Agudath Israel: Mesirah Overrides America’s Laws

Rabbi Zwiebel: Break Law rather than report Jewish Criminal

In April, in Is observing the Mesirah prohibition compatible with being American? I discussed the threat posed to Americans generally by the Jewish tradition of Mesirah. This prohibits Jews from telling the Civil Authorities of crimes being committed by other Jews. My interest was stimulated by realizing when studying the Madoff Affair that many financially sophisticated Jews suspected criminality, but did nothing.

I noted

In recent years increased consciousness of the issue of pedophilia, sexual abuse generally and drugs has driven most of the Jewish discussion of Mesirah. Some Jewish organizations like the Rabbinical Council of America have explicitly called for Mesirah to be overlooked in these cases.

The latest news is that this laudable trend seems to be going into reverse.

One of America’s leading ultra-Orthodox groups has reaffirmed that its followers must consult a rabbi before going to law enforcement authorities with suspicions of sexual abuse committed by community members.

The admonitions, from speakers at a conference sponsored by Agudath Israel of America, came even though a recent rabbinic edict permits reporting such crimes to secular authorities…Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv, one of ultra-Orthodoxy’s foremost authorities on Jewish religious law, or Halacha. recently decreed that Jews with reasonable suspicions that a case of sexual abuse has occurred are permitted to go to secular law enforcement authorities, notwithstanding traditional religious prohibitions against mesirah, or informing on fellow Jews.  (Ultra-Orthodox Group Affirms Abuse Cases Go First To Rabbi By Paul Berger The Jewish Daily Forward May 25 2011)

Many States have laws mandating people in certain professional positions to report suspicions of abuse. The Agudath Israel position is that these should be ignored.

Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudah’s executive vice president, told the conference that even mandated reporters — teachers, social workers and people in certain other professions who are required by law to promptly report any suspected cases of sexual abuse — should consult a rabbi before going to the police.

The Forward found a District Attorney with courage:

Marlene Lynch Ford, the Ocean County prosecutor whose jurisdiction includes the large strictly Orthodox enclave of Lakewood, said that the advice given at the Agudah conference could violate New Jersey law.

“…the law is incumbent on [all involved], if they have grounds for reasonable suspicion, to make disclosures.”

(The Brooklyn DA’s office was too terrified to be coherent, exciting the contempt of the remarkable Failed Messiah blog.)

Many in the Jewish Community find Agudath Israel’s stance outrageous, and The Forward quotes some of them.

But when Mesirah can apparently impede protecting even children who are Jewish from repulsive abuse, the rest of us might fairly ask:

What does it do in cases of general Jewish criminality inflicted on society as a whole?

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