1 Feb 2011

Ban of Orthodox blog by rabbis could change views on handling sex abuse

Cliffview Pilot - December 31, 2010

Ban by rabbis of Orthodox blog could change views on handling sex abuse

by Jerry Demarco

Some are outraged, others are cracking wise -- yet most are wondering whether a ban by a group of rabbis of an Orthodox blog might not be the best thing for a community still wrestling with whether to take allegations of sexual abuse to the police or deal with them “in-house.”

“I’ve been following Vos Iz Neias? for a long time and I’m a bit baffled by all the accusations made against it,” an employee of the Orthodox Union said. “It could use comment moderation, but the other charges seem foreign to me.”

A group of three dozen rabbis have signed on to a ban condemning Vos Iz Neias? (Yiddish for “What's News?”) as sinful and “ordering” that their followers neither read it nor advertise on it -- or patronize its advertisers.

An excerpt from a flier posted in various Hasidic communities:

“… the Satan has found a way, that a site exists on the Internet known as 'VosIzNeias?'..it includes stories and events of the corrupt, abominable, and lowly; full of contamination, filth, foul language; slander, gossip, and degrading of Torah scholars; it also prints libels and slander regarding Torah individuals and organizations. Similarly the comments written there are filled with adultery and slander, and increase fights in Israel, putting everyone’s dirty laundry in public. It also writes against officers and politicians under whose favor we live, to ruin their reputation….”

Anger over the ban is something many in the Orthodox community “are thinking yet are to afraid to say outright,” said Vicki Polin, the founder and director of The Awareness Center, a non-profit organization devoted to ending sexual violence in the Jewish community.

The anonymous publisher of Vos Iz Neias? “has been a friend to many survivors of all sorts of abuses, including those who were sexually victimized,” Polin toldCLIFFVIEW PILOT. “He is a good person and is someone who should be honored and respected for reporting the truth instead of reporting a censored version of reality.

“The 36 rabbis who signed the declaration [at right] should be seen as nothing more than cult-like leaders… a group of thugs parading around to be G-d like….

"(Each is) supposed to be a teacher, not a dictator. They are not kings or royalty. They are human just like the rest of us," Polin said. "This group of rabbis are taking away free will from those who live within their communities…. [They] are not allowing their followers to utilize their own personal critical thinking.”

Vos Iz Neias? has reported on attempts by rabbinic organizations to convince victims to go to the police, promoted the statute of limitations extension, and publicized events such as the recent first-ever National Jewish Week for the Prevention of Child Abuse, said Asher Lipner, an abuse survivor and vice-president of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children.

It’s been “quite an eye-opener for the community to learn how many of their own children have been hurt by this problem,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.

Still, there is moderation in the discussion.

While not condemning VIN, the publisher of the blog that “outed” the man behind the ban cautions that Vos Iz Neias? is "very selective about the news it publishes."

The site "censors out the names of most ultra-Orthodox criminals and pedophiles, and many stories go completely unreported," Shmarya Rosenberg, publisher of FailedMessiah.com, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.

"VIN means well, to be sure, but they could not exist if they reported the truth or allowed comments to report it, although the comments section is a little looser than than the actual articles posted."

As Rosenberg, Polin and others point out, the ban clearly has less to do with reports of child sex abuse and more to do with politics.

The rabbis and others have strong ties to New York AssemblymanVito Lopez, chairman of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party, who was the subject of investigations by The New York Daily News -- whose articles were reprinted by Vos Iz Neias?.

One of those stories centered on the apparent misuse of money from a $100 million-a-year, taxpayer-funded social services nonprofit.

On top of that, Polin said, “it is well-known that Lopez has done everything possible to block the Markey bill last year.

“The Markey bill would have allowed survivors of child sexual abuse to have their day in court and also would lift the statute of limitations, so that older survivors of childhood molestation would be allowed to name their offenders, with the hopes of preventing one more child from being harmed by them,” she explained. “This bill would have allowed survivors to be financially compensated for their pain and suffering.”

According to Rosenberg, a close friend and business associate of Lopez’s, Shimon Weiser of Williamsburg, drafted the ban and got signatures from several Rabbinic leaders from the Hasidic and Lithuanian religious world.

The rabbis were told that “attempts were made to contact and warn VosIzNeias to cease and desist from printing questionable articles,” but that “they were rebuffed,” according to an article published on -- and since removed from -- the 5 Towns Jewish Times web site.

By their own admission, the story reported, “many who signed “did not see the website themselves but relied on printed copies made available to them by Shimon Weiser.” They also weren’t aware of Weiner’s connections to Lopez, it says.

“ When accusations are leveled at anyone – even an anonymous person, they must be verified and the person must be given an opportunity to respond to and examine any evidence,” the article concludes. “Convictions, bans, and boycotts of advertisers cannot be done solely on the basis of one-sided accusations…. Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant of all.”

Indeed, an unintentional result of the ban may have been deeper consideration, and discussion, among those in the Orthodox community of whether it’s best to go straight to police and prosecutors at the local, state, county and federal levels, or heeding the words of religious leaders who claim a higher law must prevail. The fear is that the community could succumb to the same scandal as the Catholic Church.

It’s been a slow evolution, but even those in “ultra-Orthodox” communities in Brooklyn, Rockland County and at the Jersey Shore have begun to come forward.

In turn, the rabbis have become concerned “more about protecting their images and assets then they are about protecting our children and or unsuspecting adults,” Polin contends.

“It's really a relatively new thing that people look up to rabbis as if they are G-d. Many of these same rabbis have put a ban on using the Internet, or have only allowed their followers to use servers like JNet, which won't allow subscribers on such sites as YouTube,” said Polin, a licensed clinical professional counselor more than 26 years of experience working with survivors of sexual abuse and assault.

“The only power rabbis have,” told CLIFFVIEW PILOT, “is the power those in the community give them.”

This article was found at:



Brooklyn rabbinical court orders sect members to report crimes to community council not to outsiders

Australian Jewish leaders say that prohibitions against reporting crimes to civil authorities do not apply in cases of abuse 

Prominent Orthodox rabbis in New Jersey forbid abuse victims to cooperate with secular legal system

Exposing child molestation in Jewish Orthodox communities no longer a quiet process

Children in London's ultra-Orthodox community have no personal, intellectual or religious freedom

Fundamentalist interpretation of Jewish law in orthodox communities stops many from reporting rabbinical sex abuse to secular authorities

Concealing sex abuse in Orthodox Jewish communities from secular authorities through intimidation

Child sex abuse claims divide Orthodox community
Expose child sex abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community

N.Y. Judge criticises Jewish Orthodox community for protecting pedophiles but blaming & punishing victims

Child protection policies improving in some Orthodox Jewish communities, but not in ultra-Orthodox ones

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York increasingly turning to secular courts for justice in child sexual abuse cases

Shame of Sexual Abuse Among Believers

Borough Park man Moshe Spitzer charged with years of sexual abuse of teen neighbor

New York Catholic Conference and Orthodox Jewish officials lobby against proposed Child Victims Act

'Orthodox child abuse' claim by Reform rabbi

NY Rabbi who abused boys and told them to lie to police gets light sentence in plea deal

Ultra-Orthodox groups in Israel wary of authorities hide child abuse from social workers

Israel's ultra-Orthodox cults indoctrinate and intellectually abuse children, and shun those who manage to escape

Investigation of famous Israeli rabbi for sex abuse reveals power of charismatic clerics over vulnerable young people

Simmering sex abuse scandals in Orthodox communities heats up with allegations against high profile Israeli rabbi


  1. Yeshiva University’s Norman Lamm resigns amid sex abuse scandal

    by David Gibson, Religion News Service July 1, 2013

    NEW YORK (RNS) The chancellor and head of the seminary at Yeshiva University, the flagship U.S. school for Orthodox Judaism, resigned his posts on Monday (July 1) and acknowledged that he had mishandled sex abuse allegations against staff members in the 1980s.

    In a letter sent to students, faculty, alumni and donors, Rabbi Norman Lamm, 85, said that in failing to report the abuse complaints to police, he was acting “in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill conceived.”

    “I understand better today than I did then that sometimes, when you think you are doing good, your actions do not measure up,” wrote Lamm, for decades a leading figure in Orthodox Judaism.

    “And when that happens — one must do teshuvah,” he said, using the Hebrew word for repentance. “So, I too must do teshuvah.”

    Lamm’s resignation comes more than six months after a Jewish newspaper, The Forward, revealed that university officials responded to complaints of sexual abuse by staff at an affiliated boys’ school by quietly allowing at least two suspected abusers to leave and find work elsewhere.

    More than 20 men have said that they were abused by either Rabbi George Finkelstein or Rabbi Macy Gordon and that the university knew about the allegations and covered them up; both rabbis, who now live in Israel, have denied the charges.

    Kevin Mulhearn, a lawyer representing 22 men allegedly abused at Yeshiva University High School between 1971 and 1989, said Lamm’s apology was “a positive first step” but said the university needed to do more.

    “The conspiracy of silence at Y.U. involves many high-level administrators, not just Rabbi Lamm,” Mulhearn told The Forward. “It is the institution as a whole, not just one man, which needs to make amends.”

    Lamm took over as Yeshiva president in 1976 and remained as chancellor and head of the prestigious seminary after he retired as president in 2003.

    In his letter on Monday, Lamm did not directly say that he was stepping down because of the abuse scandal. He said the resignation was “in accordance with an agreement reached 3 years ago” and indicated that he was not in good health, saying that his family had to help him write the letter.

    continued in next comment...

  2. His discussion of the abuse episodes also took up just four paragraphs in a lengthy six-page reflection on his tenure.

    The university said in a statement released to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Monday that Lamm had agreed to leave three years ago when his contract expired in June 30 of this year. The current YU president, Richard M. Joel, released a brief statement that made no mention of the abuse scandal and praised Lamm for guiding the university with “steadfastness and vision” and for making “unparalleled” contributions to Jewish life.

    Still, Lamm’s departure is another jolt to a cornerstone of the Modern Orthodox movement.

    In May, The Forward reported that an investigation commissioned by Yeshiva’s board of trustees to delve into the charges had stalled.

    And in March a top rabbinic dean at Yeshiva’s seminary gave a talk in which he said sex abuse charges can be “tall tales” spun by children and that they should be screened by a board of rabbis before being reported to authorities.

    In the talk, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, one of the most respected members of the seminary’s faculty, was also quoted using a derogatory Yiddish term for black people when he said that reporting abuse allegations is especially dangerous because officials could put a Jew “in a cell together with a shvartze, with a … black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”

    The YU episodes also tracked reports that leaders in the ultra-Orthodox movement have covered up allegations of child sexual abuse in their insular communities, and may still do so.

    These incidents, as well as reporting on sexual abuse scandals in schools, college football, the Boy Scouts and other organizations that work with children, have often mirrored the dynamic that led to the abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church in the past decade.

    Child safety experts say that broadening the focus on abuse to communities outside the Catholic Church would be a positive development if it prompts an awareness of the scale of the problem and the need to take action.


  3. Yeshiva hit with $380 million abuse lawsuit

    by David Gibson, Religion News Service July 10, 2013

    NEW YORK (RNS) Nineteen former students of a high school run by Yeshiva University, the flagship school of Orthodox Judaism, have filed a $380 million federal lawsuit over what they claim are hundreds of acts of abuse by two rabbis in the 1970s and 1980s.

    The lawsuit, which was filed Monday (July 8) in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., follows the resignation of Rabbi Norman Lamm, the chancellor and head of the Yeshiva seminary. In his resignation letter, the 85-year-old Lamm, who was president of the university when the abuse took place, said he was doing penance for mishandling allegations against staff members.

    The 148-page lawsuit accused Lamm and various other Yeshiva officials, trustees, board members and faculty of a “massive cover-up of the sexual abuse of students” at a university-run high school.

    The latest developments come more than six months after a Jewish newspaper, The Forward, revealed that university officials responded to complaints of sexual abuse at the boys’ school by quietly allowing at least two suspected abusers to leave and find work elsewhere.

    More than 20 men have said that they were abused by either Rabbi George Finkelstein or Rabbi Macy Gordon and that the university knew about the allegations. Both rabbis, who now live in Israel, have denied the charges.

    “Yeshiva University High School held itself out as an exemplary Jewish secondary school when in fact it was allowing known sexual predators to roam the school at will seeking other victims,” attorney Kevin Mulhearn, who filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs, told the New York Daily News. “Childhood sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community can no longer be condoned and excused.”

    Each of the 19 victims is seeking $20 million in damages, for a total of $380 million.

    The lawsuit details the psychological, personal and professional toll that the abuse took on the victims, as well as a $250,000 donation that Lamm accepted in 2002 for a scholarship in Gordon’s name.

    “This was always about money, that’s why they buried this in the first place,” one of Gordon’s victims, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Forward.

    One victim alleged that a rabbi sodomized him with a toothbrush while others say they were fondled and abused in other ways. They say that those boys who reported the assaults were told to keep their allegations quiet. Lamm has conceded that he allowed the alleged abusers to leave quietly; at least one of them found a job at another school.

    One obstacle for the plaintiffs is New York’s statute of limitations, which says that a victim must file a complaint by the time he or she is 23. But Mulhearn said he can circumvent the rule by claiming the school engaged in fraud in covering up the abuse.

    Yeshiva officials have said they would not comment on pending litigation. The university commissioned its own investigation, but critics say it is not sufficiently independent to provide a reliable account of the history of abuse at YU.

    In his resignation letter, Lamm said that in failing to report the abuse complaints to police, he was acting “in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill conceived.”

    “I understand better today than I did then that sometimes, when you think you are doing good, your actions do not measure up,” wrote Lamm, for decades a leading figure in the Modern Orthodox movement.


  4. The Faithful’s Failings

    By FRANK BRUNI New York Times July 22, 2013

    The men were spiritual leaders, held up before the children around them as wise and righteous and right. So they had special access to those kids. Special sway.

    And when they exploited it by sexually abusing the children, according to civil and criminal cases from different places and periods, they were protected by their lofty stations and by the caretakers of their faith. The children’s accusations were met with skepticism. The community of the faithful either couldn’t believe what had happened or didn’t want it exposed to public view: why give outsiders a fresh cause to be critical? So the unpleasantness was hushed up.

    This is not a column about the Catholic Church.

    This is a column about Orthodox Jews, who have recently had similar misdeeds exposed, similar cover-ups revealed.

    And I’m writing it, yes, because the Catholic Church over the last two decades has absorbed the bulk of journalistic attention, my own included, in terms of child sexual abuse. There are compelling reasons that’s been so: Catholicism has more than one billion nominal adherents worldwide; endows its clerics with a degree of mysticism that many other denominations don’t; and is just centralized enough for scattered cover-ups to coalesce into something more like a conspiracy. The pattern of criminality and evasion has been staggering.

    But some of the same dynamics that fed the crisis in Catholicism — an aloof patriarchy, an insularity verging on superiority, a disinclination to get secular officials involved — exist elsewhere. And the way they’ve played out in Orthodox Judaism illustrates anew that religion isn’t always the higher ground and safer harbor it purports to be. It can also be a self-preserving haven for wrongdoing.

    Early this month, 19 former students of the Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Manhattan filed a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by two rabbis in the 1970s and 1980s who continued to work there even after molestation complaints. The rabbis were also allowed to move on to new employment without ever being held accountable. School administrators, the lawsuit alleges, elected not to report anything to the police.

    Rabbi Norman Lamm, the president of Yeshiva at the time, admitted as much in an interview with The Jewish Daily Forward. He said that when accusations against a faculty member were “an open-and-shut case,” he’d let the accused person “go quietly.”

    continued below

  5. Back then there was less alarm about, and understanding of, child molestation, he said. Back then he was also steering Yeshiva through grave financial hardship. A sex-abuse scandal wouldn’t have been a great fund-raising tool.

    “The school made the conscious and craven decision to protect its reputation,” Kevin Mulhearn, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told me Monday.

    Is such a defensive mind-set really a relic of a less enlightened past? Earlier this year a prominent scholar at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, was caught on audiotape at a conference in London telling Orthodox leaders that Jewish communities should set up their own review boards to evaluate any complaints of child sexual abuse and determine whether to bother with the police. This contradicts state laws on mandatory reporting for teachers, counselors, physicians and such.

    Schachter further discouraged police involvement by warning that accused abusers could wind up “in a cell together with a shvartze, in a cell with a Muslim, a black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.” Shvartze is a harshly derogatory racial term. Yeshiva University condemned the remarks but seemingly didn’t discipline Schachter, who didn’t respond to my request Monday for comment. Neither did Rabbi Lamm.

    Rabbi Schachter’s aversion to law enforcement isn’t isolated. The ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America has taken the position that observant Jews should get a green light from a rabbi before notifying police about suspected molestation. It’s precisely this sort of internal policing that the Catholic Church did so disastrously, leaving abusers unpunished and children in harm’s way.

    Ultra-Orthodox Jews in particular have prioritized their image and independence over justice. They have shunned Jews who took accusations outside their communities; in fact, Charles Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, has cited that as a reason for minimizing publicity around child sexual abuse cases among Orthodox Jews. But over the weekend he changed tacks and gave The New York Post the names of some 40 convicted people.

    Community intimidation is why 17 of the 19 plaintiffs in the Yeshiva case are identified only as John Doe, said Mulhearn, their lawyer, who mentioned another insidious wrinkle reminiscent of Catholic cases.

    One of the abusers, he said, used religion itself to muffle a few abused boys. The rabbi allegedly invoked the Holocaust, which their parents had survived, telling the boys not to cause mom or dad any more suffering with a public stink.


  6. Chabad Yeshiva Teacher David Kramer Gets 3 Years for Australia Sex Abuse

    Could Be Free in Just 90 Days With Time Served

    By JTA, The Jewish Daily Forward July 24, 2013

    David Kramer, a former teacher at the Yeshivah College day school in Melbourne, Australia, has been sentenced to three years and four months in prison for sexually assaulting four students.

    Kramer, however, could leave prison after a little more than three months because he has been in prison while awaiting his sentence, according to Australian publication The Age.

    Following the sentencing Wednesday, abuse survivor and advocate Manny Waks said, according to The Age, that the sentence was “”a little bit lower than we anticipated, but justice has been served.”

    Kramer was convicted of sex abuse in the United States, but was extradited to Australia for the Yeshivah College accusations last year.

    The abuse occurred between 1989 and 1992. All of Kramer’s victims were 10 or 11 years old.

    Yeshivah College Principal Yehoshua Smukler, according to The Age, issued an apology after the sentencing for the school’s not informing police of the abuse allegations when they came to light.

    The school “sincerely regrets and unreservedly apologizes for not informing the police at the time the allegations arose,” the statement read.

    “If any allegations were to arise today, they would be immediately reported to the police and the relevant authorities.”


  7. 12 More Students Join $380M Sex Abuse Suit Against Yeshiva University

    Lawsuit Widens as Yeshiva Seeks Dismissal of Case

    By Seth Berkman, August 07, 2013

    Twelve more former students of Yeshiva University High School for Boys who claimed that they were molested by staff members have joined a $380 million lawsuit against the school.

    The additioan cases were revealed in court papers revealed in a hearing on Tuesday, according to the New York Daily News.

    The plaintiffs’ attorney Kevin Mulhearn said the number of alleged victims in the suit now stands at 31. Last month, the initial claim, filed in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., alleged a, “massive cover-up of the sexual abuse of [high school] students…facilitated, for several decades, by various prominent Y.U. and [high school] administrators, trustees, directors, and other faculty members.”

    Some of the alleged assaults allegedly took place as far back as the 1970s. Even though sexual abuse cases in New York must be brought forward before a victim’s 23rd birthday, Mulhearn is arguing that the alleged cover up negates the statute of limitations.

    “In all candor (it) is a very old case,” defense attorney Karen Bitar told Manhattan Federal Court Judge John Koeltl on Tuesday, the News reported.

    Rabbis George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon, both former staff members of Y.U.’s Manhattan high school for boys, have been named in a series of articles in the Forward. A third man, Richard Andron, 67, a former youth volunteer who now lives in Florida, has been accused of abuse, along with Finkelstein and Gordon.

    Many former Y.U. administrators and staff are named in the suit, including Rabbi Norman Lamm, who was president of Y.U. from 1976 to 2003. Lamm retired as Y.U. chancellor on July 1. In a letter announcing his retirement, Lamm acknowledged making mistakes in his handling of abuse allegations when he led Y.U.


  8. Judge Deals Setback to Ex-Students Suing Yeshiva for $380M Over Sex Abuse Claims

    Refuses To Allow Plaintiff's Lawyer To Probe School

    By Paul Berger, Forward, The Jewish Daily August 08, 2013

    Twelve alumni of Yeshiva University have joined 19 other former students who are suing the Modern Orthodox flagship university for allegedly covering up decades of sexual abuse at its Manhattan high school for boys.

    But the 31 students suffered a setback August 6, when United States District Judge John G. Koeltl denied their attorney’s request to gain access to more information through discovery at a court in Manhattan.

    “You’re basically having plaintiffs tied one hand behind their back because much of the information is in the hands of the defendants,” Kevin Mulhearn, the students’ attorney, told the court, according to a transcript.

    In New York, criminal and civil cases of child sexual abuse must be brought before a victim turns 23; the plaintiffs are older, and claim that they were abused during the 1970s and ’80s.

    Mulhearn, however, argues in the suit that the statute of limitations does not apply, because Y.U. fraudulently covered up the abuse.

    Discovery would have given Mulhearn access to internal Y.U. documents and the ability to interview current and former Y.U. employees about the alleged cover-up. It is a legal maneuver he used in a similar abuse case against Brooklyn’s Poly Prep Country Day School, which the school settled with 12 men represented by Mulhearn.

    Instead, Koeltl accepted Y.U.’s request for a motion to dismiss the $380 million lawsuit, and gave Y.U. until September 13 to prepare the paperwork.

    Referring to an ongoing investigation that Y.U. commissioned from an international law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, into the abuse allegations, Mulhearn added, “I know that they have conducted a seven-month investigation independently, talked to dozens — if not hundreds — of individuals, with respect to issues pertaining to notice of abuse and the school’s response to notice.

    “It would be unfair and prejudicial to the plaintiffs to go forward and have our plaintiffs be put in legal jeopardy on a motion to dismiss without that information being in our possession.”

    But Koeltl ruled that Mulhearn would have to survive Y.U.’s motion to dismiss the case before he could begin discovery.

    “Complaints are not filed in order to get discovery,” Koeltl said.

    Mulhearn argued that discovery should begin promptly because some of the defendants in the case are elderly. He singled out Y.U.’s former president Norman Lamm, who is “rumored to be in ill health.”

    Koeltl asked Y.U.’s lawyers to check on Lamm’s health.

    Karen Bitar, of Greenberg Traurig, a law firm representing Y.U., said, “Dr. Lamm has a private counsel that has been his attorney for several years now, and I know that he is looking into this issue with Dr. Lamm, and so we will be prepared to discuss that with plaintiffs’ counsel expeditiously.”

    Of the case against Y.U., Bitar drew attention to the fact that the alleged assaults took place between 25 and 42 years ago.

    “In all candor, it is a very old case,” Bitar said.

    On July 17, the New York paper The Jewish Week reported that Sullivan & Cromwell’s investigation into the abuse allegations had cost Y.U. $2.5 million and would be completed in four weeks.

    Matt Yaniv, a spokesman for Y.U., told the Forward that he could not comment on the cost of the investigation.

    In an August 5 email, Yaniv sent the Forward the following statement: “It is anticipated that the investigation will be finalized and a comprehensive report will be released by Sullivan & Cromwell in the coming weeks.”

    Yaniv had given the same statement to The New York Times on July 9.