Note: This essay was written with input from and the encouragement of esteemed Rabbonim, Dayanim (rabbinic judges), community leaders and mental health professionals who all have extensive experience with these issues.
My dear friends, we need to have a long overdue conversation about establishing protocols and “best practices” to be implemented by communal leaders who betray their public trust by engaging in inappropriate or illicit relationships and/or have abused people who entrusted their lives and souls to them.
As we are painfully removing our rose-colored glasses and coming to terms with the bitter reality that observant Jews and even revered community leaders are not immune from the human failings of the general population, this conversation is becoming more and more necessary as “situations” are uncovered and publicized by courageous Rabbis and Batei Din (rabbinic courts).
As many of these cases are not actionable in the criminal justice system due to the understandable reluctance of victims to testify in open court, statute of limitation issues, or when inappropriate relationships occurred with adults, the involvement of Rabbonim and Batei Din in this process is critical and valuable. It is our strong feeling that abuse that is actionable be reported to the authorities as this presents a Clear and Present Danger to the public.
We would like to propose that when these conditions occur, a specific set of steps be taken to provide restitution to the victims, closure to members of the public, restore public faith in the institutions where these individuals served and to prevent these injustices from happening in the future.
Our Torah codifies five categories of compensation to victims of physical damage, with the victim being paid for:
- (Regular) Damages
- Pain suffered
- Medical bills
- Shame incurred
Being that our Torah clearly factored in many components of the damage caused and placed the burden of restitution squarely on the shoulders of the “mazik” (one who caused the damage), it would stand to reason that perpetrators be responsible for the often lifelong damages caused by their actions. Similarly, the institutions where they served have a moral responsibility to remove the perpetrators from any vestige of involvement/ownership, and undertake transparent and good faith efforts to address the structural shortcomings that allowed their inappropriate behaviors to go unnoticed or unreported.
Therapists and agencies that provide services and support to victims of abuse regularly see the physical, emotional and spiritual devastation caused when restorative measures are not taken. As such, we at Project YES feel compelled to share with our readers the steps that we feel should be taken in instances like those described above:
1) A public confession in writing or via recorded statement shall be made available to the constituents of the institution where the individual served. The public acknowledgment need not include specific details, but the perpetrator needs to clearly state that he/she committed severe misdeeds and takes full, personal responsibility for them.
2) The confession should include a public apology to his/her victims (without mentioning the names of any victims), along with requesting that they be supported by community members and never be c’v subjected to isolation and disdain as a result of their coming forward.
3) The individual and/or institution take full responsibility to make financial restitution to the victims – including paying for their ongoing therapy when required.
4) The individual expresses sincere commitment to undergo professional counseling to address his/her self-destructive behavior.
5) The institution he/she served in shall be transferred to responsible parties in a transparent, irrevocable and arms-distant manner. Additionally, the individual shall make a firm pledge never to serve again in an educational/rabbinic/counseling setting.
6) The institution’s new leadership shall commit to engage outside professional consultants who will help them implement the changes necessary to prevent the conditions that allowed these inappropriate behaviors to go unchecked.
In future columns, we will explain why each of the six steps listed above are absolutely critical to the process of healing the victims – including those who were indirectly affected, ensuring that the perpetrator never harms others, and restoring confidence to the institution.
We strongly believe that the above-mentioned steps are also the best advice for the perpetrator, for reasons we will point out in future columns on this matter.
These steps above are only a first draft and we certainly don’t believe that they are binding or the final word on this painful topic. Rather, we view these as the beginning of a public dialogue that will help bring healing to the victims and keep our children and grandchildren safe. We welcome your constructive comments – including those that are critical of the positions we have taken – and kindly email them to firstname.lastname@example.org