Joint Statement from Agudath Israel and Torah Umesorah on Abuse in Yeshivas

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agudah2.jpgAgudath Israel of America and Torah Umesorah – The National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, upon consultation with their respective rabbinic leaderships, respectfully submit this statement regarding legislative proposals to amend existing statutes of limitations for civil claims, including claims against schools and other communal institutions, based on allegations of child abuse. We do so only after much serious thought, after weighing all relevant arguments and for the sole purpose of protecting the most fundamental interests of our community. 

Agudath Israel and Torah Umesorah fully acknowledge the horror of child abuse and the devastating long-term scars it all too often creates. Our rabbinic and lay leaderships are acutely aware of the emotional trauma and damage caused by the perpetrators of such abuse. Our hearts go out to their victims, and we share in their pain. We realize that for too long many victims have suffered alone. We are committed as a community to do whatever we can to root out perpetrators of child abuse from our schools and other communal institutions, and to help victims on the road to healing and recovery.

Indeed, in recent years, as awareness has increased and sensitivity has been heightened regarding the incidence of sexual abuse and its severity, both in the broader society around us and in our community specifically, Agudath Israel and Torah Umesorah have taken a number of concrete steps to help ensure that Jewish schools, extra-curricular youth programs and summer camps implement policies and procedures designed to protect children against such abuse. Our organizations have also supported legislative efforts to furnish such protection, including the recently enacted legislation in New York authorizing nonpublic schools to screen all prospective employees through the state’s fingerprint checking system.

With respect to the proposed amendments to existing statutes of limitations, Agudath Israel and Torah Umesorah fully understand that the trauma of abuse is often so great that young adults may not be emotionally prepared to file claims against their abusers within the traditional limitations period. Strict adherence to the existing statutes of limitations could thus operate to preclude certain legitimate claims and protect perpetrators of abuse. Our organizations would therefore have no objection to legislation designed to give victims of abuse greater recourse against perpetrators. Nor would we object to extending statutes of limitations for criminal proceedings against perpetrators.

What Agudath Israel and Torah Umesorah must object to, however, is legislation that could literally destroy schools, houses of worship that sponsor youth programs, summer camps and other institutions that are the very lifeblood of our community.

To take perhaps the most problematic example of such legislation, bills have been introduced in New York and other states that would create a one year window during which any civil claim based upon child abuse could be brought, even against schools and other communal institutions, regardless of how long ago the incident is alleged to have taken place. One could envision a scenario in which a senior citizen might choose to bring a claim against a school for an incident that allegedly occurred over half-a-century ago when the claimant was a child. The fact that the alleged perpetrator may have passed on, or that the administration of the school may have changed several times since the alleged abuse, or that the school no longer has any records or insurance policies dating back to the time the abuse allegedly occurred, or even any records of the individual ever having attended the school, would be of no moment whatsoever under the proposed bill. The current school administration, entirely ignorant of what may or may not have occurred so many years ago, would be forced to defend the school in a court of law, incur the high expenses of legal fees and diversion of human resources, and face potentially crippling financial liability.

It is important to recognize that Jewish schools are independent entities supported wholly by parental tuition and fundraising. Therefore, the burden of litigation expense or legal liability for ancient claims would fall squarely on an entirely innocent group – the current parent body. Needless to say, in today’s perilous financial climate, as many parents are unable to meet even their basic tuition obligations and schools struggle to remain fiscally viable, this burden would be extremely difficult to bear, and could ultimately lead to school closures.

Stated simply, legislation that would do away with the statute of limitations completely, even if only for a one-year period, could subject schools and other vital institutions to ancient claims and capricious litigation, and place their very existence in severe jeopardy.  Agudath Israel and Torah Umesorah most vigorously oppose any such legislation.

We must continue to seek out ways to protect our precious children and help eradicate molestation and other forms of abuse. We must also redouble our efforts to help those who have suffered the horrors of child abuse obtain the healing they so desperately need. However, we dare not bring down our most vital communal institutions in the process.

(YWN Desk – NYC)


14 COMMENTS

  1. Look, the REAL PURPOSE OF THIS LEGISLATION IS PRECISELY TO DESTROY THE RELIGIOUS SCHOOL SYSTEMS.

    Religious people, with their high moral standards, are a thorn in the side of those who have introduced this legislation–people like Tom Duane of Greenwich Village–‘Nuff said!

    Of course there are “useful idiots,” who think they are doing a good deed by supporting legislation for abused children, but let’s look beyond to the prime movers to see what the real objectives are.

    Thank G-D that Aguda and Torah Umesorah have Gedolei Torah to advise them, and to give them wise guidance that sees the real consequences of this seemingly-idealistic legislation.

    “CHOCHOM UDIF MINOVI.”

  2. I support ALL legislation that fights child abuse. And to Agudah and Torah U.Mesorah, the reason legislation is neccessary to allow for civil suits against schools and other organizations is to stop those schools and institutions from defending the pedophile.

    If laws like this would have been around 30 years ago certain individuals wouldn’t have destroyed so many lives.

  3. “official Statements” such as these perpetuate such abuse – remaining silent in the public domain until law suits have threatened their very own existence – the rest is self understood

  4. to#5 maybe we cant fool you because you are… a fool. Everyone needs to ask whether we are motivated by the torah or our personal interests. unfortunately too many people (that are ostensibly choshuv) try to se their clout for personal benefit which causes people to always suspect them in every issues(aka what is otherwise known as chilul hashem)

  5. When the statute of limitations window was lifted in California, no old cases ever made it past first base, however, over 300 active predators were finally caught as a result. It is highly improbable that “innocent parents” will have to fund flimsy legal battles in NY either, if the Markey bill is passed and the SOL is temporarily lifted. We need to save our innocent children and not worry about tarnishing our image in the process. This is our chance to really make a Kiddush Hashem, by not acting like the Catholics did, ending our many cover-up efforts, and addressing the problem courageously.

  6. The statement simply says that you can’t sue a school for something that may or may not have happened 20 years ago. In 10, 20 , 30 years a lot could of changed. The administration, faculty, etc. Read the statement carefully. And if schools cannot provide any information from 20 years ago, can an individual defend himself if falsely accused of doing something 20 years ago?

  7. To #6 takingabreak; The reason why I most likely will not be fooled is because I know first hand what such abuse is by silent enablers and cover-ups like these. As far as chilul hashem; there is no greater chilul hashem then when rachmana l’itslon we align ourselves with the church to protect our own kovad. The chilul hashem is earth shattering. Furthermore; Our chazal say that a chilul hashem bi’chadrei chadarim as with such abuse can be just as bad as a public chilul hashem.

    No organization has anything to be concerned about when they have properly prevented and properly and literally “put away” such perpetrators. The reason for concern here, as I am told by insiders in this matter, is because a huge cover-up has been in place for many years.

    Perhaps you should be “takingabreak” and not comment on matters that are beyond your scope.

  8. If there were any patently unworthy old cases that actually made it through the system in California or any notable closings of churches, schools or other organization as a result of the “window” all opponents of the Markey bill would have already brought them to light…

    In any case, is it institutions or vulnerable, defenseless children whose protection most deserves our attention?

    (Jewish Star) “Marci Hamilton, a professor at Yeshiva University and the author of “Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children,” said it was a “non-event” that the Lopez bill had made it out of committee, after all. “The bill accomplishes nothing for victims,” Hamilton explained. “It’s classic form to make them look like they’re doing something, but it is keeping the secrets and keeping the predators under wraps.” For Hamilton, the window is the most crucial element of the bill. “We know how the window works,” she said, noting that when a similar bill passed in California, 300 previously unknown predators were identified. “It’s pretty simple — if you’re against the window, you don’t want the predators out.”

  9. nu, raboisay, maybe it’s about time you all decided once and for all to get out of golus and come to Eretz Yisroel !!!
    How many messages does the Ribbono Shel Olam have to send you until you get the point – before it’s too late ???

  10. If this law is passed, what will protect really innocent Rabbeim or Menahalim from unscrupulous former students with a vendetta. If ruining an innocent Rebbi’s life is someones desire to “get even” for a harsh but deserving punishment yet NOT abuse, meted out 30, 40 or 50 years ago, what could be better than such a law. It’s very dangerous to allow such a law to be passed. A person once accused will never be able to properly restore his name even if there is no proof other than one mans claim that “it happened”. Innocent Rabbeim deserve our protection as much as real abused children do.

  11. To #12, if this law is passed, it would help to end, not encourage the very rare cases of false accusations. Going through a trial is a tremendous ordeal that people without excellent evidence do not want to endure. This law can help put an end to anyone making up false rumors, as the allegations would need to be substantiated to have their day in court. As Dr. Pelcovitz, a leading expert in this field, has repeatedly made clear, false abuse allegations by a child, who is not involved in a custody dispute, are extreely rare, occurring in less than one percent of cases. In fact, the myth about false allegations is actually being used as a cover-up technique to continue to keep our substantial problem under wrap.

  12. Gee, there must be a statute of limitations in shemayim too, and I didn’t even know about it…

    What a great idea…if you do wrong and wait long enough, everything’s forgiven…