodox communities.

Orthodox children who have been sexually abused are more likely to lack the ‘vocabulary’ (not just literally the words, but also the concepts) to express to an adult what has happened to them - than the equivalent movie-watching, internet-viewing non-orthodox kids. In particular, pedophilia is a concept that is unlikely to have been explained to an orthodox child, nor the blamelessness of a pedophile’s victims. An overwhelming emotional and moral confusion can numb child sex abuse victims, literally, for decades – indeed the majority of victims never disclose.

And if the child does report to an adult, such as their parent or teacher, that orthodox adult is, unfortunately, less likely to take such a complaint from a child sufficiently seriously – as  awareness of the nature and consequences of child abuse is still relatively scarce. The adults are less likely to believe their child, or if they do, their concerns about the reputation of the child (shidduch) and of the child’s family (shainda), the presumed saintliness of the alleged perpetrator (who is usually a close acquaintance of the victim, and a member of the same orthodox community), and a reticence to disclose any ‘private’ or sexual matters, even at the best of times – will all be factors in not reporting the child’s claims further.

And even if the adult does understand and take the child’s claims seriously, and report the allegation onwards, orthodox adults will habitually report the matter to their rabbi, rather than directly to the police.

Perhaps the leading halachik authority for Chareidi ultra-orthodox Jews, Rav Shalom Yosef Elyashiv, issued a ground breaking psak (legal opinion) in 2003/5764. This psak required that rabbonim first ascertain the veracity of the claims of abuse. The psak says that if there is halachik proof that the claims are indeed true, and that the perpetrator is uncontrollable from assaulting others in future, then the matter should be referred to the police.

However, if there are not ‘reglaim ledavar’ (grounds for suspicion) and the allegations are a figment of the alleged victim’s imagination, then the case should not be passed over to the authorities/police; Rav Elyashiv cautions that reporting someone to the police can put the alleged perpetrator in a position of “chosing death over life”.

(A particularly ironic conclusion in light of Motty’s fate).

The Rav Elyashiv psak has been helpful in highlighting to rabbonim and communities, the need for proven cases of pedophilia to be referred on to the police/state authorities. Whereas, for generations, such a handing-over of Jews to gentiles/secular authorities was forbidden as “masira” (betrayal).

However, this psak clearly places the religious authorities in the driving seat to decide where on the scale between “no grounds for suspicion” (which should not be reported) to “halachik proof” that the perpetrator is known to be guilty and is not controllable in future (which does require reporting). There is a gapingly wide range of grey between these two cases – where most child abuse allegations are situated.

Rabbonim have therefore been given a highly inappropriate, illegal, task and responsibility of investigating allegations of pedophilia.

Rabbonim have been required to address allegations of child abuse, apparently as if it were an alleged civil offense (along with business law, marital and ritual matters – areas in which Batei Din/Rabbinical Courts, are fully qualified and entitled to rule), rather than as an allegation of criminal assault (such as murder or rape – which no responsible Bet Din would/should involve themselves in).

Rabbonim therefore claim competence, jurisdiction and control of a criminal investigation, including interviewing the parties, while applying halachik concepts of witnesses (for example, as a generality, neither children nor women are valid witnesses in a Bet Din/Rabbinical Court, and two valid witnesses are required as proof of an event) in order to determine the guilt/innocence of the alleged perpetrator.

Furthermore, Rabbonim balance a wider range of interests than solely the rooting out of the guilty and protection of their victims; they also have wider community interests to protect and their concerns about damage control can weigh heavily against the pure pursuit of justice.

In practice, Rav Elyashiv’s psak, while a break-through in requiring some Jewish pedophiles to be ‘handed over’ by rabbonim to the state authorities, is otherwise not practically helpful to those working with child abuse cases.

In order to bridge this gap between this halachik position , on the one hand, and the statutory reporting requirements (whereby a suspicion of child abuse is legally required to be reported to the police/authorities – and not to do so is a felony) together with the ethical standards of professional conduct (which prohibit involvement in a child abuse accusation prior to mandatory reporting), on the other, there have been various attempts to create bridging arrangements.

In the USA, some “Task Forces” have been established, or are in the process of being established, in some orthodox communities, whose job is to liaise between the community leadership and the state authorities in cases of alleged child abuse.

Here in Ramat Bet Shemesh, there has been a first-ever meeting between local rabbonim and the police and state child protection services, to attempt to establish cooperation on child abuse allegations.

Recently, there are an increasing number of rabbonim (such as Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Yakov Blau and Rav Chaim Soloveichik), who have publicly stated that this offense needs to be re-categorised by rabbonim as criminal assault, and so the standard response to any allegations of child abuse must be to immediately refer to the state authorities - who are the sole legally authorized and qualified party to investigate such complaints; to judge, convict and sentence criminals; and to subsequently enforce tracking, therapy and supervision of post-incarcerated pedophiles.

“In instances of sexual abuse of children, students, campers etc., or spousal abuse… The Jewish community does not have the ability to investigate these types of cases. Wherever there are raglayim ladavar that there seems to be a problem, the proper government agencies should be contacted to investigate.” Rabbi Hershel Schachter, 2007.


Only the police can investigate crime suspects and take pedophiles off our streets.
   
In addition to the law-and-order role of the police, the process of reporting to police/authorities also enables professional therapists to legally and ethically administer the therapy which Rabbi Horowitz and Dr Twerski have called for. Furthermore, in most states, victims of child abuse are also entitled to state subsidized therapy, which can make the costs of this critical therapy affordable to all victims.

Furthermore, with the active encouragement, blessing and support of their rabbi and community, immediately reporting child abuse allegations to the appropriate authorities would give validation to the traumatized child – a critical part of the healing process.

Unfortunately it has sometimes been the opposite response, of rejection and even harassment of child abuse victims and those who aid them, by their own communities, which generates a second trauma for the victim, and which, tragically, increases the chances of future suicides.

Veyehi zichron baruch. May Motty’s memory be for a blessing.
 --------------------------
Motty's funeral: 

Comments

  1. This is well written, addresses the topic in a most responsible manner, and calls attention to the limited scope of the Twerski/Horowitz article. In that piece, Rabbis Twerski and Horowitz avoided the politically charged issues of reporting, and stuck with the clinical need for treatment. And that is a pikuach nefesh issue.

    Additionally, the reports that Borger was a suicide or that there was a sordid history are traced to a single unnamed source reported in the NY Post. None of the authors, of this article, nor Twerski or Horowitz have any connection to any parties involved, ever insinuated that this was the sequence of events in this terrible tragedy, and the discussion of abuse in the context of that event is simply the use of a "plausible" explanation to help push the need for therapy.

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  2. Whilst I agree with the premise of the article, I'd very carefully think twice about criticising R' Elyashiv, he is untouchable...

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  3. Although this is a great post, my prediction is that nothing will change. The ground-breaking psak means nothing because when push comes to shove there will never be "reglaim l'davar" enough to call the police.
    Unfortunately this is one area where civil law has become far more effective than halacha for dealing with a problem.

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  4. N:

    R' Elyashiv may be a great posek; unfortunately, his sources of information are limited and he appears to be subject to manipulation.

    You might be interested in hearing a lecture by Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky which he calls "Anatomy of a Ban". He recounts how R'Elyashiv was manipulated into banning "The Making of a Godol" BTW, R' Kamenetsky speaks of R' Elyashiv with the highest respect. It is well worth the hour so so it takes to listen.

    The lecture can be downloaded from the YU Torah website. If the Tiny URL below does not work, just got to www.yutorah.org and browse the speaker list.

    http://tinyurl.com/yhhdmyl

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  5. N Said: "criticising R' Elyashiv..."

    There is no intention to *criticise* R.Elyashiv, as I am in no position to do so.

    I have brought R.Elyashiv's psak including links to the original. I am not a rav, nor a talmid chacham - so if I have misunderstood the psak, please do bring this to my notice.

    To my understanding, the grey areas from this R.Elyashiv psak are the level of proof required of an alleged pedophile's guilt, or merely of suspicion, and a reliable mechanism for ascertaing that.

    I have also brought other rabbonim, who *are* poskim and talmidei chachamim, who have clarified, expanded, or taken a step further, R.Elyashiv's bold directive that pedophiles must be handed over to the police.

    Rabbonim frequently have different opinions (open up any gemorah or mishna), in this case on some important details, while in other cases they propose totally contradictory opinions.

    Your LOR (local orthodox rabbi) is better equipped than I to explain how and why Rabbonim have different opinions on so many issues!

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  6. On one of Motty's friends blogs it states very clearly that the Kallah witnessed Motty's jump which occurred an hour before the NYP reported . They were involved in an intense discussion about Motty's admission of his childhood abuse to his new bride and she broke down, asking him why he married her . This caused the leap from the balcony. Whether true or contrived, this version makes ggod sense out of the pain and suffering a frum abuse victim must go through without ever being able to reveal it. May his memory be blessed.

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  7. I doubt the NY Post would have published the story without confirmation sufficient to defend against a lawsuit.

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  8. David,

    Great posting. I especially appreciated your discussion of the gray area in R. Eliyashiv's psak. On my blog there has been some extended debate about just these issues in response to an open letter with questions I addressed to Rabbis Horowitz and Twerski. Participants to date have included Rabbi Dr. Benzion Twerski, Ronnie Greenwald, a prominent Monsey askan, and Vicki Polin, one of N America's most important advocates for victims of abuse. I would definitely appreciate your input as well

    To see that discussion go to:

    http://wp.me/pFbfD-6A.

    To see other postings on frumfollies.wordpress.com related to molesting use the drop-down box for categories on the upper right of frumfollies and select "sex abuse." .

    For a discussion of how to pay for therapy for victims visit rabbihorowitz.com and select "abuse survivors..." out of the article list on the upper left.

    For a discussion of the value in victims speaking openly about their abuse see
    daattorah.blogspot.com/2009/11/abuse-badge-of-honor-or-shame.html

    David, keep up your good work.

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  9. While I would trust Rabbonim to take a surface glance at a situation and ascertain whether "something" happened, I think the potential pitfall is the second evaluation to be made: "that the perpetrator is uncontrollable from assaulting others in future."

    It's so easy for a non-victim to not quite believe the severity of the claims (even though "something" happened), and feel that a discussion with the probably perpetrator on an amicable intellectual level just shows that this was more of an oversight than an ongoing problem... and then the blinders are back on.

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  10. Important clarification on R. Elyashiv's opinion:

    It is clear from his words, that the abused himself (or anyone else who knows that it happened) may report to the police even without any evidence without consulting or going through a rabbi.

    As you noted his words leave a large gray area between it is clear that he did it (BTW I wouldn't translate that as "halachic proof" as in witnesses, he clearly doesn't mean that.) and where there isn't even "raglayim ledavar". He simply does not rule on that gray area in the teshuva.

    Here is another English translation of the teshuva which may be more faithful to the original:
    http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2008/11/child-abuse-callling-police-harav.html

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  11. Once again, you have brought home to observant parents our need to address this issue with our children, skillfully and often.

    There are so few resources, and I feel that our community has specific challenges in raising our children to not speak lashon hara and to respect all elders - yet not allow such abuse to go on unaddressed.

    While a dialogue on what to say and how to say it from the Rabbinic community would be invaluable, I fear it might also be a miracle. I hope parents who have found success and have good ideas will post them here, and on my blog as well. (www.ima2seven.com)

    Yasher Koach.

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  12. Rabbonim have been required to address allegations of child abuse, apparently as if it were an alleged civil offense (along with business law, marital and ritual matters – areas in which Batei Din/Rabbinical Courts, are fully qualified and entitled to rule), rather than as an allegation of criminal assault (such as murder or rape – which no responsible Bet Din would/should involve themselves in).

    Mightn't it have been more accurate to say "Rabbonim have been asked to address allegations of child abuse, and seem to have done so as if they were allegations of civil offenses rather than of criminal assault?"

    Of course, there is precedent for Batei Din in exile to investigate and try crimes. After all, the longest period of development of the responsa literature was under societies that were premodern, and at least in broad outline, essentially feudal. (Wikipedia’s discussion of high, middle and low justice provides a good rough guide to this sort of legal environment, though there were local variations.)

    Under such systems, equality before the law wasn’t in the picture, so there was no intrinsic problem if the ruler wished to delegate certain aspects of his jurisdiction to one or more groups. There are historical examples of such arrangements, under which jurisdiction over some crimes committed by Jews was delegated to the Rabbinic authorities.

    Such an arrangement, however, is inimical in theory and practice to a modern society dedicated to equality before the law. Furthermore, in the situation discussed in the post, such delegation to the Rabbis never occurred.

    Instead, certain Rabbonim took it upon themselves to take jurisdiction in aspects of criminal law, such as preliminary investigation of potential felonies such as child abuse, in which there is at least the theoretical possibility that halacha might view (for example) a “no penetration” incident of child molestation more leniently than does the secular society’s criminal code. By so doing, they deliberately or inadvertently set halacha above the criminal code, in a society which assigns to the executive branch of government all criminal enforcement.

    This raises some fundamental questions. Among them:
    •Is halacha fully compatible with a society guaranteeing equality before the law to all citizens? If so, is this limited to life in exile?

    •To what extent may such an "equality before the law" society accommodate subgroups who wish to partially opt out of that society’s legal system before it destroys itself?

    •If halacha can be compatible with such a society, must the Rabbinic authorities living in such societies restrict their halachic rulings to options that are in fact compatible, or can they legitimately mandate their followers to courses of action destructive to that society (as, for example, Sharia activists are doing throughout the Western world?)

    •If Rabbis do so, in effect allying themselves with the Sharia activists, what are appropriate responses for a secular society to have?

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  13. Hi I enjoyed your informative article.
    What I didn't follow is the difference between Rabbi Elyashiv and Rabbi Shecter. They both seem to be saying that if there is Raglayim then action outside the Jewish courts must be taken. If I misunderstood that, please correct me so I can better follow the discussion.
    Thanks again.

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  14. Anonymous: "the difference between Rabbi Elyashiv and Rabbi Shachter"?

    My understanding is that in R.Elyashiv's tshuva he responds regarding two cases:

    CASE 1. Where we "know" that the perp has abused a chld/children - and perhaps a second condition (in the question, but not in the answer) that the guy is an ongoing danger.
    This mst be reported to the police.

    CASE 2. Where there is no basis to the allegation, it's all made up, a figment of a kid's imagination, or a vendetta.
    This must not be reported to the police.

    Rav Schachter on the other hand seems to address the middle ground.

    Where there are grounds to suspect something might have happened (in practice virtually every claim of child abuse) the case must be reported. And Rav S goes on to caution agsinst rabbonim/batei din taking on an investigation role as they are not equipped to do it.

    (I would go one step further, and say they also have no jurisdiction to investigate ciminal assault - such as child abuse - even if they were to somehow obtain the investigative capabilities).

    ReplyDelete

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