The Nechemya Weberman guilty verdict has brought a terribly painful issue to the forefront of the Jewish community. A recent interview with the counsel for the defense in Ami Magazine by Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter presented Weberman’s point of view in the affair. But aside from his actual guilt or innocence, the entire saga has once again brought up a very pertinent issue.
That issue is when, where, and under what circumstances should one involve government officials in a case involving the possible abuse of children? In many circles, there would seem to be no question at all. In Williamsburg circles, where the prevalent view (at least among the men) seems to be that Weberman is completely innocent – there is also no question at all. They are of the opinion that government officials should never be involved.
The fact is, however, the issue was addressed by Poskim. Nine years ago, one of the top Poskim in the country, Rav Feivel Cohen Shlita, posed a very similar question to Rav Elyashiv zatzal. This ruling was in the news in the past two years, but was never fully translated. Below is a translation of his response:
Asara BeTaives, 5764 [January 4, 2004]
To my dear friend, HaGaon HaRav Shraga Feivel Cohen,etc.
I have received your letter in a timely fashion, however, I did not have an opportunity to respond until I reached a day where the students were weak (i.e. the fast of the 10th of Taives – see tractate Shabbos 129b). The content of the question concerns someone who knows of a person who has abused a boy or girl in matters of a sexual nature, and it is a situation where we do not have the ability to prevent him from continuing his evil actions, is it permissible to inform the government officials?
These are the words of the Rashba in a responsa (volume 3:393):
It seems to me that if the witnesses are believed by the investigators, they are permitted to levy a financial fine or a physical punishment – all in accordance to what appears to them. And this sustains the world. For if you establish things solely on that which was delineated in the Torah, and not punish except for in the manner that is [strictly] delineated in the Torah, it would come out that the world [order] would be destroyed. It would come out that they would be breaking down the protective fences of the world, and the world order would be destroyed. They have already levied such fines concerning one who strikes another physically etc. In each and every venue they adjudicate matters in order to protect the generation. And so they conduct themselves- in each and every generation and in each and every venue that they see that the hour demands it. Now, they [the sages] have said that Rav Huna, who was in Babylonia chopped off the hand – and accordingly, the investigators who did this, if they saw a need in the time to make a communal rectification – they did so properly. And the same is true when there is an additional legal argument of Hormana D’Malka as they did with Rabbi Elazar in the beginning of the chapter of “HaPoalim.”
From the words of the Rashba we observe that regarding a matter that contains within it “Tikkun Olam” the sages of Israel in each generation do have the ability to erect fences and to stand in the breach – even in a situation where we do not have the additional legal argument of “the king’s decree.” From the words of the Ritva in his novella to Bava Metziah 84b it seems that the power of “the king’s decree” is as follows, and this is his wording:
“He said to them – grab them. And that which he judged without witnesses and warning not during the time of the Sanhedrin, it is different here, for he is the agent of the king. It was the law of the kingdom to kill without witnesses and without warning to punish his kingdom. As it says regarding [King] David who killed a convert from Amalek, as the messenger of the king is like the king.”
But according to what was explained regarding a matter that has Tikkun Olam there is no need for the legal argument of “the king’s decree.”
However, this permission to inform the authorities is when it is clear that that the offender was in the wrong – then does it involve the issue of Tikkun Olam. However, in a situation where there is not even Raglayim l’Davar (any indication of guilt) rather it is some imagination – if we permit it, it is not only that there is no Tikkun Olam, a rectification of the world – rather there is destruction of the world here. It is possible that on account of some bitterness of the student toward the teacher or on account of some psychological illusion we are placing a man into a fate worse than death – where he has no guilt at all on his hands. I see no heter to permit it under such circumstances.
I remain your friend,
Yoseph Shalom Elyashiv
It is unclear whether those who view Mr. Weberman as completely innocent would agree with Rav Elyashiv’s citation of the Rashba or not – but this is clearly the view of the Lithuanian Jewish Torah community.