Sexual abuse cases in Brooklyn's Haredi community
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The response of the Haredi Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York City, to allegations of sexual abuse against its spiritual leaders has drawn scrutiny. When teachers, rabbis, and other leaders have been accused of sexual abuse, authorities in the Haredi community have often failed to report offenses to Brooklyn police, intimidated witnesses, and encouraged shunning against victims and those members of the community who speak out against cases of abuse.
Prevalence and under-reporting
The greater New York City area is home to the largest Haredi community outside Israel. Haredim, who are often called ultra-Orthodox, though they themselves do not like that label, make up about a quarter million of New York City's population, and most of them live in Brooklyn. According to scholars, the rate of sex abuse within Haredi communities is roughly the same as anywhere else. However, for generations, most victims have not come forward with accusations because of stigmatization from the community, and when they did come forward, the matter generally stayed within the community, rather than being reported to the police and forming part of crime statistics.
Sexual abuse within the community is often not reported to police. Many feel that to report a Jew to non-Jewish authorities constitutes the religious crime of mesirah: Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish studies at Queens College, writes that one reason why cases or patterns of sexual abuse are rarely reported to law enforcement is because "they think that anyone who turns over anyone to the outside authorities is committing a transgression to the community at large". Agudath Israel of America, a leading ultra-Orthodox organization, has stated that observant Jews should not report allegations to law enforcement without first consulting with a rabbi. Heilman adds that some wish to protect the community's reputation and the accused's family, and that the rabbis worry that outside scrutiny could weaken their authority: "They are more afraid of the outside world than the deviants within their own community", since "the deviants threaten individuals here or there, but the outside world threatens everyone and the entire structure of their world". However, other rabbis, including a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinic court in Crown Heights and Yosef Blau, disagree, and encourage reporting abusers to police, stating that the ban on mesirah does not apply. Rather than reporting to police, Haredim may take a case of sexual abuse to the shomrim, a local Jewish street patrol. The shomrim keep the names of suspected child molesters on file, but do not share them with law enforcement or take other measures to end abuse, and sometimes try to discourage people from taking a case to the police.
Reports of abuse to religious authorities rarely result in punishment for the offender; as in the Catholic sex abuse cases—where child molesters were re-assigned to other dioceses—rabbis, teachers, and youth leaders found to be abusing children are usually re-assigned to another yeshiva, perhaps after seeing a board of rabbis.
Many of the people accused and/or convicted of sexual abuse and related charges in Brooklyn's Haredi community are rabbis. Among other accused are a school principal, a spiritual adviser, and a social worker.
Witness tampering sometimes occurs after someone is accused of sexual abuse. Victims, their families, and advocates have been threatened with violence, false police reports of child abuse, loss of kosher licenses or other harm to business, and/or eviction. They are pressured or offered bribes not to co-operate with prosecutors, and physical harassment, distribution of flyers attacking victims and advocates, and coercion occur.
Establishment reprisal against sexually abused children and their parents can be severe: Parents have been shunned by the community, with rabbis forbidding congregants to speak to them, and abused children have been barred from schools.
Even when cases are reported to police, they often cannot be prosecuted because victims decide not to go forward with a case, or agree to a plea deal (usually a cash payment) with the accuser, out of fear of reprisal. District Attorney Charles Hynes has stated: "As soon as we would give the name of a defendant ... (rabbis and others) would engage this community in a relentless search for the victims... And they're very, very good at identifying the victims. And then the victims would be intimidated and threatened, and the case would fall apart." Hynes has described the intimidation that occurs in these cases as worse than anything else he has ever seen in his career, including mob cases and police corruption cases.
Brooklyn's district attorney, Charles Hynes, has had a mixed record on prosecution of these sexual abuse cases. He was praised for starting a program in 2009 called Kol Tzedek (Voice of Justice), which is geared toward ultra-Orthodox Jews and encourages them to co-operate with law enforcement; according to Hynes, it reduced the amount of victim intimidation. Since 2009, roughly 100 out of 5389 cases of sexual abuse in the district have come from the ultra-Orthodox community. The first high-profile child sex abuse case that Hynes brought against the Hasidic community, since his election in 1989, was that of Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed youth counselor and prominent member of the Satmar community, who was convicted on December 10, 2012, of repeatedly sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl he was supposed to be counseling, and sentenced to 103 years in prison.
Some victims' rights activists have still criticized Hynes, accusing him of pandering to rabbis and those in power for political reasons, and not prosecuting cases aggressively enough. Described as "a velvet glove wrapped around a velvet fist", his approach did not publicize the names of defendants, even those who were convicted of abuse, and took other steps to remain in the good graces of religious leaders who took the side of accused molesters. In one complex series of cases, for example, after a prominent cantor was convicted of sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy, the boy's father was indicted by prosecutor Hynes for extortion based in part on testimony from a supporter of the cantor. And, as of 2013, the cantor's conviction was overturned based on the parent's "indictment and other technicalities".
When Rabbi Yoel Malik, 33, a member of the Satmar Hasidic sect, was given a 60-day jail sentence for the abuse of students at Ohr HaMeir, a now closed Satmar yeshiva in Borough Park, the punishment was criticized by Ben Hirsch, a spokesman for Survivors for Justice, who stated that, "What DA (Kenneth) Thompson has done is inexplicable", and claimed that, "Through unexplained plea deals such as this, he has effectively quashed any willingness on the part of victims to come forward". It was claimed that the victims were "extremely reluctant to testify publicly", according to a law enforcement source familiar with the case, as quoted in the NY Daily News.
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, an ultra-Orthodox Rabbi from the Satmar Hasidic Community in Williamsburg, created a hotline featuring weekly, impassioned lectures in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English - imploring victims to report sexual abuse to the authorities, while accusing community leaders of silencing the reporting of child abuse. Rosenberg also uses his social media presence to share his opinions on the state of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community, and chronicle his efforts and struggles as an activist.
In March 2016, Rosenberg discouraged his followers from participating in a protest against the alleged cover-up of child abuse in Yeshiva Oholei Torah of Crown Heights because it was to be attended by members of the gay community. "We will not stand in rank together with the faggots", Rosenberg wrote on his blog, "no matter how just the cause".
Rosenberg is often shunned by communal authorities, and there have been instances in which he was physically attacked. In 2008, flyers were posted around Williamsburg depicting a coiled snake around Rosenberg's head with the words "Nuchem Snake Rosenberg: Leave Tainted One!". Rosenberg has also been banned from Satmar synagogues by its authorities, and he alleges that he has been formally ostracized by several Rabbinic entities. Despite his decades of activism, Rosenberg has yet to be involved in the investigation, arrest, or prosecution of any member of any Jewish community for child sexual abuse.
Anti-abuse community activist Rabbi Tzvi Gluck has said that in 2011, a 30-year-old man molested a 14-year-old boy in a ritual bath; this case never made it to the police due to community pressure on the victim. A rabbi made the boy apologize to the molester for seducing him.
In 2019, responding to the increased publicity of sexual harassment and rape charges with the Me Too movement and the increased exposure of Catholic Church sexual abuse cases, the state of New York passed the Child Victims Act which allowed victims to sue their attackers within a one-year period. Other states have passed similar "lookback window" laws. Orthodox victims who had unsuccessfully brought civil action against their molesters in the past used the Child Victims Act to sue the individuals and institutions responsible.
- Rachel Aviv, "The Outcast." After a Hasidic man exposed child abuse in his tight/knit Brooklyn community, he found himself the target of a criminal investigation. The New Yorker, Nov. 10, 2014, pp. 44-55.
This section needs to be updated.(May 2015)
- In 2002, Rabbi Yechiel Brauner was convicted on the charges of Sexual Abuse in the 1st Degree and 3rd Degrees. He was sentenced to 11 years probation, with the condition that he must participate in a sex offender treatment program.
- In 2008, a rabbi at a Brooklyn yeshiva named Joel Kolko pleaded guilty after being accused of sexually abusing two of his first-grade students.
- In 2009, Yona Weinberg, a bar mitzvah tutor and licensed social worker from Flatbush, was convicted of molesting two boys under the age of 14. At his trial, where he was sentenced to 13 months in prison, the courtroom was packed with Weinberg's supporters who maintained his innocence. In response, presiding Justice Gordon L. Reichbach criticized the "communal attitude that seeks to blame, indeed punish, victims"; these victims had been kicked out of their schools and summer camps after coming forward with the allegations against Weinberg.
- In 2009, Rabbi Israel Weingarten was convicted in a Brooklyn court of raping his daughter between the ages of nine and eighteen.
- Some boys have reported being molested while in the mikvah, a ritual bath that is considered a symbol of purity in Judaism.
- In 2011, a member of the community was charged by a local Special Victims Unit with witness tampering for sending threatening text messages to members of the Orthodox community urging them to pressure the family of an 11-year-old abuse victim to drop the case.
- Pearl Engleman, a member of the Satmar sect aged 64 in 2012, said she became an anti-abuse activist after her son was molested as a child by a rabbi at his yeshiva. Under New York law, his case could not be prosecuted since the statute of limitations has already expired.
- In 2012, Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi Moshe Keller was sentenced to three years' probation for molesting a then-15-year-old boy in 2009.
- In 2012, 53-year-old spiritual adviser Nechemya Weberman was accused of having molested a teenage girl, one of his students, over a period of several years. The girl had initially been sent to Weberman because she had been asking theological questions. Weberman, a member of the Satmar Hasidic community, was a widely respected figure in his community, with many unwilling to believe the allegations against him. As a result, the alleged victim was harassed and labeled a "slut", while her family and boyfriend received threats. A campaign called "Libel 75", started by Weberman's supporters, allege that he is innocent. A 48-year-old man named Abraham Rubin was charged with bribery, witness tampering, and coercion in connection with the case; offering the alleged victim and her family money, while suggesting they flee to Israel to avoid testifying. Three brothers, Jacob, Joseph, and Hertzka Berger, were also charged after they threatened and then removed the kosher certificate of a restaurant run by the family of the alleged victim's boyfriend. In 2012, Weberman was convicted on all 59 charges, and received 103 years. In 2013, the three brothers admitted to the coercion charges, but received no jail time. Rubin also pleaded guilty a couple of months later, and received four months. Following Weberman's conviction, the victim and her husband continued to face abuse and repercussions. The victim was shamed and driven from the synagogue on the high holy days; and several weeks prior to that, someone had thrown eggs at her husbands store.
- In 2012, a woman from Kiryas Joel came forward with allegations that her 14-year-old son had been masturbated by a Hasidic man who worked at his Vizhnitz school. A rabbi allegedly tried to intimidate the mother into dropping the case. The boy was subsequently expelled from the school, and staff at the school also threatened to charge the mother with child abuse.
- Mordechai Jungreis, a 38-year-old father, claimed in 2012 that his mentally disabled teenage son had been molested in a mikveh by an older man. Jungreis said he first suspected the abuse after his son came home with blood in his underwear at age 12, and later was caught touching another child on the bus. Jungreis was harassed by other members of his community for coming forward with the allegations, including receiving messages on his answering machine filled with curses. Police later arrested the suspect, 27-year-old Meir Dascalowitz. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to sexual abuse. He was released in July 2016, re-arrested for parole violation a few months later, and was re-released in December 2017.
- On December 3, 2012, Emanuel Yegutkin, former principal of Elite High School for the children of Russian-American immigrants, was found guilty of sexually abusing three under-age brothers over the better part of a decade. The victims were not enrolled in Yegutkin's yeshiva. Yegutkin was charged with a variety of sexual crimes, and was found guilty of all 75 counts. On February 7, 2013, Yegutkin was sentenced to 55 years in prison for his crimes.
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- "'Perv' rabbi cops plea".
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- "Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox Jews rally behind accused in child abuse case". 16 May 2012. Retrieved March 24, 2020.
- Otterman, Sharon (2012-12-03). "Ex-Principal in Brooklyn Convicted of Abusing Boys". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-10-31.
- Otterman, Sharon (21 June 2012). "Ultra-Orthodox Men Charged With Trying to Silence Accuser". The New York Times.
- Ketcham, Christopher (November 12, 2013). "The Child-Rape Assembly Line". Vice.
- Powell, Michael, "After Sexual Abuse Case, a Hasidic Accuser Is Shunned, Then Indicted", New York Times, June 17, 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-18.
- "Brooklyn DA: Intimidation in Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Sex Abuse Cases Worse Than Mob Cases".
- Otterman, Sharon (January 22, 2013). "Hasidic Therapist Sentenced to 103 Years in Sexual Abuse Case". New York Times. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- Otterman, Sharon (December 10, 2012). "Nechemya Weberman Found Guilty of Sexually Abusing Girl He Counseled". The New York Times.
- Rivera, Ray; Otterman, Sharon (May 10, 2012). "For Ultra-Orthodox in Abuse Cases, Prosecutor Has Different Rules". The New York Times.
- "Juror's bombshell claim: Hasidic suspects can't get a fair trial in Brooklyn". Daily News. New York. July 22, 2013.
- Blau, Reuven, "EXCLUSIVE: Brooklyn rabbi charged with teen sex assault gets 60 days in jail; DA ripped for offering light plea deal", New York Daily News, February 26, 2016.
- Rosenberg, Nochem (20 March 2016). "The Cause Does Not Justify Means". nochemrosenberg.blogspot.com. Retrieved 13 May 2020.
- פרל, נתן (July 13, 2016). "איך להתייחס לפגיעות בקהילה? הרצאה שטלטלה את העולם החרדי" [How to Deal with Abuse in the Community: The Lecture that Disturbed the Haredi World] (in Hebrew). Retrieved August 6, 2019.
- Hella Winston, "The Ultra-Orthodox Community's Sex Abuse Crisis Has Finally Reached a Tipping Point'. Vice, September 24, 2019.
- Carter Sherman, ""/ywazax/a-tidal-wave-of-sex-abuse-lawsuits-is-about-to-hit-new-yorks-catholic-churches-and-boy-scouts A Tidal Wave of Sex Abuse Lawsuits Is About to Hit New York's Catholic Churches and Boy Scouts". Vice, August 13, 2019.
- "YECHIEL BRAUNER | Jewish Community Watch".
- "NECHEMYA WEBERMAN | Jewish Community Watch". www.jewishcommunitywatch.org.
- "Ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn Man Sentenced For Intimidating Sex Abuse Victim". 13 January 2014.
- Saul, Josh (22 January 2013). "Hasidic counselor Nechemya Weberman gets 103 years in child sex-abuse case". New York Post.
- Yaniv, Oren (6 June 2013). "Three Brooklyn brothers who admitted trying to bully sex abuse victim's boyfriend receive no jail time". nydailynews.com.
- "Sex abuse victim driven out of shul". Ynetnews. 9 November 2013.
- "N.Y. Sex Abuse Victim Driven Out of High Holy Days Services". Haaretz. 10 September 2013.
- Saul, Josh (9 September 2013). "Sex abuse victim shamed during synagogue prayers". New York Post.
- Saul, Josh (1 May 2013). "Orthodox Jewish man gets five years for raping Brooklyn boy". New York Post.
- Yaniv, Oren. "Man who molested boy in Jewish bath house gets five years — and an earful from the victim whose life he "ruined"". nydailynews.com.
- "MEIR DASCOLOWITZ | Jewish Community Watch". www.jewishcommunitywatch.org.
- nytimes.com, 2013/02/08.