It is a scenario that has been repeated over and over again. A predator in the community seeks out the young and vulnerable. It could be in schools, in camps, in shuls, in youth organizations — anywhere young people congregate. It could be someone underage or someone who is older.
The askanim or rabbinic leaders of the community decide that enough is enough. Evidence is gathered. The person is fired from his or her position and is forced to leave the community. It was a trying time, but, baruch Hashem, the community united and dealt with a very difficult problem.
The problem with this scenario is that it merely kicks the can down the road to a different community. What ever happened to “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh la’zeh” (Shevuos 39a), all of Israel are punished for each other’s sins? In other words, we have a responsibility for other potential victims, even those not in our community.
Negation Of Five Mitzvos
The scenario, it seems to this author, is an out-and-out abnegation of no fewer than five mitzvos in the Torah.
(1) First and foremost, there is the issue of pikuach nefesh. We may not have known it earlier, but predatory behavior often causes people to contemplate suicide. The Torah tells us “v’chai bahem,” and we shall live by the Torah, not die by it. This applies to all communities, not just our own. Saving life is a fundamental mitzvah. What is the source of this mitzvah? The verse in Parashas Ki Seitzei (Devarim 22:2) discusses the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah, returning an object, with the words “v’hasheivoso lo,” and you shall return it to him. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (73a), however, includes within its understanding of these words the obligation of returning “his own life to him” as well. For example, if thieves are threatening to pounce upon him, there is an obligation of “v’hasheivoso lo.” This verse is the source for the mitzvah of saving someone’s life. I believe that this is the general mitzvah that the Shulchan Aruch refers to in Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 325.
- “Lo sa’amod al dam rei’achah.” There is a negative mitzvah of not standing idly by your brother’s blood. This is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 426:1) and in the Rambam. Collectively, if we stop the idea of kicking the can down the road to the next community, we can ensure that we do not stand idly by our brothers’ blood.
- “Lo suchal l’hisaleim.” There is yet another negative commandment associated with the positive commandment of hashavas aveidah, and that is the verse in Devarim (22:3) “You cannot shut your eyes to it.” This verse comes directly after the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah. The Netziv (HeEmek She’eilah) refers to this mitzvah as well.
- “V’chai achicha imach.” The Sheiltos (Sheilta #37), based upon the Gemara in Bava Metziah 62a, understands these words to indicate an obligation to save others along with you. The Netziv in his HeEmek She’eilah understands it as a full-fledged obligation according to all opinions. He writes that he must exert every effort to save his friend’s life, until it becomes pikuach nefesh for himself.
- “V’ahavtah l’rei’achah kamochah.” The Ramban, Toras HaAdam Sha’ar HaSakanah (p. 42–43) understands the verse of “and love thy neighbor as yourself” as a directive to save him from danger as well. Although he discusses the issue of medical danger, it is clear that this is an example, and it would apply to danger from physical enemies as well. Even without the Ramban, however, it is clear that defending and protecting someone from danger is a fulfillment of this mitzvah.
Clearly, congratulations are not in order. The predator is now free to seek out the vulnerable in other communities. Time and time again, this scenario has repeated itself, leaving victims in its wake. Our communities are abnegating five mitzvos in the Torah in the process.
Some people who are particularly sensitive to victims have taken it upon themselves to pursue the offender in the new community. They are incensed at the decision of “washing of hands” that the previous community has embarked upon. The offending person is now chased and pursued in community after community. But what do we expect the offender to do?
There is another method that had worked with moderate success in the past, and it is a system that perhaps should be revisited, with a few tweaks. No approach is foolproof and every situation presents unique problems. The method involves seven steps.
- The offender should remain in the community, and another form of employment should be obtained that does not involve contact with children. Ideally, it should be one involving hard work but something that can produce satisfaction. The pay should be linked to following the seven steps.
- The offender should be given a set of rules to follow, such as no contact with children. The offender must stay at least ten feet away from any child.
- There should be a group of responsible people to oversee that the offender is doing what he is supposed to be doing.
- There should be an international registry that is run by responsible Torah-observing people who ask she’eilos and are immune to pressures. This is easier said than done, because sometimes family members of offenders are very well-connected. Perhaps it can start by piggy-backing with the tzedakah gabbaim in every community. Believe it or not, the various tzedakah gabbaim in every Torah community have a very effective registry wherein they check out the legitimacy of any prospective ani. I am aware of a situation where someone had clearly made misrepresentations and he was blacklisted until the situation was resolved.
- Often, the offender will not admit to having done anything wrong. Experts say that we should, nonetheless, encourage the alleged offender to seek out a therapist who will teach methods and tools of self-control, thus reducing opportunities for making wrong decisions, since there are so many areas in which these tools can benefit us. Eventually, the therapist can have an impact upon the person.
- The offender should be taught that it is good public policy to ensure that any person with more than one credible accuser who has stepped forward should seek out such a therapist, because even though he may be innocent, there are others who are not. He should be spoken to respectfully; Chazal (Derech Eretz Rabba, chapter 5) employ the term, “kabdeihu v’chasdeihu,” honor him, but suspect him — for good reason. It is a means of getting cooperation, too.
- If it is possible, the offender should be placed upon the secular registry. This is the tweak that was not added previously when this system was first implemented. It is true that this is harsh, but at the present time, we do not have the resources to ensure the safety of others. It is also true that many expert studies have determined that the registry does not stop recidivism and at times it is both demeaning and extreme. Nonetheless, it seems that the secular registry is the lesser of two evils.
The topic is a difficult one. Both the victims and the perpetrators are suffering immensely. The number of false accusers and accusations is not insignificant. On the other hand, the number of predators and predatory behavior much larger. The idea here is that we should be working with the offender, or the possible offender, to make sure that he can lead a productive life while still maintaining the safety of others.
May Hashem remove this scourge from among us so that we can pursue the true purpose of why we have been placed here.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.