On Wednesday, June 21, New York State legislators face a deadline that will affect other deadlines – the final time by which victims of sexual abuse can bring cases against their perpetrators.

The Child Victims Act, versions of which would eliminate or extend the statute of limitations (currently, five years after a victim turns 18), passed the State Assembly on June 7, but is stalled in the State Senate. If both houses of the legislature fail to pass the bill by the time the legislature adjourns for the summer next week, proponents will have to submit it again, and lobby for its passage again. As they have done for a decade.

The legislation is a Jewish imperative, both because of the Jewish tradition’s emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable in our midst, particularly children, and because of the documented instances of abuse that have taken place in the Jewish community in recent decades.

The legislation is a Jewish imperative, both because of the Jewish tradition’s emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable in our midst, particularly children, and because of the documented instances of abuse that have taken place in the Jewish community in recent decades.

Ari Hart, associate rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, has played a key role in the Jewish effort on behalf of the legislation — two years ago he formed the Coalition to Pass the Child Victims Act that has grown into an ecumenical group to which 300 religious leaders belong. Members have lobbied in Albany several times for a total repeal of the statute of limitations, and a one-year “revival period” during which people whose filing period has passed could bring a suit; the bill passed by the Assembly this year would extend the initial filing period, but not eliminate the statute of limitations.

“Every year it doesn’t get done, a window closes for thousands of people” who no longer can bring suits against their abusers, Rabbi Hart said, noting that many abuse victims are not psychologically prepared to confront their abusers until several decades after the abuse took place.

“Every year it doesn’t get done, a window closes for thousands of people.”

While the Democratic-controlled Assembly routinely passes the legislation, it annually faces opposition in the Republican Senate, which protects the economic interests of institutions like the Catholic Church and schools, which could face crippling lawsuits if a statute of limitations is dropped. For the same reason, the charedi Orthodox community has traditionally opposed eliminating the statute of limitations, fearing the effect on yeshivot whose employees are accused of abuse.

Members of the Jewish community concerned about this issue should contact Gov. Cuomo (you can do it online here) or Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.