Over the last few months there has been much mention of the position of the Agudat Yisrael on reporting of child abuse to secular authorities. A consensus opinion, based on what was reported from a recent Agudah convention, was reported as "Always go and tell a rabbi first, even in cases where one is legally obliged to tell the authorities."
Naturally this opinion is problematic. In many cases it might go against secular law. The Agudah position might be understood to be "Ignore what the law of the land says". In other cases a delay between teling the rabbi and getting permission to go to the authorities might result in further harm to the children. Finally there is the prevalent concern that many rabbonim, afraid of the consequences of reporting a particular offender or of the negative image the community might suffer as a result of the reporting, might try to use their authority to sweep the matter under the rug.
Rav Avi Shafran's latest piece on the matter, the official clarification of the Agudah's position, is no solution to the problem. Now, you have to give the guy credit. No matter what, he stays on message. Rome could be burning around him but if his masters on the Moetzes tell him that there's no fire that's exactly what he'll tell you even as the flames singe his beard.
In this case he's been given a difficult assignment. The "Always go to a rabbi first" position is controversial, illegal according to secular law in many cases and not halachically necessary according to many authorities. Given that this is the position of the Moetzes he has to present it in such a way to make it seem to be completely reasonable. Unfortunately you don't have to read too deeply into his statement to note the obvious problem.
Point 1 is evidently put in there to assauge our fears that the Agudah is telling those of use with mandatory reporting responsibilities to break the law and part 2 tries to make it sound like secular law is the lax one in this situation:
1. Where there is “raglayim la’davar” (roughly, reason to believe) that a child has been abused or molested, the matter should be reported to the authorities. In such situations, considerations of “tikun ha’olam” (the halachic authority to take steps necessary to “repair the world”), as well as other halachic concepts, override all other considerations.
2. This halachic obligation to report where there is raglayim la’davar is not dependent upon any secular legal mandate to report. Thus, it is not limited to a designated class of “mandated reporters,” as is the law in many states (including New York); it is binding upon anyone and everyone. In this respect, the halachic mandate to report is more stringent than secular law.
However, reading parts 3-5 one quickly sees past this smokescreen:
3. However, where the circumstances of the case do not rise to the threshold level of raglayim la’davar, the matter should not be reported to the authorities. In the words of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, perhaps the most widely respected senior halachic authority in the world today, “I see no basis to permit” reporting “where there is no raglayim la’davar, but rather only ‘eizeh dimyon’ (roughly, some mere conjecture); if we were to permit it, not only would that not result in ‘tikun ha’olam’, it could lead to ‘heres haolam’ (destruction of the world).” [Yeshurun, Volume 7, page 641.]
4. Thus, the question of whether the threshold standard of raglayim la’davar has been met so as to justify (indeed, to require) reporting is critical for halachic purposes. (The secular law also typically establishes a threshold for mandated reporters; in New York, it is “reasonable cause to suspect.”) The issue is obviously fact sensitive and must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
5. There may be times when an individual may feel that a report or evidence he has seen rises to the level of raglayim la’davar; and times when he may feel otherwise. Because the question of reporting has serious implications for all parties, and raises sensitive halachic issues, the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment to determine the presence or absence of raglayim la’davar. Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi who is expert in halacha and who also has experience in the area of abuse and molestation – someone who is fully sensitive both to the gravity of the halachic considerations and the urgent need to protect children. (In addition, as Rabbi Yehuda Silman states in one of his responsa [Yeshurun, Volume 15, page 589], “of course it is assumed that the rabbi will seek the advice of professionals in the field as may be necessary.”) It is not necessary to convene a formal bais din (rabbinic tribunal) for this purpose, and the matter should be resolved as expeditiously as possible to minimize any chance of the suspect continuing his abusive conduct while the matter is being considered.
Understand? Yes, when there are r'glayim l'davar one may go straight to the police but only a qualified rabbi is able to pronounce whether there are r'glayim l'davar in the first place. The "Always go to a rabbi first" position therefore remains in place no matter how Rav Shafran wishes to phrase it.
This position is wrong no matter how many "gedolim" support it. It is based on a "circle the wagons" and "we don't need the outside world's help" attitude that is currently outdated and potentially dangerous. As a peson with reporting responsibilities I have no hesitation to report to the appropriate authorities if I think a child, any child including a frum one, is in danger as is my obligation under the law. Dina d'malchusa dina. And common sense which seems to have been removed from Jewish law somewhere along the way.