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Adin Steinsaltz: Society Punish Child Abuse

The distinguished ultra-orthodox scholar, writer and speaker, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz has issued an eloquent call for zero tolerance of those who sexually abuse children. The Jewish Week (NY) published his call where he wrote :

There are some objective reasons why such things happen quite often in religious institutions. Children are taught and trained to be obedient and to accept their elders as authorities – which makes it so much more difficult for them to resist abuse or to report it. Unfortunately there is no sex education in some of the schools ; nor is the subject discussed in some homes. So when something like this happens, it takes time for a child to understand it and even more than that – to talk about it.

Child molestation almost always causes enormous, multi-level damage to the victim’s soul : it may make the victim unable to form healthy relationships. They may lose trust in people, because the molesters are often those who were supposed to be their caretakers and protectors…

This crime of child molestation is not just a civil offense : it is also a very severe religious crime. Under Jewish law, it may even deserve capital punishment. Offenders may also be liable for the most severe punishment of karet (untimely death by the hands of the Almighty).

It is important to say all that because there is a tendency to cover up such incidents, especially in institutions, and sometimes even to protect the perpetrators. Partly this is so because those in charge are often more in touch with the molester – who may be a colleague or a friend – than with the children. This is especially the case since children hardly ever express their hurt. And, of course, institutions do not want their reputations to be harmed.

The first and foremost duty of any educational institution, and the prime responsibility of its heads and leaders, is to be rid of anyone who causes such great harm. Good reputation or personal friendships must by no means stand in the way of investigation and clean-up.

We must make sure that such a person will never again be in a position to repeat such offenses. It is therefore not enough to fire the perpetrator from his (or her) work place : it is both the organization’s and society’s duty to make sure that the crimes are known and punished.

This last sentence leaves some ambiguity about whether by society he means the civil authorities. But in the context of recent developments in the ultra-orthodox world, I am pretty sure he is throwing his support to the growing calls for relying on enforcement by police and the courts.

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