January 11, 2007
Is molestation being swept underneath the Eruv?
Hidden horrors in the haredi community
Whether or not those contentions are true, the problem in that community was spotlighted by two recent episodes in the fervently Orthodox, or haredi, community. The first involved a fierce debate over public remarks criticizing his community by a haredi rabbi. The second involved the arrest of a haredi rabbi and teacher, who was charged with sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a minor.
On Thanksgiving, at the annual national convention of Agudath Israel of America, a haredi advocacy organization, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, a featured speaker, ignited a controversy with his discussion of the haredi response to clergy sex abuse.
Salomon, a dean of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J., one of the world's largest yeshivas, said, according to an Agudath Israel spokesman, that haredim are indeed guilty of "sweeping things under the carpet." What he meant was open to interpretation.
Salomon declined comment, but according to the Agudath Israel spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran, Salomon meant that rather than ignoring or covering up sexual misconduct, as detractors maintain, haredi officials deal with it discreetly to protect the dignity of the families of perpetrators and victims. The response to Salomon's remarks was swift and often heated, with several Web site and blog contributors arguing that the rabbi's comments should be taken literally -- that is, haredi officials often look the other way when clergy sex abuse takes place in their midst.
Shafran, who accused the online detractors of making glib and sweeping generalizations without corroborating evidence, termed the comments "abhorrent."
Other communities were criticized as well on one Web site.
"Denial, secrecy and sweeping under the carpet are not unique to charedi, Orthodox or Jewish institutions," wrote Nachum Klafter, a self-described "frum psychiatrist," in a Nov. 26 posting on the Web site, haloscan.com. "They are typical reactions of well-intentioned, scandalized human beings to the horrible shock of childhood sexual abuse."
Eleven days after those remarks were posted, a haredi rabbi, Yehuda Kolko, was arrested and charged in connection with the alleged molestation of a 9-year-old boy and a 31-year-old man, both former students of his during different eras at Brooklyn's Yeshiva-Mesivta Torah Temimah. Kolko, 60, had long served the yeshiva as a teacher and an assistant principal.
Kolko, meanwhile, is named in at least four civil suits filed over the past eight months by his alleged victims, including the 9-year-old boy. The most recent litigation, which seeks $10 million in damages from Torah Temimah, was filed in New York state court the day before Kolko was arrested. It alleges not only that Kolko molested the 9-year-old during the 2003-04 school year, but that the school administration covered up the rabbi's pedophilia for 25 years.
The suit charges that Rabbi Lipa Margulies, identified as the leader of Torah Temimah, knew of many "credible allegations of sexual abuse and pedophilia against Kolko," yet continued to employ him as an elementary school teacher "and give him unfettered access to young children."
Avi Moskowitz, the attorney representing Torah Temimah, said: "The yeshiva adamantly denies the allegations in the complaints and is sure that when the cases are over, the yeshiva will be vindicated."
Another one of the lawsuits brought against Torah Temimah was filed in May by David Framowitz, now 49 and living in Israel. In that $10 million federal litigation, Framowitz, who was joined by a co-plaintiff also seeking $10 million, alleged that he was victimized by Kolko while he was a seventh- and eighth-grader at Torah Temimah. Although the lawsuit, which named Kolko as a co-defendant, referred to Framowitz only as "John Doe No. 1," he has since dropped his anonymity and gone public with his story.
"That's the only way that people would believe that there's actually a problem, if they knew that there's a real person out there who was molested," Framowitz said in a recent telephone interview. "There are many other victims out there, and I want people to know that this really exists."
Framowitz grew up in part in ultra-Orthodox communities in Brooklyn, where rabbinic sex abuse, he said, is rarely reported. And when it is reported, he added, rabbinic courts seldom have the expertise or the inclination to deal with it effectively.
After his own reports of abuse were met with disbelief and inaction, Framowitz said he chose to "deeply bury" his painful memories of the alleged incidents.
"I never really got over it," he said, "but I was able to get on with my life."
An accountant by trade, Framowitz made aliyah several years ago, and now lives in the West Bank community of Karnei Shomron with his wife and four adult children. They have one grandson.
Framowitz said he decided to speak out publicly about his experience after he learned through the Internet in the fall of 2005 that Kolko was still teaching young boys. He said he is relieved that Kolko has been arrested and charged, although in connection with reported incidents unrelated to his alleged victimization.
"It's a relief knowing that the story is finally out there," Framowitz said, "and that maybe Kolko will be prevented from being around other kids."
JTA tried unsuccessfully to reach Kolko, who along with Framowitz, was the focus of a May 15 New York magazine story that said "rabbi-on-child molestation," according to several sources, "is a widespread problem in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and one that has been long covered up."
Attorney Jeffrey Herman, who is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuits stemming from Kolko's alleged misconduct, was quoted in the New York magazine piece saying that the clergy abuse situation in the haredi community "reminds me of where the Catholic Church was 15 or 20 years ago. What I see are some members of the community turning a blind eye to what's going on in their backyards."
Sifting the Evidence
Hard numbers are not available to determine if clergy sex abuse is more widespread in haredi communities than in other Jewish locales. However, several insiders said there is anecdotal evidence that abuse often goes unreported there. The reason, they said, is that many individuals in those communities, which are noted for their insularity, resistance to modernity and reverence for religious leaders, are loath to confront rabbis for fear of being publicly shunned.