Agudah Rabbis: “Do as we say not as we do.”
Asher Lipner, Ph.D
After forbidding Jewish parents from reporting sex crimes against their children to the authorities, Agudath Israel has been backtracking and “clarifying” their position, saying that they never meant to protect all child molesters, only to protect against false accusations. Agudah’s policy now requires that a rabbi be consulted on what is called “Raglyaim Ladavar”- reasonable suspicion - before reporting allegations. Many parents and professionals strongly disagree with this approach and feel that since rabbis have no training in forensics or in evaluating sex offenders, parents should either call state child abuse hotlines or use their common sense to decide what is suspicious and report it immediately to the police for children to best be protected.
However, the real confusion that Agudah has created for parents and for victims of abuse has nothing to do with an unclear and unwise policy; it is a problem of actions, not of words. While paying lip service to the Mitzvah to protect children’s safety, what perplexes survivors of abuse and frightens parents is why are the Agudah rabbis continuing to personally cover up for known molesters?
1. Rabbi Moshe Eisemann, the former Mashgiach Ruchani of the Ner Yisroel Yeshiva in Baltimore was exposed to the Baltimore Rabbis as a child molester in 2006. After confessing his crimes Eisemann was quietly “retired”. Rabbi Ahron Feldman, not only failed to report Eisemann’s crimes to the police, but he refused to warn the public - including the hundreds of boys who live on the campus of the Yeshiva. Rabbi Feldman also writes approbations for Eisemann’s “seforim” as does Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky.
Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, Rabbi Yitzchok Feigelstock, Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, Rabbi Kamenetsky, Rabbi Ahron Shechter and Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon sit together with Eisemann on Agudah’s “Vaad L’hatzalas Nidchei Yisroel” (Committee to Rescue Jewish Refugees from the former Soviet Union), through which Eisemann runs his own boys’ school in Kishinev. Artscroll continues to promote Eisemann’s books, and the Yated Ne’eman, mouthpiece of the Agudah Gedolim, continues to write about his righteousness.
When the Baltimore Jewish Times exposed Eisemann and other rabbinic molesters, Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, of the local branch of Agudah attacked it for being anti-Jewish.
2. Rabbi Aaron Tendler has now been forced out of his rabbinic and teaching jobs in Los Angeles after serious allegations of sexual contact with underage girls. The local rabbis have not contacted the police or warned the community. His uncles, Rabbis Dovid and Reuven Feinstein, are fully aware of his [alleged] crimes but have protected his reputation, and he is living under the radar, a threat to Jewish girls everywhere.
3. Rabbi Yehudah Kolko of New York, where Gedolim Rabbis Perlow, Dovid Feinstein and Schechter preside, molested boys at both Yeshiva Torah Temima and camp Agudah for decades. He plead guilty to a lesser charge of child endangerment and is a free man. Kolko would certainly be in jail if the Gedolim would report what they know to the police and call on all victims to co-operate with the investigation.
4. In Monsey, the Yeshiva of Spring Valley, under the careful guidance of Rabbi Kamenetsky, fired Rabbi Chaim Abrahamson after hearing credible allegations of molestation going back decades. But Rabbi Kamenetsky told the Yeshiva they could cover up the danger and not contact the police.
5. In Lakewood, Rabbis Kotler and Salomon have a Beis Din that covers up cases of sexual abuse. The rabbis have worked closely over the years with Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, sending the predators for “treatment,” but not a single case has been reported to the police by either the rabbis or by Ohel. One Lakewood family courageously did report their child’s abuse to the police and are currently pressing charges, but they have been forced to move out of town for their safety. When a mother of a boy who died from a drug overdose publicized that he had been molested, her house was burned down and police investigators cannot get cooperation from the rabbis. This intimidation is carried out with rabbinic complicity or at least passive acquiescence; not a single rabbi condemns it or shows support for the victims.
6. In Chicago, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Levine and his “Special Bais Din” is in charge of covering up cases of child sexual abuse. He has not reported a single child molester to the authorities. Rabbi Levine can be heard on tape decrying those who would publicize the names of known child sexual predators.
The current actions of the Agudah Gedolim, shockingly more in line with the behavior the world has come to expect from the Catholic Church, are not only in contradiction of their stated policy, they are also in violation of the law. In Maryland and New Jersey, for example, all adults are mandated to report sex crimes against children to the authorities. The Ocean County prosecutor publicly warned the Lakewood rabbis that their Bais Din is illegal, and that they risk prosecution for failure to report sex crimes to the police. One Lakewood Kollel rabbi was arrested for witness tampering, and a prominent Brooklyn Rabbi, Yisroel Belsky, was warned that he too would be arrested if he published his letter threatening the family of the raped boy.
So why in the world do the rabbis cover up for molesters? Some Gedolim, like Rabbi Pinchas Sheinberg, have said that without sexual penetration it isn’t really abuse. Other rabbis feel that prominent (choshuv) molesters should be allowed to get away with it, like Rabbi Hopfer who told me not to expose Eisemann because “he made many people frum.” Agudah has also said that Orthodox molesters should not have to go to jail because they are needed as breadwinners. Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel wrote to me that it is not Agudah’s job to protect children from molesters known to the Gedolim. Rabbi Perlow, the Nasi of Agudah, still refuses to speak out against Kolko’s crimes, because they happened in Flatbush, and Perlow is a Rebbe in Borough Park. When the Gedolim opposed the Child Victims Act that would extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, they publicly admitted that they are afraid that if their cover-ups are uncovered, lawsuits could jeopardize the “financial integrity” of their organizations.
To clarify that they are on the right side of the issue of child abuse, the Gedolim need to stand with those victims who have come forward, and to call upon all others to go to the police. They also must reveal to the police the identities of the dozens of molesters that they are still covering up for.
The Talmud says that while non-Jews do not have Torah, they do have wisdom. The rabbis would do well to recall the wisdom of a great non-Jew who said “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
And, in this time of the year closing in on Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgment, they should also remember what the Torah says: You can’t fool G-d. Ever.
Asher Lipner, Ph.D is a psychologist and a well known activist working to stop child sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox communities.