Name and Shame?

The ongoing scandal of the Takana Forum vs Rav Motty Elon has intensified with the publication by the Yediot Achronot newspaper of some graphic testimonies to the Takana Forum from Rav Elon’s alleged victims.

Rav Sherlo, a member of the Forum, has written an open letter to his students strongly criticizing the decision at Takana to provide this information to Yediot Achronot for publication.

Rav Sherlo argues that the understanding was that Takana would publish a much less graphic and revealing statement on its own website only – and that the article in Yediot Achronot betrayed the confidence of the victims, and would dissuade other victims of sex abuse by those in authority, from coming forward to Takana in future.

This weekend’s newspapers in Israel were abuzz with opinions and debate about Takana and Rav Motty Elon.

The Takana vs Rabbi Elon stand-off raises many challenging issues, not just for the National Religious population in Israel, and not just for orthodox Jews – but issues which are common and genuine dilemmas in all communities.   

Takana was established to address a very specific niche: allegations of sexual abuse against adult victims (ie. not acts against legal minors – in Israel over 18 years old) allegedly perpetrated by those in positions of authority, such as rabbis and teachers, but where the acts are not deemed criminal, or legally enforceable, under Israeli law.

In general, there are three levels of inappropriate sexual acts:

  1. Criminal acts resulting in a conviction (“Beyond all reasonable doubt”) in a court of jurisdiction
  2. Allegations of criminal acts, which do not result in a criminal conviction.
  3. Allegations of immoral acts, which are not deemed criminal. 

  1. Criminal acts resulting in a conviction

Even in the first case, where a criminal conviction has been secured, the question of “What Next?”, after the perpetrator returns to civilian life, is far from resolved around the world.

In the USA, there are extensive systems for tracking convicted sex offenders, which are open to the general public, including via the internet. You can literally type in your postcode, and see which sex offenders live close to you. However, there are numerous problems with this system, including the fact that many of these sex offenders may no longer represent a serious risk to the public – and so there are a lot of ‘false positives’; also, there is no protocol for what a community, or individual, is supposed to do with the knowledge that his neighbour is a registered sex offender.  

In the UK, there is an official sex offenders list, but this is not publicly accessible. Various public campaigns to “name & shame” sex offenders, have not resulted in a change of policy. 

Here in Israel, to the best of my knowledge, there is not a specific sex-offenders list – although a background check on any individual, provided for a small fee at a police station (“teudat yoshar”), would list sex offense convictions alongside any other criminal records.

So, in Israel, once a convicted child abuse offender returns to life after his sentence, in the long term he returns to a community (they’ve got to live somewhere!) and is not subjected to restrictions on movements, nor monitored.

The local community may chose to place restrictions on the offender, but usually lacks teeth to enforce these.

‘Naming & shaming’ is an option, and would indeed put the public on notice that the offender is at large and to take appropriate heed. It also sets a zero-tolerance message of warning to other potential or actual child abusers.

However, those who do name & shame the offender publicly, risk defamation suits, and such activities smack of the Wild West with Wanted Posters/Pashkevilim ruling the public domain, rather than responsible process, or respect for (even) the perpetrators legal rights (under Israeli law and halacha).

It is a challenging balance of warning the public vs. acting in a lawful manner.

It seems to me that a reasonable balance would be a system of collecting solid data about the offender, the nature of the offence, the risk this represents to the community (if possible the offender can supply this information, as scientific risk assessments of sex offenders are a routine function of the prison services), and then informing all affected parties of that risk, on a need-to-know basis.

This might include (factually) warning neighbors, local schools, synagogues, youth groups etc, and perhaps establishing point-men to monitor the movements of the offender. If the population at risk is broader, so the warnings should likewise be broader.

  1. Allegations of criminal acts

Regarding allegations of criminal behaviour, including child abuse, which have not been proven “beyond all reasonable doubt” in a court of law, the legal systems in the USA, UK and Israel, do not differentiate between someone against whom criminal allegations have been leveled, and people who are totally innocent. All are presumed innocent under the law, until proven guilty in court.

The great majority of allegations of child abuse do not result in a criminal conviction – but this is not due to the innocence of the alleged perpetrator. Indeed, according to the Israel National Council for the Child, 97% of the allegations are for-real. The problem seems to be passing the legal criteria for a criminal conviction, particularly where there are no adult witnesses nor a confession of guilt (the great majority of cases).
From a communal perspective, many believe that where credible allegations of child abuse have been brought against an individual, there ought not to be a presumption of guilt, nor however a presumption of absolute innocence.

Instead, there must be a presumption of RISK to children who the alleged perpetrator has access to.

In this netherworld of suspicions and allegations, several websites and blogs have publicized the suspects’ identities and nature of the allegations, so that the public can be aware and take heed.

In the Jewish community, The Awareness Center in Baltimore has accumulated a data-base of problematic characters, which are published on their website; The Unorthodox Jew has trailblazed a series of high profile exposes of rabbis, teachers and other orthodox people against whom allegations of child abuse have been leveled.

In Israel, there is at least one website which publicises sex-abuse allegations.

Various Batei Din (religious courts) in the USA have undertaken investigations into allegations of child sex abuse, with a poor record for handling these cases effectively. Seeing as such investigations are against the law, and may in thesmelves be criminal, (the police are the sole authorized and qualified body to conduct criminal investigations – and any other party may be deemed to be obstructing justice and potentially could be jailed), the whole Bet Din apparatus is highly problematic for these purposes. 

The use of Modesty Patrols (ad-hoc organizations which ensure that certain standards of modesty be set and preserved in some ultra-orthodox communities) to investigate allegations of child abusers, and implement extrajudicial punishments, is even more problematic, verging on vigilantism.

Some community organizations and rabbis have instituted protocols which are enforced upon the alleged perpetrator, such as limiting their attendance at synagogues, and banning them from schools, which are enforced with threats of ostracizing the person within the community and/or publicizing their names and alleged crimes.

Yet other Rabbis have evicted alleged perpetrators from their communities altogether, ensuring that they move on to other communities; such policies were widely practiced in the Catholic Church and, in spite of the discredited nature of those policies, are still practiced in some Jewish communities today. 

A helpful role for community leaders and organization is to encourage and support parties to bring complaints of child abuse to the police and/or social services, in full compliance with Israel’s child protection legislation.

Furthermore, a helpful role is to selectively inform professionals, members of the public and community leadership on a “need to know” basis regarding the perceived nature of the threat, and advising of appropriate preventative steps to take.

To assist in this process, alleged perpetrators could be encouraged to be professionally evaluated for their risk/danger level, and to obtain effective therapy, where this is available.

The question regarding what steps a community ought to take, to protect their children against a person against whom credible allegations have been made, but who has not been convicted in court of a crime, is still to be resolved.

This is ultimately a question of what kind of society people wish to live in – balancing the rights of privacy and freedom of the individual, against the rights of the community to be protected from potential harm. Do we want to live in a community of searchlights, wanted-posters and foot patrols, or in a free-for-all anything-goes libertarian community?

Most of us wish to live on a mid-point, respecting freedom, even of alleged perpetrators, while providing a safe environment for us and our children.

  1. Allegations of immoral acts, which are not criminal

Whereas the legal system endeavors to reflect the ethical demands of the place and time, thus the democratic election of the seats of government and law makers - some communities or organizations may demand higher/different levels of ethical code and compliance.

For example, it is increasingly common for companies to adopt ethical codes, which exceed the requirements of the law itself.

Various trades and professions adhere to special codes of ethics, such as the medical Hippocratic Oath.
Clubs of various types will often have rules and regulations.
Religious institutions have ethical codes, such as based upon the Bible or other sacred texts, and which are supplemented or adapted with each generation. The main Christian churches have developed various Canon Laws, such as the Catholic Church “Code of Canon Law” published in 1983.

The Jewish religion practices “Halacha”, a legal and ethical code based on both the written Old Testament and the Oral Tradition of the Mishna and Talmud. 

In order for any code of ethics or Canon to be effective and binding, a system of enforcement is required.

By the nature of the job, this is outside the boundaries of the national legal system, although the legal system will usually respect the ability of groups to form and enforce their own Codes, where these do not cut across or contradict the law of the land.  

The previous example of the Modesty Patrols in ultra-orthodox communities can be a legitimate enforcement body for ethical standards within these communities, where the Patrols do not themselves step over the line into illegal behaviour.
In Takana’s case, the need for the National Religious community in Israel to enforce ethical standards, above the standards required by Israel’s criminal code, regarding the sexual behaviour of community leaders, authorities and teachers, became apparent several years ago.

By gathering together the most respected rabbis of the community, together with leading professionals in both psychology and law, Takana stood well prepared for the challenges of their designated task.

They have been quietly & discretely operating in this way for several years.

However, with their decision in January 2010 to expose the existence of allegations of immoral behaviour by Rav Motty Elon, and subsequent decision (by someone!) to further publicise specific case details through Yediot Achronot, the questions regarding how communities should enforce their chosen codes of conduct, has become an issue of national debate in Israel.   
To me, Takana appears to be a well thought-out program, and generally well resourced in meeting its goals.

There indeed comes a time that a community must deliver on quiet threats made to expose corruption in the community, and amongst its leadership. And I therefore applaud the original decision to (eventually) inform the public about the allegations against Rav Motty Elon.

The subsequent decision to release more information in Yediot Achronot has certainly drawn fire, and the facts are still not clear why this was required. I assume it was due to Rav Elon’s continuation of his teaching and lecturing activities, in violation of Takana’s advice/instruction.

If this was indeed an error of judgment by Takana, I see it a tactical one. No community has THE answer on enforcing ethical codes 100% effectively, and any ambitions to do so, will inevitably meet with setbacks.

I am sure Takana will assess this decision to publish more details of specific cases in Yediot, and they will draw appropriate conclusions regarding future policy, in a responsible and reasonable manner.     
In the meantime, the process of public debate increases awareness and understanding for the complex and usually hidden issues, and this limelight is itself in the public interest. 


  1. David, Thank you for this posting. I appreciate the dilemma of balanching the values of an ethical system against the rights and interests of individuals and the problems of uncertain accusations.

    I think the Elon case (assuming as you do that Takana has exercised due dilligence in investigating the facts and reaching its conclusions) raises the additional issue of the difference between private immorality and harming others. In some jurisdictions around the world, including some states in the US, clergy are liable for sexually exploiting their relationship of trust for sexual purposes just like a mental health worker who has sexual relations with a "consenting adult." This is also becoming the norm in american universities for a faculty member who has relations with a student.

    I can legitimately see a different standard for leaders who use their roles vs private individuals. The leader is much more dangerous. He has more opportunities and his actions cause more harm. In various ways, the claim that the act is consensual according to civil law becomes less meaningfull for an individual with a charismatic role.

    PS- the awareness center moved to chicago a few months ago.

  2. I would like to add on that I now favor revealing the details, to the fullest extent compatible with privacy for the victims.

    When someone is recalcitrant this is often the shock therapy his supporters need. Otherwise they persist in their denials. Leib Tropper was a scoundrel for decades. It was the video and audio tapes that brought him down.

  3. This excellent piece on a complex issue left out a significant element. The Elon case is a perfect example of diversionary tactics used by supporters of a charismatic and powerful figure. Initially the motives of the victims and those who have investigated the accusations are questioned. Loyal students report that they never witnessed any improper behavior. Rabbi Elon's non denial become proof of his righteousness and being a martyr. The issue becomes whether Takana leaked details of accusations to the media. Most disappointingly there is no indication that any of the yeshivot that he led have conducted any internal investigation to determine if any of their former students have been hurt.
    This parallels what I witnessed in the US in the recent past.
    Yosef Blau

  4. Asher Lipner, Ph.D.1 November 2010 at 19:18

    This is a well written portrayal of the issues facing the community, and I give you tremendous credit for opening up the discussion about naming molesters. Even as the Orthodox media is very slowly acknowledging that thousands of children have been molested, they refuse to say who has been doing all this molesting, leaving us to wonder if it all being done by "sheydim" or aliens from outer space.

    I plan on posting some ideas on how the issue needs to be handled based on the experiences of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children (I am the Vice President). For now suffice it to say that Rav Hershel Shachter, Shlita, paskened for us that Rabbi Efraim Bryks, a knowns molester, even though he has never been convicted of a crime, should have his picture displayed in all the shuls of Queens as a warning to parents who do not know to keep their children away.

    For now let me say one important thing. It is completely false and disingenous to suggest that leaking graphic information about Alon's abuse in any way breaks the confidentiality of the victims, unless there is identifying information included, which does not appear to be the case. The argument of "secrecy to protect the victims" is a smokescreen used by those who want to protect the image of the community and the reputation of the molester, and in this case possibly even the image of Takana.

    When Moshe Eiseman was alleged in the Baltimore Jewish Times of molesting students at Ner Yisroel, the Yeshiva told the paper that they could not comment (or warn anyone of the danger he represents) due to concerns for the privacy of the alleged victims.

    I know many of the victims. I myself was touched inappropriately by Eiseman as a teenager. This lie on the part of the Yeshiva, that WE were the ones who didn't want them to publicize his danger, was incredibly hurtful. Even my friends who don't speak about it publicly, did courageously go to the yeshiva and ask them to fire Eiseman. We also gave testimony to Rabbi Hopfer who then got a full confession from Moshe Eiseman. Victims would like nothing better than for the yeshiva to come clean and tell the truth.

    The yeshiva is protecting Eiseman and their own image. Giving new definition to chutzpa, and adding incredible insult to serious injury is their telling the newspaper that they were protecting us by not admitting the truth about Eiseman and allowing him to have unfettered access to boys currently in the yeshiva without warning anyone.

    Newspapers publish stories of sex crimes every day and do not give the names or identifying information of the victims. In America it is against the law for them to do so. The Orthodox community must start protecting children by namin their predators.

  5. Asher Lipner, Ph.D.1 November 2010 at 19:25

    Furthermore, Takana made a big mistake in not going public with their knowledge immediately. They clearly knew that Alon was a danger as they were able to force him to accept "safety guidelines". But they negelected the concept of "ayn apotropos l'arayos" as well as the now very well known information that these arrangements don't work. Because it took them four years to warn people, more innocent people were hurt, and they have blood on their hands.

    What is even more troublesome is that with the recent case of the Michlala rabbi who is alleged to have abused a student, they once again made a quiet deal, where the rabbi and the school paid money and agreed for the rabbi to have a typical "silent resignation" (just like Eiseman and Alon). Even if they did not have proof of a crime, but if they have enough evidence to force this outcome, then that is certainly enough to present a "sofeyk nefashos" and a danger to the community. That they do not appear to have learned from the mistake of Alon, is quite shocking. How many more karbanos? How many more?

    In New York State, so called "silent resignations" in public schools are against the law. The Jewish Board of Advocates for Children in our position paper is lobbying for the State to legislate the same safety policies for religious and non-public schools.

    However, being that we are intelligent people and are concerned about our children's safety, we should not be waiting for the government to legislate this. It is already mandated by halacha and by basic derech eretz.

    A friend of mine got a call in Lakewood New Jersey "This is a chain call to warn you that a child molester moved into your neighborhood. Watch your children. We can't tell you who it is because it is lashon hara."

    People need to know that the halacha is "Chamira Sakanta M'issura". And that it is not Lashon Hara if there are "raglayim ladavar". If Rav Elyashiv paskened that one must report to the secular authorities when there are reasonable and credible allegations of abuse, how much more so must we report to the parents of children who are in harms way to remove them.

    Asher Lipner, Ph.D.

  6. I have to agree with Asher Lipner, that there is a need to protect others that can only be accomplished by publicizing the name of the offender and the character of his behavior. Of course, I am not talking about identifying the victims (unless they themselves wish to tell their story publicly).

  7. Asher Lipner, Ph.D.2 November 2010 at 00:51

    I disagree that the issue is a choice between what kind of society we want. "Do we want one with hypervigilance or one in which we respect privacy more?"

    This is a halachic issue of lashon hara. And the Chofetz Chaim has ruled that when it is le'toles their is no value to privacy at all. Someone who values a person's privacy at the neglect of protecting society's safety is called a chassid shoteh or worse, an enabler of abuse.

    As for the expression "need to know", lets face it, this has been used to protect pedophiles forever. Who does not need to know? All parents of all communities need to know. Hypervigilant? The Torah does not say Vnishmartem Lnafshoseichem. It says V'nishmartem Me'od Lnafshoseichem. When it comes to safety you have to be extra careful.

    Even in cases where there is a kala dl'o pasik, a rumor that is persistent, you should tell others, ALL others, even with no conviction. But in cases where a professional group like Takana or Magen or Aleynu, or a Bet Din has found that someone is "Yado Ba"maal" in the words of Rav Elyashiv, then obviously everyone needs to be on the lookout.

    When there is a terrorist known to be operating inside of Israel, does the army figure out a "need to know basis" as to who has the greatest risk? When there is a rocket coming? The fact that somebody could get hurt by publicizing the information makes no difference in halacha when safety is the concern.

    I freely admit that when an alleged perpetrator is assessed by a competent forensic evaluator and found to be low risk, that might be different in halacha, but even there it is hard to ignore the danger of a low risk perp. But without such an evaluation? Every parent has the right to know who they need to keep their children away from.

  8. Asher Lipner, Ph.D.2 November 2010 at 00:57

    The over concern about false allegations is emotional and not logical. There is an address for people to go to that has been established to do the investigation. It is called the police. Are they perfect, no. But the best we have and should always be utilized to determine guilt in criminal matters. If they find guilt publicize. If they are inconclusive the community should take additional measures such as telling the alleged to either get a clean bill of health as no risk from a foresnic psycholgist, or else if he does not agree then the community will publicize through the media.

    As for the fear of lawsuits? Since when has this been a heter to place children at risk? And there is a very easy way to publicize without being subject to a law suit. The beis din, community organization could simply say "Ploni is not a recommended person to put in charge of your children".

    Thirty years ago, Rabbi Hynamin was sued in Baltimore for saying a product was "not kosher". He no longer ever says it. Even if it is Heinz pork and beans all he says is "It is not recommended".

    There is no reason that the same approach cannot be taken to non-kosher human beings.

    This is not rocket science. If society wants to start protecting children according to halacha and derech eretz and basic mentchlikeit, it can be done.

    The real problem is that everybody is scared. There is a lack of faith in Hashem and in ourselves and in our halacha. If we would trust in doing the right thing, everything would work out. Could there be an occassional mistake? Of course. But that is hardly a reason to ignore a problem like innocent children getting hurt. We have to do the best we can. We cannot be "shev v'al ta'aseh".

    A civilization is judged by how well it takes care of its most vulnerable members. - Nelson Mandela

  9. Listserv members in Bet Shemesh have sounded repeated alarms about fake chashchamim vendors and gardeners who are robbing homes/people after scouting out the premises. They pretend to be in a specific profession and prey on friendly, defenseless innocents. NOBODY is critizing the people sounding those warnings. EVERYBODY fears those thieves. FOR GOD's SAKE, people! Sex predators are lifelong nightmares! Do not hold back from sounding alarms about them! Defenseless innocents need your protection from harm they do not invite into their lives.


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