Sunday, December 31, 2006

Protecting our Children: A Halachic Perspective

Protecting our Children: A Halachic Perspective

By Yair Hoffman, Dean, Tiferet Chaya - The Carol Tepler High School for Girls, Hewlett, NY

[It should be noted that this article is not intended to reflect upon the guilt of any particular individual. Chazal are quite clear on the halachos of Lashon HaRah and rechilus and the established criterion for judicial procedures.]

One of the obligations of parenthood is to provide for the welfare of our children - this includes the protection of the children under our charge from dangers[1]. Clearly, the protection must be from all forms of dangers, whether it be from the unwholesomeness of the internet, from the dangers of smoking, or r"l - May the Merciful One protect us, from dangers that emanate from less than wholesome people.

Click here to read moreIn the fifth chapter of Meseches Derech Eretz we are told "Kol Odom yeheyu beAinecha kelistim" - not to be so trusting of others and to view others as potential "listim" - thieves. There are a few questions we may ask about this statement. Firstly, is the suspicion limited to merely monetary issues or should it be extended to other areas? Secondly, are there no limitations to this suspicion? Cannot such an attitude perhaps lead to paranoia? What are the exact parameters of this maamar chazal - statement of our sages?

To answer our first query, Rashi in Taanis 23b clearly extends the Maamar Chazal in Meseches Derech Eretz to cases beyond theft - applying it to include "Vayikra 18:20 type dangers" as well. The question is, should we further apply it to "Vayikra 18:22[2]" issues too?

Rav Yoseph Karo (1488-1575) in his Shulchan Aruch (Even HoEzer 24:1) writes concerning the prohibition of Yichud[3] that generally speaking we do not suspect people regarding "Vayikra 18:22", and therefore we do not forbid Yichud between two males.

There are, however, two additional statements that the Shulchan Aruch makes. The first is that one who avoids yichud in such cases (between two males) is praiseworthy. The second statement he makes is that in our times, when there are more violators - one must avoid yichud with males.

The second statement made by Rav Karo has some very serious repercussions both in terms of the halachos of Yichud between two males, including tutors, coaches, and teachers, as well as in terms of the possible necessity of instituting an infrastructure of protection. Is this latter statement of the Shulchan Aruch authoritative? How was it viewed by later Halachic authorities?

Rabbi Yoel Sirkes (1561-1640) author of the Bach commentary on the Tur qualifies the words of the Shulchan Aruch. He writes that only in Rav Yoseph Caro's socio-geographic setting was there such a Halachic concern. However, in the Bach's locale the concern is not as great, and consequently the Bach did not consider it a great enough Halachic concern to forbid Yichud between two males. The Bach lived in Poland.

Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe (1530-1612) in his Levush (a restatement of the Shulchan Aruch with greater explanation) also codifies the Shulchan Aruch's second statement - seemingly applying it to his time and country as well. The Levush was a Rabbi in Prague, Lublin, Horodna and Posen, but most importantly he was a member of the Vaad Arba Aratzos - the Council of the Four Lands.

The disparity between the Bach's position and the Levush's position is of interest because the Levush was only thirty years older than the Bach, and it is difficult to imagine that the situation had changed so positively. Perhaps Rabbi Yaffe, in his position on the Vaad Arba Aratzos, may have been more aware of such immediate problems. A survey of the Bach's responsa does not reveal any cases presented to him of an untoward nature. Alternatively, it may be argued that the Levush was simply restating Rav Karo's words without further comment - even though the situation in his generation as well may have been dramatically better.

Rav Avrohom Yitzchok HaKohain Kook (1865-1935) in Daas Kohen YD #3, however, rules clearly that the concerns of the Shulchan Aruch are still applicable in his socio-geographic setting as well. Rav Kook lived in early 20th century Palestine. It would seem that in the past 90 years since Rav Kook the situation has not improved and the Shulchan Aruch's second statement would be applicable in our times as well.

The issues are, of course, more than Yichud, they involve the prohibitions of Velo Sasuru Acharei Levavchem veAcharei Aynachem[4] - Do not stray after your heart and after your eyes (BaMidbar 15:39), and Lifnei Iver Lo Sitain Michshol[5] - "Do not put a stumbling block before the blind" if we do not rise to the occasion of protecting our children. And, most importantly, the issues involve the health and well being of our children.

Regarding schools, however, it would seem that the issue is even more acute. There is a principle in halacha that when there is an issue that affects the masses, we are even more concerned. BeHezaika DeRabim Chaishinan Tfei. It is for this reason that our sages enacted that certain dangerous businesses be placed outside of the city parameters and other danger to the masses types of legislation (See Rambam chapter 13 Hilchos Nizkei Mamon). Similarly, we must exercise greater concern and caution regarding dangers in our schools.

Yet we also know that our sages tell us (Chulin 11b) "Ain Apitropus leArayos - there is no guardian over licentious behavior." In other words - it is almost impossibly difficult to oversee it. If someone wishes to violate - there is no clear way to watch over it. What then may be done?

While it is true that Ain Apitropus leArayos, there are hurdles that can be put in place. If opportunities are eliminated or reduced on account of logistical impediments - then there will be less incidences of violation. There are a number of areas that should be explored in this regard.

One area in which hurdles can be put into place involves technology. Installing cameras on every floor and in every classroom is not as expensive a proposition as one would think. Cameras, especially those that actually record, are a strong deterrent to inappropriate behavior. We should also ensure that the doors to classrooms be fire safety doors with open windows. This too, is not an expensive proposition, and would also be useful in overseeing other aspects of discipline too.

Other areas that should be pursued involve proper hiring and screening procedures and adequate staff training. What perhaps is necessary here is the establishment of some protocols that both families and schools should adopt. In order not to reinvent an infrastructure, perhaps the school's Vaad HaChinuch or Parent Teacher Association could attempt to implement these protocols. It is important to note that the issue should be handled responsibly by people that neither have their head in the sand nor are overly paranoid. Some example protocols and areas in which protocols and training may be necessary are found below:

Family Protocols

A. Set clear and defined rules for your kids - for example: Do not allow children to play on the laps of any guests.

B. Speak regularly to your children about tznius. Train them to say "that is not tznius" and to tell the parents right away. Ask them regularly if anyone ever touched them in a non-tznius place. Children should be taught that anytime anyone says "Do not tell your parents" the parents must be told right away.

C. Our children should be trained in the halachos of Yichud including how to respond when someone acts inappropriately.

School Protocols[6]

A. Screening Process - Who is hired - (Janitorial staff as well.) It would seem prudent to interview at least two authorities in the prospective employee's previous employment and to conduct criminal background checks.

B. Rules for Students - training students.

C. Rules for Staff - Training staff

D. Protocols for handling complaints

E. Fundraising for Video Cameras

The urgency of the issue can be seen from a fascinating Mishna in Sotah (7a). There, the Chachomim and Rabbi Yehuda argue about whether we are concerned about improper thoughts regarding an onlooker of the procedure indicated by Torah law for a Sotah (a woman who is suspected of unfaithful behavior). It is clear from the Mishna that if we are concerned for improper thoughts of the onlooker, all opinions agree that the Torah law for a Sotah should be set aside. This means that our sages would set aside Torah law in order to avoid causing someone improper thoughts! Clearly, the issues before us are quite urgent and would certainly warrant implementing the protocols mentioned above.

There may also be an issue of "Lo saamod al dam rayacha - do not stand idly by one's brother's blood" (VaYikra 19:16) if one does not take the necessary steps to ensure our children's safety. The prohibition of standing idly by one's brother's blood includes not only immediate dangers, but also potential dangers. The Ramban (Dvarim 22:8) explains that the Mitzvah of erecting a protective wall around one's roof may be included in Lo saamod - not standing idly by one's brother's blood. Hence it also includes cases of potential danger. The Gemorah (Sanhedrin 73a- see also Aruch LaNer "Veha Mehacha Nafka"} is also clear that even if there is a danger but no imminent death the issue of Lo saamod still applies.

Regarding the Mitzvah of Lo Saamod Al Dam Rayacha, the Nemukei Yoseph on Sanhedrin (73a) writes "chazor al kol hatzedadim shelo yeAvaid dam rayacha" - that one is obligated to carefully examine every side and every possibility.

Boruch Hashem, incidences of these types of issues in the Jewish community are quite low. The reason for this, no doubt, is the strong emphasis placed upon Yichud and other aspects of Kiruv leArayos. Nonetheless, implementing these or similar protocols would be an important step in further limiting inappropriate behaviors, especially in light of the fact that we have had some cases.

There is an oft-recited phrase that we may have heard - Kabdaihu veChashdaihu - treat him with respect, but nonetheless suspect him. We must ensure that we keep the Kabdaihu part of the phrase too. We cannot very well treat important and honorable people as if they are criminals. Indeed, the Sefer Chassidim (siman 1260) writes that when one thoroughly knows the individual - then we do not treat him with suspicion[7]. This statement of the Sefer Chassidim, however, should be tempered with any additional information that may be available. Although there are halachos of Lashon HaRah that must be rigorously kept (See Mishna Brurah 156:4), we cannot allow ourselves to be blindsided like Gedaliah Ben Achikam did (Yirmiyahu chapter 41) in not at least protecting himself from a would-be danger. Gedaliah did not believe Yochanan Ben Karayach and the others that Yishmael Ben Nesania planned to murder him[8].

In conclusion, it seems quite clear that the Halachic literature clearly indicates that we take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our children. These steps should be taken by us as parents, and by our shluchim - the people we hire to teach our children as our messengers. We are obligated in emulating Hashem in all that we do. Mah Hu chanun verachum af attah chanun verachum - just as He is kind and Merciful so too must we be kind and merciful (Shabbos 133b). This Gemorah can be extended - just as He protects His nation Israel, so too must we make efforts in this regard as well.

Yair Hoffman can be reached by Email here. Tiferet Chaya needs your support. Please contact the school to see how you can help.

[1] The obligation falls under the general obligation to provide for the welfare of one's children, which would include food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, and certainly protection from danger. See Bach and Chelkas Mechokaik on Shulchan Aruch Even HoEzer Siman 71 that there is a debate as to from where the obligation stems - according to the Ran it emanates from the obligation to provide for one's wife - and as an extension to her children, while the Rosh is of the opinion that it is its own obligation.

[2] The family nature of the readership of this fine publication necessitated this form of circuitous reference.

[3] Briefly, the laws of Yichud forbid seclusion between a male and female. There is no distinction between a regukar citizen and a Moshe Rabbeinu or an Aharon HaKohain. All are subject to this law.

[4] Notwithstanding any supposed quotes of contemporary authorities any form of violation along the lines that we are concerned about in this article is a violation of Velo sasuru - a biblical commandment, and according to the Vilna Gaon and other authorities is Yaharog VeAl Yaavor on the part of the violator.

[5] See "Misguiding the Perplexed: The Laws of Lifnei Iver" available at better Jewish bookstores.

[6] On a national level, it might be prudent for an existing Torah-based organization staffed with level headed people to provide our schools with a screening of people in positions of trust. This type of measure has been implemented in Canada. The Canadian government has provided funding to Volunteer Canada, an organization devoted to promoting volunteerism, for its National Education Campaign on Screening. The campaign provides organizations with strategies on how to screen out harmful individuals from occupying staff positions of trust or authority over children.

The Canadian National Education Campaign also includes the "Safe Steps Volunteer Screening Program." Safe Steps focuses on the development of screening resources and the creation of a network of trainers to deliver screening workshops across Canada. Materials such as handbooks, videos and training curricula are also available to the voluntary organizations.

[7] Kallah Rabasi chapter nine states the same idea. These sources of course are speaking in general terms. If there is a raglayim ladavar to the matter we must clearly take action.

[8] If someone is actually caught then steps must be taken to ensure the safety of the broader community as well, not just our own institution. Even if the issue is not prosecutable, there is a protocol that can be implemented to ensure that the offender not work with or come into contact with children. This is, however, beyond the scope of this article.

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