(JTA) – Three hundred Orthodox rabbis have signed a proclamation urging those suspecting child sex abuse to notify secular authorities and calling on Jewish institutions to take preventative measures to prevent abuse.
The letter, which was released Thursday and signed by rabbis from the United States, Canada, Israel and Europe, recognizes that Orthodox communities “could have responded in more responsible and sensitive ways to help victims and to hold perpetrators accountable.” It also condemns attempts to ignore or silence abuse victims and witnesses.
Ottawa-based rabbis who signed the proclamation include Rabbi Reuven Bulka, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, Rabbi Howard Finkelstein of Congregation Beit Tikvah and Rabbi Ari Galandauer of Young Israel of Ottawa.
Those suspecting sexual abuse do not need to seek rabbinic approval before contacting civil authorities, the proclamation states.
“We condemn attempts to ignore allegations of child sexual abuse. These efforts are harmful, contrary to Jewish law, and immoral,” it said. “The reporting of reasonable suspicions of all forms of child abuse and neglect directly and promptly to the civil authorities is a requirement of Jewish law.”
The letter strongly condemns ostracizing victims of sexual abuse and calls upon synagogues and schools to set up policies to prevent sex abuse, including carefully screening new employees, raising awareness of the issue, and teaching children about sexual development and safety.
The proclamation draws upon the biblical precept not to “stand by while your fellow’s blood is being spilled” (Leviticus 19:16). One of the signatories likened sexual abuse to murder.
“Every sexual abuser is a potential murderer,” said Rabbi Hershel Billet of Young Israel of Woodmere. “They destroy the souls of their victims and at times cause the death of their victims.”
The signatories include members of the Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Council of America and Yeshiva University.
In August 2015, more than 100 haredi Orthodox rabbis and teachers signed a proclamation obligating Jews to report suspected child sex abuse to the authorities, citing the same verse from Leviticus.