Despite a New York judge’s recent condemnation of the practice, several national rabbinic leaders said they thought Orthodox rabbinic courts should continue to screen allegations of sexual abuse and decide whether they should be forwarded to law enforcement for prosecution.
“Sometimes, unfortunately, people make allegations which have no substance because they have an agenda,” said Rabbi Moshe Kletenik, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the organizing body of Modern Orthodox rabbis.
He said the rabbinic courts, or beit dins, are useful because they allow “for an investigation to see if there’s substance, and if there is, it’s immediately referred” to civil authorities.
David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, a leading umbrella group of ultra-traditional Orthodox organizations, agreed that religious courts can play a positive role in sexual-abuse cases.
“I think there are people in the community who are concerned about certain things that the secular authorities might not be concerned about,” Zweibel said. “If a child has to be removed from a family, if you are not sensitive to religious concerns of the family, they might be placed in a home setting that would not facilitate the child’s observance of religion.”
During the September 29 sentencing of a 31-year-old Orthodox bar mitzvah tutor convicted of sexually abusing two boys, New York State Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach lashed out at the Orthodox community for “a communal attitude that seems to impose greater opprobrium on the victims than the perpetrator.” He termed the role played by such rabbinic courts in particular “inappropriate,” saying that these courts were “incapable” of dealing with criminal matters.
The FORWARD reports.