Not too long ago – only about three years – when I was contemplating publishing my books on child abuse, I was advised by rabbis, friends and family that it was suicidal. There were two major reasons given. 1) “We don’t talk about abuse.” Stores told me they would not sell any book that had the word abuse in its title or used the word “sex” in it. Someone who had initially offered support for the book, withdrew it when he saw that I actually explicitly discussed sexual abuse in the book. 2) “You can’t criticize rabbis for failure to deal with the issue.” Or rather I was told I can’t make the claim that rabbis were not following halacha – it was viewed as an oxymoron. Obviously rabbis follow halacha because that is what rabbis do – at least Chareidi rabbis.
In fact I was told that I was going to be put into cherem and that nobody would sell the book or buy it. Rav Sternbuch, however, was insistent that the issue of child abuse needed to be dealt with and he urged the publication of the book.
Fast forward to the present. In the past week I have had the following encounters. 1) After kayaking on the Jordan River – someone gave me a seat on the overcrowded bus returning us to the parking lot. In the ensuring conversation, I discovered that he had a kollel for Choshen Mishpat. I mentioned that I was dealing with child abuse and C.M. 388. He responded that the rabbis either didn’t know halacha or were grossly misapplying it in regards to abusers. Furthermore he had quit a good teaching job at a yeshiva because of his disgust with the school’s failure to deal properly with child abuse. Thus after a few minutes of first meeting another Chareidi Jew we were openly discussing the problem of abuse and the failure of rabbis to follow the halacha. 2) I had a long talk with a relative who is a solid talmid chachom learning in Kollel. He is a very strict about lashon harah, respecting rabbinical authority and is strongly against Internet, smart phones and believes in Daas Torah and only reads the Yated. Yet he readily acknowledged that he personally knew cases of abuse that were mishandled by rabbonim and is fully aware of the cowardice of poskim in dealing with the issue of mesira and calling the police. He also expressed surprise that I thought that any rabbi would apologize for making a serious mistake. 3) Today I met a very well known Yerushalmi posek and rav that I haven’t seen for years. He remembered who I was and asked me what I was working on. When I responded, “Child abuse” – he readily expressed strong approval. When I told him my biggest problem was that the rabbonim don’t follow the halacha – this well known exemplar of the rabbinic establishment’s immediate response was , “I can tell you some really good stories about that.” There was no hesitation, no defensiveness. It was simply an obvious fact – such as the sun rises in the morning or objects fall when dropped.