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May 11, 2012

NYT on sexual abuse and intimidation in Brooklyn’s Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/nyt_on_sexual_abuse_and_intimidation_in_brooklyns_ultra-orthodox_jewish_com/

There is nothing new about news of sexual abuse in Brooklyn’s Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. I mentioned a few stories about this in 2009, and last year noted that at the Halacha Conference for Professionals, a rabbi said that before reporting abuse, you must first consult with a rabbi to see if your suspicion is “reasonable.”

The New York Times has followed this story with an incredibly powerful piece. You’ve probably already read it, but I’d be remiss to not share this excerpt:

In Brooklyn, of the 51 molesting cases involving the ultra-Orthodox community that the district attorney’s office says it has closed since 2009, nine were dismissed because the victims backed out. Others ended with plea deals because the victims’ families were fearful.

“People aren’t recanting, but they don’t want to go forward,” said Rhonnie Jaus, a sex crimes prosecutor in Brooklyn. “We’ve heard some of our victims have been thrown out of schools, that the person is shunned from the synagogue. There’s a lot of pressure.”

One example was the case against Joseph Gelbman, after whose arrest a rabbi called the mother of the allegedly abused boy, “asking her to cease her cooperation with the criminal case and, instead, to bring the matter to a rabbinical court under his jurisdiction”.

“I said: ‘Why? He might do this again to other children,’ ” the mother said in the statement. The mother, who asked that The New York Times not use her name to avoid identifying her son, told the police that the rabbi asked, “What will you gain from this if he goes to jail?” and said that, in a later call, he offered her $20,000 to pay for therapy for her son if the charges were dropped.

On April 24, three days before the case was set for trial, the boy was expelled from his school. When the mother protested, she said, the principal threatened to report her for child abuse.

I can understand why a rabbi would want such allegations to be brought before a rabbinic court. An important part of Jewish tradition is handling legal disputes among their own—after all, it was once wrong for a Jew to bring another Jew into a gentile court.

But times have changed, and beit dins lack the power to criminally punish. Expelling a child molester from the community is not a sufficient remedy. Criminal prosecution is. Today, silence on such matters—and, worse, intimidating victims and witnesses into silence—is certainly not good for the Jews, and is as wrong as dragging a fellow Jew before a gentile court could have ever been.

Read the rest here. And comment below.

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