Ultra-Orthodox Community in Brooklyn Wrongly Mistrusts Justice System

By NY Daily News
May 16, 2012

The streets of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, are plastered with leaflets urging support for a rabbi who is accused of the sexual abuse of a teenage girl and attacking her.

Some of the signs depict the 16-year-old's complaint to police as a danger akin to a rocket attack. Behind them is an all too prevalent faith-based conviction that it's wrong to bring civil authorities into the insular community's affairs.

This impulse to close ranks has produced devastating results. While victimization of children and teens is no more prevalent among the Hasidim and similar Jewish sects than in other segments of society, it has gone largely unpunished.

Families and community leaders have been ostracized for contacting law enforcement, and victims have been wrongly deterred from seeking the legal redress to which any person is entitled.

The practices place too high a value on the group rather than on the individual. As Hershy Deutsch, founder of a local safety patrol, told the Daily News, "Don't cover up what happened to children in this community. This has been happening for too many years."

Meanwhile, law enforcement has fallen short.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes defends his record of prosecuting sex abuse among the ultra-Orthodox, a voting bloc that has been instrumental to his repeated reelections.

He points to creation in 2009 of the Kol Tzedek (Voice of Justice) program to encourage and support victims who come forward. Left unspoken is that prosecutions were far less frequent in his previous 19 years in office.

That period included the ugly case of David Zimmer, accused in 1998 of 24 counts, including the rape of a 10-year-old. Zimmer, who was represented by the husband of Hynes' liaison to the Jewish community, pleaded guilty to a single sexual abuse count and was sentenced to probation. He has since been accused in a series of molestations.

Hynes also entered a deal with a yeshiva teacher, Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, who had been the subject of abuse complaints for 30 years and pleaded to a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to probation without having to register as a sex offender.

More recently, the executive director of an influential advocacy group, Agudath Israel, told Hynes his organization would encourage victims to consult rabbis before going to the DA's office. As he writes in the Op-Ed, Hynes acquiesced as, perhaps, a step toward encouraging reports.

He's in dangerous territory because intermediaries have no place standing as a routine matter between crime victims and law enforcement.