By Yerachmiel Lopin (Frum Follies blog)
May 23, 2013
Sources inside the Orthodox Union (OU) tell me that Rabbi Yisroel Belsky still insists that Yosef Kolko is innocent. He even concedes that the additional victims who came forward to the prosecutor may have been telling the truth. However, he claims that Yosef Kolko was below the age of bar mitzvah when he groomed and sexually assaulted the other two victims. Hence, Rabbi Belsky insists, their stories are irrelevant to whether he is guilty of molesting children as an adult. Naturally, the seer, Rabbi Belsky, knows that Yosef Kolko should be believed when he privately denies molesting the Lakewood boy even though he pled guilty to all seven charges in open court.
For argument’s sake, I am going to concede Belsky’s factual claims about the other two victims so I can focus on his clumsy reasoning.
The alleged pattern suggests that Yosef Kolko was himself molested when he was a boy. Kids below puberty almost never act out sexually unless someone models this behavior for them, usually by molesting them. The most likely candidate is his Uncle Yehuda (Joel) Kolko. Yosef Kolko grew up just blocks away from his uncle.
If this is true, Yosef Kolko is a tragic figure who may never have become a molester but for his abuse at the hands of his uncle. His abuse might never have happened but for Belsky’s own indifference to Yiddi’s alleged misconduct in Camp Agudah in the late 60s, almost a decade before Yosef was born.
In the late 60s, Belsky was the Rav of Camp Agudah. A counselor came into a bunk where Yehuda Kolko was on a bed with two younger campers. Kolko quickly got up and left. The boys were upset and told the counselor that Kolko put his hands inside their pants. The counselor raised the matter with Rabbi Belsky. Belsky, the tzadik (saint) wouldn’t listen to such terrible allegations unless the boys came to him on their own to complain. The counselor correctly concluded that Belsky was determined to avoid the issue and never pressed it further. I say correctly, because Belsky has a long record of protecting Kolko no matter what the proof. Had the boys gone to Belsky he probably would have dressed them down and re-traumatized them. (This account comes to me from a reliable source who is basing it on the statements of the counselor who is now a respected mechanech (educator)).
Throughout this long, sad, multi-generational saga of the Kolkos, three things stand out about Belsky. He always believes Kolko denials, he makes it his business to refuse to talk to accusers, and he trashes those accusing the Kolkos as liars or worse.
The official OU line is that Belsky is not their spokesman just their senior posek (Jewish law authority) for OU food certification. Is the OU really claiming that you can be a posek if you opine recklessly and make it your business not to know the facts and not to listen to both sides? Belsky, who refused to listen to negative reports about the Kolkos, uncritically accepted Yosef Kolko’s slanderous allegations about the victim’s family and broadcast them in a public letter. Belsky behaves like a posek guilty of negius; he demonstrates a consistent pattern of having an interest in a case and nevertheless opining as if he is objective. Has the OU fallen so low that honesty, integrity, objectivity and decency are not important traits for their poskim?
The unofficial OU argument for retaining Belsky is that he is indispensable for their business. He makes their modern orthodox hashgachah acceptable to ultra orthodox consumers. What would the OU do if Rabbi Belsky unexpectedly died? Of course they would find a replacement.
The OU is also afraid of Belsky. If he is forced out, he ‘will not go gently into that good night.’ He will take his revenge by telling his followers that he quit because the OU’s kosher standards were declining. You can count on these allegations spreading faster than this week’s measles outbreak in Boro Park and Williamsburg.
The OU can mitigate the damage and immunize itself by publicly announcing it is firing him because his position on sex abuse is inconsistent with the position of their halachic arm, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). People will buy this argument in the context of the recent Kolko guilty plea. They will give the OU credit for biting the bullet to uphold their standards. However, if the OU dithers and waits a year, no one will believe the argument. They will correctly ask, “If this is the reason, why did you wait so long?”
I do not envy the OU leadership. On the one hand they depend on a dubious posek who nevertheless helps them market their hashgachah in the ultra orthodox world. On the other hand they are part of the modern orthodox world which claims the RCA as its “rabbinical arm.” Their modern orthodox constituents value the RCA policy of bringing abuse allegations directly to the civil authorities.
The OU is trying to straddle this divide by claiming that Belsky is only their kosher posek, not their spokesperson on other issues. But their kosher business and logo has come to define them in the eyes of the public. The OU’s PR line that Belsky is not their spokesman will not wash. The OU will either have to embrace Belsky with all his flaws or sever their ties.