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Montreal Rabbinical Court Alerts Parents to Child Sexual Abuse. But is that Enough?

Jul 27, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

The decision of a Rabbinical court in Montreal to broach the subject of child sexual abuse with Orthodox Jewish parents is being touted as a huge step for a community that has for years been reticent about addressing the issue openly.  But critics aren't impressed, and argue that an advisory on sexual abuse released this summer by the Montreal Beit Din, a religious court, doesn't go far enough.

Apparently, the Beit Din advisory told parents to teach children about inappropriate touching, whether it's by another child, a relative or an authority figure, according to a report on Canada.com.   The advisory also parents should explain to children it's an obligation — not a sin — to tell a parent or rabbi if an incident occurs.

“That already is a huge step for the Orthodox community,” Diane Sasson, executive director of Auberge Shalom, a centre for women and children affected by domestic violence, told Canada.com.

But the advisory is being criticized in some quarters because it doesn't urge parents to report incidents to police or youth-protection authorities.

"I'm impressed they're informing their community in this way," Howard Nadler, a liaison manager at Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, said. "But they should be reporting it to Youth Protection"

Others agreed, including Amy Neustein, editor of Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals.

"The Beit Din have become very proficient at obstructing justice," said Neustein, who lost custody of her six-year-old daughter in 1986 after she alleged her ex-husband molested the child.

According to Canada.com, Rabbi Saul Emanuel, executive director of the rabbinical court, disputed the idea that the advisory should have told parents to contact authorities, stating that its up to families to decide whether or not to involve secular authorities.

Some Orthodox Rabbis, however, have gone on record urging Orthodox parents to report incidents of sexual abuse only to Rabbis, who will then determine if a police report should be made.  Earlier this month, for example, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, the vice-president of Agudath Israel of America's Supreme Council of Rabbinic Sages, made such a pronouncement in Flatbush, Brooklyn.  Even worse, the speech was made as members of the New York Orthodox Jewish community were frantically searching for 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, whose dismembered body was found the following day in a dumpster and in the apartment of Levi Aron, a suspected child predator.

News of Rabbi Kamenetsky's pronouncement, along with speculation that some in the New York Haisidic community may have kept a list of suspected child molesters that was not forwarded to police, resulted in an outcry.  Since then, the Rabbinical Council of America stated that those with reasonable suspicion or first-hand knowledge of abuse or endangerment have a religious obligation to report that abuse to the secular legal authorities without delay, Canada.com said.



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