News emerged this week that the Manchester Beth Din is now advising the city’s Jewish community to go to the police in the event or suspicion of sexual abuse. On the one hand it is, of course, welcome and commendable that the highest Jewish religious court of the UK’s second biggest Jewish community should now let Jews both notify externally and seek external support in the event of abuse. On the other, it is an indictment on outdated and often outmoded communal strictures that it has taken this long for the most senior rabbis to say the right thing.
The year is 2020, the country in which we live is one of the most advanced in the world, and the safeguarding and support systems now permeating all walks of life have been borne of tragedy and mistake, none more sickening than Savile. So why is it only now, after a major national inquiry into child sexual abuse in religious settings, that Manchester’s Beth Din has begun telling victims that they can report it externally – i.e. away from the very systems and relationships that may have caused or contributed to the abuse in the first place?
Our sincere hope now is that schools and synagogues across the Orthodox world swiftly amend their policies, which have been shown to advise that “outside agencies” should only become involved “where appropriate and after consultation with the Rabbinate of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC)”. Again, this is outdated, outmoded and dangerous.
Outside agencies need to be involved because victims are almost always known to the offender, and the offender is almost always known to the rabbi that the victim has to tell. Impartiality is practically built into the system.
Rabbis’ aims to-date – to “protect the face of the community” – have trumped the need to support the individual who might have been abused, and to alert the appropriate authorities. That starts with the police.
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