The Jewish Star
Issue of March 20, 2009 / 24 Adar 5769
Human nature has played a key role in the dearth of criminal cases and civil lawsuits filed against perpetrators of sexual abuse in our yeshivahs. Experts in the field say victims are rarely able to bring themselves to reveal their ordeals at the hands of educators until they reach adulthood themselves.
For that reason, at least in part, the decks have been stacked in favor of abusers remaining free to repeat their crimes by statutes of limitations that expire when a victim turns 18 or 23, for criminal or civil cases, respectively.
A bill up again for consideration in Albany this week would extend those deadlines and, more importantly, open a one-year window during which old civil cases might be brought.
Unsurprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church is leading an effort to defeat the bill, even in the absence of former Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who declined to bring it to a vote three times in the past, after it had passed the Assembly.
The Roman Catholic Church after all, has been brought to its financial knees by a flood of cases involving predatory clergy. It has paid out $2.6 billion in claims in cases dating to 1950, according to the annual report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; six dioceses have sought bankruptcy protection as a result.
Apparently fearing jury verdicts in cases of their own, a Satmar umbrella organization in Williamsburg and a Sephardic community group in Flatbush reportedly have joined the Catholic Church in opposition.
Agudath Israel of America is still considering the matter. Agudah's Rabbi David Zwiebel told The Jewish Star's Michael Orbach, "It's a subject of conversation at the highest levels of our rabbinical leadership."
A cynic might imagine that it's quite a conversation: the warring impulses between a continued effort to whitewash the whole problem away versus the prospect of all those greenbacks going away.
Rabbi Zwiebel struck a sensible note, however, when he told The Star that the real world potential of the bill can't be ignored while neither can the impact of abuse on its victims.
While we wish that Agudah would already have reached a conclusion on a matter that is neither new nor a surprise (not to mention our wish that it had taken a public leadership role on the whole issue of yeshiva abuse many years ago) we can understand their hesitation.
While we would very much like to see draconian penalties for institutions that, in some cases, covered up abuse and browbeat victims and their parents to keep quiet, we don't believe that bankrupting yeshivahs or other community organizations, particularly in these troubled economic times, is a good idea.
We would very much like to see victims get a shot at justice against their abusers and their enablers - if only the criminal statute would be reopened as well - but we reluctantly hope that it comes next year instead, with an amended bill that opens a window for new claims but places some reasonable cap on potential jury awards.