Responding to Allegations of Abuse: RCA and Agudath Israel

Nachum Klafter, MD.JPG
By Guest Writer, 
Dr Nachum Klafter, 
Cincinnati, OH

(Note from David: Many thanks to Dr Klafter for this helpful and detailed article explaining the different approaches of the RCA and Agudah to reporting child abuse to the authorities, and follows my previous article on this topic. Please note that, for Israelis, ALL citizens are mandatory reporters in Israel, ie it is a criminal offense to fail to report a suspicion of child abuse; whereas in some states in the USA solely some professionals are mandatory reporters - for a full listing of mandatory reporters in USA, state by state see: )

I have received several requests from clinicians and Rabbis asking me to respond to the last round of articles and posts, by explaining what exactly the differences are for therapists according to the rulings by the R.C.A. and Agudah.

The intent of some recent articles has been to defend the position of the Agudah and to stress the importance of receiving guidance in all halakhic issues from qualified poskim.  I do not disagree with that sentiment, but I think that the position of the Agudah has been misrepresented.

In the course of recent discussions  about halalkhic issues involved in reporting, the dialogue has also turned to the topic of whether sexual perpetrators may or may not be delineated as a rodef (a person pursuing an innocent victim in order to commit murder or rape on an ervah).  This was in response to citing the case of rodef as one example of where it is obviously permissible to report Jewish criminals to the secular legal authorities.  As a result of this digression, I believe that there is an inaccurate perception that the disagreement between the R.C.A. and the Agudah is about what categories of abuse may or may not be reported to the authorities. This is not the case, as I will explain.

To review:  There were two rulings issued recently by the two major organizations of Orthodox Rabbis in North America about reporting child abuse to the authorities.

1. The Rabbinic Council of America ruled in April 2010 that there is an obligation to report credible allegations of sexual abuse to the secular legal authorities, and that there is no prohibition of mesira in doing so. This RCA reiterated this position on July 25th 2011.  The full text is attached to this email.  There are four important components to their ruling:
·     All Jews who have first-hand-knowledge or a reasonable suspicion sexual or physical abuse of children are obligated by Torah Law to report this immediately to the secular legal authorities.  Failure to report constitutes a biblical violation of “You shall not stand idly upon the blood of your brother….”
·     The prohibition of mesira simply does not apply when making reports of sexual or physical abuse to the secular authorities.
·     Mandated reporters, such as therapists, must follow the mandated reporting laws imposed by the secular authorities even in cases where Jewish Law would not require that a report be made.  
·     If someone is truly uncertain whether the facts he or she has become aware of are reasonable grounds for suspicion, he or she should seek guidance from a rabbi and/or mental health professional as appropriate. However, in a case where it is clear that the basis for suspicion of abuse is valid, and all the more so when one has first-hand knowledge, it is not necessary to ask a rabbi for a ruling before calling the secular legaauthorities.
2. The Agudath Israel’s statement of July 22, 2011 includes the following key provisions:
·     All Jews who learn of credible allegations that a child is being sexually or physically abused are obligated by Jewish Law to report this to the secular legal authorities. This obligation, based on “tikkun olam” and “other important principles” (unspecified the their ruling), pushes aside any prohibitions (i.e. including mesira).
·     According to this opinion, the level of evidence required in order to achieve “probable cause” (raglayim la-davar) is a halakhic matter which requires a decision by a qualified posek. In other words, according to this statement issued by the Agudah, before anyone calls the secular authorities, he or she should first consult with a qualified rabbi in order to determine if the basis for suspicion is sufficient evidence to file a report.
·     The obligation to report, according to the Agudah, is based only on Jewish law considerations and not on any mandatory reporting provisions in the secular law.  In other words, according to the Agudah, a therapist or any other mandated reporter must also first consult with a posek before reporting suspicions of abuse to the authorities.
Practically speaking, the only difference in their ruling for the lay public is whether a Rabbi must be called first before reporting first-hand knowledge or a reasonable suspicion of child abuse to the secular authorities.

There are other potential implications of the Agudah’s ruling for mandated reporters, including Orthodox therapists.  Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, an attorney and the E.V.P. of Agudath Israel of America, has stated that he does not believe that this ruling will lead to any mandated reporters violating the law.  Not everyone is reassured by his statement.  (My own understanding is that, like anything else, it would depend on the rabbi you are asking.)  In any case, this opinion requires that a mandated reporter speak about the facts with a qualified posek so that each situation can be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.

These two opinions are based on different understandings of the prohibition of mesira.  The R.C.A.’s statement is based on two halakhic principles: (1) The laws of mesira are pushed aside when reporting people who pose a danger to others, people who menace and harass others, people whose actions impugn the reputation of the community, and even for those who are simply so disruptive that they cause a public disturbance.  These categories obviously include sexual and physical abusers of children.  (2) The R.C.A statement follows another widely accepted opinion in halakha:  Generally speaking, in a nation which enforces the law equitable and humanely, it is not forbidden to report or press criminal charges against Jews who are violating reasonable laws which were enacted for the betterment of the society.  That is why the R.C.A.’s ruling states that mandated reporters are always obligated to adhere to the mandatory reporting laws, even in cases where according to Jewish Law there is no obligation to report.   According to this opinion, the prohibition of mesira applies only in societies where there is no procedural justice, such as nations where Jews are seized by anti-Semitic rulers for no legitimate reason. The gedolei ha-poskim of the 20th century who have ruled in this manner include the Aruch HaShulchan, Rav Elyashiv, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg z”l, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l, and Rabbi Shmuel Wosner.  This view is also followed by the R.C.A.’s own poskim and dayanim.  I have personally discussed these matters with three: Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, and most recently with Rabbi Michael Broyde (who has written extensively and frequently answers halakhic questions on this topic).

The Agudah is following a different opinion about mesira, which holds that even in societies whose legal systems are fair to Jews and whose authorities enforce the law equitably and humanely (such as America) there is nevertheless a prohibition against informing on Jews who are violating the secular law.  However, the view expressed by the Agudah agrees that there are many situations where mesira is not only permitted but mandated by the halakha; in fact there is no disagreement about this among any halakhic authorities.  The classic cases where mesira is permitted, in any society, are specified in Choshen Mishpat 388.  The view expressed in the Agudah’s statement further agrees that sexual and physical abuse of children falls clearly within those cases which must be reported to the police because the prohibition of mesira has been pushed aside.  However, unlike the R.C.A.’s ruling, if we could imagine a case where Jewish Law does not require that we inform the secular authorities, the opinion expressed by the Agudah holds that even in America and Canada the prohibition of mesira remains in effect. That is why the Agudah’s opinion states that the secular law’s provisions for mandated reporting are irrelevant to the question of of whether reporting is permissible.  According to this opinion, either there is an obligation to report according to Jewish Law (such as in a case of sexual or physical abuse), or there is a prohibition of mesira which precludes reporting (even for mandated reporters).

I have already provided to those who have requested this an English article by Rabbi Broyde which explains the rules and legal principles which govern the prohibition of mesira, as well as the various views of the great poskim of the last century.

It appears that some correspondents believe that the opinion of the Agudah (and the clarification reported in the media by Rabbi Shmuel Kamanetsky) is predicated on the notion that the only instances where reporting is permissible are when the molester or abuser is adjudicated as a rodef.  Following this incorrect assumption, one contributor goes on to cite the classic cases from the Talmud of incestuous or adulterous rape, in order to distinguish them from other cases of less serious sexual abuse where the perpetrator would not be a rodef.

This is incorrect.  In fact, both opinions (the Agudah’s and the R.C.A.’s) agree that physical abuse of a child, or sexual molestation of a child which does not involve actual rape, must be reported to the secular authorities. Their disagreement is only over whether there is a requirement to first check with a Rabbi about whether the basis for one’s suspicion rises to the threshold of probable cause (‘raglayim la-davar’). Their disagreement is not, for example, about whether a molester who fondles the genitalia of young children must be reported.  The opinion expressed by the Agudah clearly holds that such a person must be reported (though only after consulting with a Rav to determine if the evidence is sufficient).  This has nothing to do with whether a molester has the actual din of rodef.  

In fact, in the same siman in Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 388), we learn about a number of other cases where people may or must be reported to the authorities despite the fact that they are not, literally, rodfim. This includes counterfeiters (388:12), people who disturb the public (388:12), and people who assault others by hitting them (388:7).  In fact, the Rema rules in 388:7 that a person who has been assaulted by someone (“adam ha-mukah me-chavero”) is allowed to press charges with the secular authorities against his assailant after the assault has already occurred.  However, the assailant is not a rodef.  In other words, the victim of this assault is certainly not allowed to purchase a gun the next day and kill his assailant.  However, he is allowed to call the police the next day and inform on the assailant by filing criminal charges. People who cause a public disturbance are not rodfim in any sense of the word; they are not even dangerous; they are simply a disruptive nuisance.  Nevertheless, we may report them to the authorities.  The rabbis of the Agudah and the R.C.A. all agree with this.  They all further agree that if we are allowed to call the police after a physical assault against an adult, we are certainly allowed to call the police to report sexual and physical abuse of children (though the Agudah requires that a posek review the evidence first, in order to avoid spurious reports). And, again, the Rema is addressing a situation where the legal authorities are anti-Semitic feudal despots who we presume will treat the assailant is very harshly.  There is certainly reason to be more lenient about mesira in America, Canada – not to mention Israel, where the legal authorities are Jews.

There are some reports in the Jewish media which imply that the Agudah’s requirement of ‘raglayim la-davar’ (that only suspicions which are based on substantial evidence should be reported) will interfere with the reporting of sexual abuse.  I think this is unfair.  In fact, the R.C.A.’s opinion states the same thing, but trusts the reporter to make that determination and does not require the input of a halakhic decisor: 
As always where the facts are uncertain one should use common sense and consultations with experts, both lay and rabbinic, to determine how and when to report such matters to the authorities. False accusations are harmful to those falsely accused – but unreported abuse or endangerment can be life-threatening, as we have recently been tragically reminded.
Essentially, the Agudah’s ruling expresses an opinion which is so concerned about the potential havoc caused by baseless suspicions being reported to the government that it requires rabbinical review.  The Agudah’s statement is nevertheless an acknowledgment that in contemporary Western society, Rabbonim and lay communal leaders are not empowered to effectively intervene and protect children who are being physically or sexually abused.  We need to make use of Child Protective Services or similar agencies in our communities and jurisdictions. It is mandated by halakha that we do so. 

I will also mention that there is good research being done which has found that enforcement of mandatory reporting laws does, in fact, reduce the incidence of sexual abuse.  

In summary I will again quote Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, who can hardly be called a ‘left-winger’.  He recently wrote the following:
It is time to forever bury the myth that reports of pedophilia can be managed and dealt with by committees of rabbonim, even for a short time. It is time to bury the myth that there is a serious halachic barrier to going to authorities to deal with credible reports of such behavior. Enough baalei halacha have told us that there is no barrier.
Choshen Mishpat 388:12 tells us that those who vex the public can be handed over. Any pedophile does at least that, and poses a danger of doing much more. Moreover, mesirah of a molester exposes him to a safek of danger; pedophiles pose a much greater danger level to many more victims.
It is natural and good that many people were not eager to rush to modes of address that themselves could be too sweeping and harsh, with terrible consequences to people and their families. They thought that various types of modus vivendi were possible. By now they should realize that this is not true. Rabbonim cannot handle the issue. We have enough evidence of this…. (


  1. This is a thoughtful, erudite and clear analysis.

    Yeshar koach Dr Klafter!

  2. It all seems to boil down to how rabbis define their own jobs.

    The RCA rabbonim see themselves as a halachik authority, and a consultant, as they may be requested, for many other moral dilemmas.

    The Agudah rabbis see themselves as the sole authority in EVERY aspect of the community member's life. Any other factor is subjugated to that - such as "other experts", "secular legal authority" or "common sense".

  3. Send this to Rav Kornfeld and Malinowitz.

  4. Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, an attorney and the E.V.P. of Agudath Israel of America, has stated that he does not believe that this ruling will lead to any mandated reporters violating the law.
    I wonder where you're getting that from. He told Mishpacha Magazine that he thought clashes between secular law and the psak of a rabbi would be "few and far between" and that he "[doesn't] envision frequent clashes between the secular law and the halachah." But his speculation that the potential law-breaking his organization now condones won't happen often isn't the same as saying it will never happen.

  5. Anonymous - "Send this to Rav Kornfeld and Malinowitz."

    Rav Kornfeld and Rav Malinowitz are adhering 'religiously' to Agudah doctrine.

    Rav Malinowitz in his talk to the women of BTYA two years ago told them to trust the rav, not the police, and lashed out at Lema'an Achai by banning them from his shul...

    And the Rav Kornfeld in his shiur to the women of the Gra blasting Magen as "the real danger to our tzibur" just three weeks ago...

    are keeping to the same dogma.

    Total, exclusive Rabbinical control.

    Even before child safety.

  6. The pedophiles seem to know about 'arei miklat'/safe houses (for them) in RBS.

    Which is why over the past ten years, BTYA and the Gra have become magnets for child abusers.

  7. Rabbi Yosef Blau15 August 2011 at 12:42

    Dr. Klafter's distinctions between the RCA and Aguda reflect two differing perspectives on living in the modern democratic world.

    Even if one (which I don't) would adopt both assumptions of Aguda the present situation is intolerable. Rabbis receive no training in recognizing abuse.

    My lengthy personal experience, admittedly anecdotal, is that victims of abuse who have consulted rabbis are rarely believed. Even when their stories have been accepted as credible they were told to remain silent and not to report to authorities.
    On medical questions rabbis consult doctors why do they not consult therapists about abuse?
    Yosef Blau

  8. There often is no 'substantial evidence' in child molestation. However a charedi child doesn't know to lie about such things. Until the molestation they didn't pay attention to their private parts. Now they've been introduced to sexuality in a perverse manner. The rabbonim should be outraged at child sexual abuse. There should be zero tolerance and perps should be turned in immediately. The likelihood of false reporting is minimal in the charedi world and cases of abuse are investigated by the secular authorities before arrests are made.

    This has become an epidemic in the charedi world, and even if they were qualified, there aren't enough rabbis (and charedi resources) to deal with it now!

    Check out a parent resource for child molestation in the charedi community

  9. Yes, thank you for your correction. I see your point now that I re-read Zweibel's interview:

    Zweibel said: "Where a conflict could arise would be in a case where a rav says not to report, but the person's lawyer says he must. In that case, I suppose part of the process of the sh'eilah to a rav could also be where the person goes back to the ray and says, 'You told me not to report, but my lawyer says I have to, so does that in any way affect your psak?' The moreh hora'ah will then have to decide how that fits in with the overall equation in determining his final answer to the sh'eilah."

    My point is the same. What I am saying is that many professionals are unpersuaded by this reassurance and, depending on the rabbi consulted, foresee many therapists being advised to suppress allegations of child abuse, which would be a violation of the law and of their licensing requirements.

    The conflict for therapists is not the 'raglayim la-davar' standard. The real conflict is that the Aguda's statement completely disregards the secular law. I anticipate that Rabbis will become mandated reporters in New York State. I am aware of individuals and organizations lobbying for this. I believe that this would be a very significant development.

  10. Concerned Parent16 August 2011 at 16:34

    I hear there was another child attacked on Revivim in RBS this week.

    Is this true?

  11. Is Magen the True Danger?16 August 2011 at 20:06

    Revivim? Rabbi Kornfeld's territory?

    Can't be....he has a chush for such things.

  12. Excellent article, Nachum, that sheds much light on the two contrasting positions.

    I will point out that R Alderstein wrote his Cross-Current words on July 14, 2011, when the murder of Leiby Kletzky was very fresh, and undoubtedly not knowing that eight days subsequent, on July 22, Aguda would be introducing its, First call a rabbi statement. I question whether post-July 22, R Alderstein would publicly say the same.

  13. There is also a fascinating post from R Marc Shapiro that appears on R Eidensohn's Daas Torah blog, discussing the "natural morality" of the Jewish people, in the words of Rav Kook, ztl. In my comment, pasted below, I point out another difference between the RCA and Aguda statements on mandated reporting. RCA quotes G-d, and Aguda quotes rabbis.

    "This is a fascinating post from R Shapiro, and spot on.

    Its an old story, really, and part of human nature - seeing the trees, but not the forest.

    As a young lawyer, I was taught an old expression I will never forget. I was at a commercial contract closing, and examining the document for negotiating points or flaws. I found a lot, and painstakingly pointed out each one to opposing counsel. The first few points and flaws I called attention to were grudgingly acknowledged by the other fellow, but after a while, he said something like this, "Any ordinary lawyer can break a deal, it takes a good lawyer to make a deal." I learned my lesson, and dropped the small points, and cut to the chase.

    Just as a prospective deal can be over lawyered and broken up, Jewish life is being over rabbi'd.

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?, is still another way of putting it.

    The starkest difference to me between the competing and conflicting Aguda and RCA statements on mandated reporting (and unlike the 2007 and 2005 RCA Resolutions, I had no hand in this latest RCA statement), is that the RCA quotes G-d, and Aguda quotes two rabbis.

    The RCA sees the big picture, the forest, and quotes verbatim the most relevant Torah pasuk, the emotionally driven and very demanding, Lo sa'amod al dam ra'echa, Do not STAND on the BLOOD of your BROTHER. Experience has shown that these are famous words that Jews naturally relate to - they're part of our very fiber, our essence, they're words that almost don't have to be taught to us.

    Aguda, meanwhile, in their statement, cites two rabbis, excellent rabbis, respected rabbis, smart rabbis who have written teshuvas on the subject we're talking about, but, at the end of the day...they're rabbis.

    So I agree - it is the "natural morality", in the words of Rav Kook, ztl, that Jewish people find so appealing, and that is what the RCA statement, quoting the Ribbono shel Olam himself, has tapped into."

  14. A point which has been missed, by everyone I've seen responding to the Aguda statement, is that Agudah misrepresent R.Eliashiv's tshuvah.

    Agudah rather wish it says "if there are reglaim ledevar, then you must report it to the authorities." - because this is now politically expedient for the Agudah, under pressure from their past failings.

    However I don't see the teshuva actually says that.

    The case R.Elyashiv was asked about was a rebbe who was (definitely) sexually abusing children and could not be controlled from attacking other children.

    R.Elyashiv's answer is in two parts.

    1. As this guy (definitely) did it in the past, AND is an ongoing danger in the future, THEN there is regretfully no alternative to reporting it to the authorities.

    2. In a case where there is NOT reglaim ledevar, and it is just fanciful accusation, then it would be an aveira to report to the authorities as this would be destroying the man's life.

    The teshuva does not address AT ALL the issue of where there's a report of abuse that has reglaim ledevar (reason to suspect - but not certainty).

    So, in the scope of this teshuva there's:

    1. definite past attacks, and ongoing danger


    2. Fanciful accusation with no basis.

    The real world of reasonable suspicion that someone has abused a child, which Aguda is claiming needs reporting, cannot be based on R.Elyashiv's psak.

    So why are they pulling this rabbi/t out of their hats?

  15. I wonder how it was determined that the rebbe mentioned in R'Eliyashiv's tshuva was definately sexually abusing children and definately dangerous? What was being used to determine reglayim ladaver? Does the tshuva explain who should decide if an accusation is fanciful or not?

    My point being, this tshuva serves only to clarify that we are permitted to report to the secular authorities.

    It does not solve the problem of the Aguda insisting we report to the rabbis first.

    Further, the Aguda only clarifies that the victim himself is allowed to report, and further, if he can be sure (notice the room for doubt) that the molester is a potential danger, then the victim is thereby required to report to secular authorities. We are not naviim, so how are we to know if the abuser will abuse again for sure, especially as most victims often think they are alone and can't imagine that there are other victims.

    It is time for the rabbonim to clarify NOW, that parents must listen to the loshen hara l'toelet of their child, and take action based on the possibility that it is true. The action that must be taken in order to help not only the child, but also help the suspected molester, and protect society, is to take the child to report to the secular authorities.

    It is not the job of parents, teachers, principals or rabbis, to act as investigators, and the only requirement for reglayim ladaver is a child's innocent loshen hara l'toelet.

    Also, if there is reason to suspect that the perpetrator has abused others or may abuse others while pending secular investigation or trial, it is required by shmirat haloshen l'toelet that the community be made aware, including knowing enough details to clearly identify the suspect (even by name if need be).

    Rocky from

  16. My goodness, some of you are just maligning some people and saying horrible things against them - I cant believe it. These posters are the fine upstanding Beit Shemesh anglos? Some of you really need to take a good hard look at yourselves. Its fun taking shots at people who do not know you are doing so and have no way to respond isnt it? Look if you have a beef with someone (and it may be legit but maybe some of you are just character assasinating) fine, but to tear them apart on a public board is beyond the pale. I need to hear BOTH sides not just yours before presuming some of the shuls you list harbor criminals or that certain Rabbis said this or that. Such viciousness, such invective. And we wonder why the Beit HaMikdash is not re-built. G-d help us.

  17. Anonymous, maybe there are reasons behind these comments that so offend you. Some of us here have personally experienced problematic rabbinical responses. Please, do your homework. Talk to parents about this issue and question your local rabbonim. Find out the truth and then you'll have the real reason the Beit HaMikdash has not be rebuilt.

  18. Anonymous: "you are just maligning some people and saying horrible things against them.."

    I will not allow this blog to be used as a platform for vitriol and personal insult.

    The purpose is to be a forum for open & (where required) frank discussion of POLICY - not personality.

    When community leaders make public statements on POLICY, then I believe it is legitimate for there to be public response & discussion of those policies in this forum.

    For those who are out-of-the-RBS-loop, both Rav Malinowitz (about two years ago) and Rav Kornfeld (a few weeks ago) have made public pronouncements about how they handle cases of child abuse in their communities. Both rabbonim also contributed to an article by Jonathan Rosenblum, explaining and promoting their policies, while attacking my position.

    It is my understanding, from these public statements, that both rabbonim place the Rabbi as the sole address to investigate and give instruction regarding allegations of child abuse in their communities. (ie to decide if there are or are not "reglaim ledavar", and whether the cases should or should not be reported to the authorities, even when reporting is required by Israel's child protection laws)

    IMHO, these publicly declared policies here in RBS adhere closely with Agudah's newly published guidelines in the USA (the subject of this article), which also stress the exclusive jurisdiction of community rabbonim in managing & controlling allegation & cases of child abuse.

  19. I'm not sure if anyone is reading this still, but I'd like to respond to Rocky, who writes: "What was being used to determine reglayim ladaver? Does the tshuva explain who should decide if an accusation is fanciful or not?"

    "Raglayim la-davar" should be translated as "probable cause." Loosely defined, it means, "Is there sufficient evidence that it is reasonable to be concerned that abuse is taking place?"

    There are objective standards for this in both the halakha and the secular law. In fact, Child Protection Service agencies have their own version of "raglayim la-davar" which parallel the halakha.

    Is the victim, himself or herself, the indivudual making the allegations? If so this is certainly raglayim la-davar. Were there witnesses to this? This is certainly raglayim la-davar. Is the individual accused of abuse someone who has a history of sexually vitimizing others? Is this hearsay testimony which was heard by a second party from the child victim directly? Or is it hearsay testimony that has gone through a second party and then third and fourth parties? If the person coming forward heard it 3rd had, where is the person who heard it from the victim first-hand, and why is that individual not coming forward? Is there even an actual allegation? For example, what if I see an adult who was in synagogue and appeared to be too social with children, approaching children to talk to them only when their parents were not present. This would be suspicious behavior which would warrant notifying the child's parents and the rabbi of the synagogue, but would not warrant reporting anyone to authorities because there is no abuse to actually to report.

    The teshuva by Rabbi Elyashiv does not state that it is necessary to first check with a Rabbi. What it says is that the authorities should not be contacted on the basis of mere conjecture ("eizeh dimyon"), but only in a case where there is probable cause ("raglayim la-davar") to believe that abuse has taken place.

    The Agudah has interpreted this to mean that Rav Elyashiv's teshuva cannot be relied upon as a directive for lay persons to contact the authorities based on their own information and judgment. Whether Rabbi Elyashiv would agree with this interpretation is something about which reasonable people could disagree.


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