Montreal Rabbinical Court Speaks on Sexual Abuse

The Orthodox Jewish community has been notoriously reticent about bringing charges of <"">sexual abuse to the attention of secular authorities. Now, a Canadian rabbinical court is bringing the issue of sexual abuse in Montreal’s Orthodox Jewish community public, said the Montreal Gazette.

In Canada, a Beit Din’s written advisory issued this summer, told parents to explain inappropriate touching to their children, and to discuss that inappropriate touching from other children, a relative, or authority figures is wrong, said the Montreal Gazette. The Beit Din is a religious court. The advisory stressed that parents should tell their children that it is an obligation to tell a parent or a rabbi if this touching happens.

The advisory goes against how the community has previously handled sexual abuse, said the Montreal Gazette, which pointed out that, in the past, the community has been accused of covering up the issue. For instance, Diane Sasson, the executive director of Auberge Shalom, a center that helps women and children impacted by “conjugal violence” said that the advisory is “already … a huge step for the Orthodox community,” the Montreal Gazette reported. Sasson pointed out that the Jewish court even acknowledging that sexual abuse exists is progress.

Not everyone agrees. An expert on sexual abuse in the Jewish Orthodox community faults the rabbinical court for not advising parents to report incidents of sexual abuse to the police or youth-protection authorities. Amy Neustein, a sociologist and editor of Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals, said, “The Beit Din hijacks the criminal justice system because it supplants it and usurps the authority,” the Montreal Gazette reported. In 1986, Neustein lost custody of her six-year-old daughter when she accused her ex-husband of sexually abusing her child and the religious courts of covering up abuse. “The Beit Din have become very proficient at obstructing justice,” Neustein told the Montreal Gazette in a telephone interview.

Howard Nadler, a liaison manager at Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, said the advisory should have told people to contact the appropriate authorities. “I’m impressed they’re informing their community in this way,” Nadler said. “But they should be reporting it to Youth Protection,” the Montreal Gazette reported.

This all follows recent headlines over the horribly tragic murder of eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn, New York, who was taken when walking home from a Jewish day camp. Leiby’s murder was followed by reports that some in the a volunteer neighborhood watch in the Hasidic community maintained a list of alleged child molesters and that that list was not provided to police.

Earlier this month, we reported that an Orthodox Jewish leader addressing a group in Brooklyn discouraged the reporting of child sexual abuse within the community to secular authorities. According to the report from the Failed Messiah blog, the remarks were made by leading American Orthodox rabbi, Shmuel Kamenetsky, the vice president of Agudath Israel of America’s Supreme Council of Rabbinic Sages. Kamenetsky apparently told a group gathered at a conference in Flatbush that child sexual abuse must be reported to a rabbi, who will investigate and determine if police should be called. The remarks were considered particularly disturbing because Kamenetsky is very influential in the Orthodox Jewish community and is “considered to be the most favorable of all the senior Agudath rabbis to child sexual abuse victims,” reported Failed Messiah, previously.

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