By Yerachmiel Lopin (Frum Follies blog)
May 30, 2013
On December 10, 2012 a jury convicted Rabbi Nechemya Weberman on 59 charges of sexually abusing a girl. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the rabbinic arm of the Orthodox Union (OU), issued a press release the same day which included this powerful message:
The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the world’s largest organization of Orthodox rabbis is encouraged by the process that led to the conviction of Nechemya Weberman, an Orthodox Jew who acted as an unlicensed counselor and was today found guilty for the sexual molestation of an adolescent girl. For many years the RCA has condemned the efforts of many parts of the Jewish community to cover up or ignore allegations of abuse, viewing these efforts as against Jewish law, illegal, and irresponsible to the welfare of victims and the greater community. The RCA strongly advocates, as a matter of Jewish law, the reporting of reasonable suspicions of child abuse to the civil authorities and full cooperation with the criminal justice system. The RCA decries any invocation of Jewish law or communal interests as tools in silencing victims or witnesses from reporting abuse or from receiving therapeutic and communal support and strongly condemn those members of the Jewish community who used such tactics in this case. (emphasis added)
That same day, the OU sent out an email which it posted on its website with a header, OU Joins the RCA in Applauding Guilty Verdict of Orthodox Jew for Child Molestation. Within a week the applause died down, and the statement was no longer up on its website. According to the New York Jewish Week’s editor and publisher, Gary Rosenblatt,
It seems [OU president, Simcha] Katz agreed to sign on to the RCA letter, but after [OU Exec. VP, Rabbi Steven] Weil received criticism for it from segments of the Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox community, the letter was removed from the OU website.
When the New York Times asked Simcha Katz about the OU’s position shortly after their statement went off their website, Katz told them , “Due to our lack of knowledge of the specifics of the trial and details of the case we are not in a position to comment one way or the other.”
That statement never went back up on their site. However, this became a factor in a challenge to the incumbent President, Simcha Katz. In elections held in March, Katz was replaced by Martin Nachimson.
Expectations were high that the OU would behave differently if this issue arose again. However, it is now over two weeks since the high-profile child sex abuse conviction of Lakewood’s Rabbi Yosef Kolko and neither the RCA nor the OU has issued any statement.
If anything, it should have been easier for the RCA to issue a statement. Weberman’s supporters kept ranting that there was only one witness. The OceanCounty prosecutor picked up two more witnesses. Weberman insisted he was innocent, Kolko reversed course during the trial and pleaded guilty to all charges. Weberman had rabbis in his community testifying on his behalf. The Kolko prosecutors had respected Lakewood rabbis willing to testify that Kolko confessed his crimes to them.
Yet the RCA/OU is paralyzed into silence because the greatest public defender of Kolko is Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, a senior posek (Jewish law authority) for OU Kosher. Belsky doesn’t buy the RCA-OU Modern Orthodox approach of going straight to the police with any reasonable suspicion. He comes from the ultra orthodox world where the policy is “Ask a rabbi” which usually turns into “Don’t talk to the authorities.” In the ultra orthodox world, going to the police turns victims and their families into snitches (mosrim) who are excoriated, scourged and evicted.
The family of Kolko’s victim was re-victimized when their children were thrown out of local schools and the father was forced out of his jobs. They have since relocated to Detroit, and Kolko’s backers are still trying to ostracize them in their new community.
Belsky led the charge to silence Kolko’s victim. He wrote a letter that circulated in Lakewood attacking the father of the victim as a moser (snitch) and a rodef (violent pursuer). He even libeled the father of the victim with these words,
All the reports made to the secular authorities were only for the express purpose of casting blame for their [the victim's family] own shameful and cursed existence on others. And the truth is that the allegations they make against others are crimes they themselves are in fact guilty of and they seek to cleanse their reputation by blaming an innocent man for their own deeds.
Belsky is not a man who is deflected by mere facts. He still maintains Yosef Kolko is innocent, but then he also insists that Rabbi Yehuda (Joel) Kolko is innocent even though he also pleaded guilty. In fact Belsky has been covering up for the Kolko family for over forty years.
The RCA and the OU know that any statement about the Kolko case will ring hollow if Belsky goes on defending Kolko. So they are paralyzed. If they had any gumption they would tell Belsky to retract or walk. If they had any integrity they would force Belsky to face the father of the victim and beg forgiveness for slandering him (motzi shem rah).
I don’t expect Belsky to retract. He is convinced that he has daas torah which confers the privilege of “Never having to say you’re sorry.” But why this is acceptable to the Orthodox Union (OU). Who else in their ranks is allowed to hurl such slander against a talmid chochom with impunity? Why does the OU grant this special heter to their haredi posek. Has the OU fallen prey to the “soft bigotry of lowered expectations” when it comes to Belsky? Are they so hungry for haredi approval that they will grant Belsky an exemption from the prohibition of slander? Is he the last haredi posek left standing who will work with them?
The fact is that the RCA and the OU are intimidated and they will not do the right thing unless their lay leaders and members call them to task. At this point, the only way forward is pressure from down below. The leadership has to realize that their membership will not stand for positions and poskim who defend rapists and molesters. The OU/RCA leadership needs to know that the kashruth of meat cannot be separated from the innocence of the flesh of their children.
If you are offended by Rabbi Belsky’s intransigence I urge you to write letters of protest to the elected and appointed leaders of the OU and the RCA. I feel you should write to call for his removal as posek. If you are more conciliatory, at least demand that Rabbi Belsky accepts the court verdict and retracts his allegations about the father of the victim, and publicly apologize to him.
The people to whom you should direct your letters include:
When you send these emails, BCC to anyone else you know in the RCA or OU orbit that is, or ought to be, interested in protecting children from sexual abuse. But please be careful to respect email address privacy by putting these recipients into the BLIND CC (BCC) field.
To establish a record, please share copies of your letters and their replies on this site and as many other places as possible including websites, Twitter, email lists, local newspapers and bulletins and physical bulletin boards (Comments are moderated so it may be a few hours before you see your submitted comment appear- but that is still a hell of a lot quicker and transparent than the OU/RCA response).
PS- If you have any energy left you might want to write to Rabbi Belsky’s other employer, Yeshiva Torah Vodaas where he is a Rosh Yeshiva. Address mail to Chaim Leshkowitz, President, Yeshiva Torah Vodaas – 425 E. 9th Street. Brooklyn, NY 11218-5209 (I suggest certified mail and send a copy to Rabbi Belsky at the same address.)