By Steve Lieberman (The Journal News)
July 30, 2015
A Rockland judge on Thursday found New Square Rabbi Moshe Taubenfeld not guilty of allegations he sexually abused a boy over a five-year period from 2001 to 2006.
As Taubenfeld left the fourth-floor courtroom in the New City courthouse, a few dozen of his supporters started singing and dancing in the hallway, until court officers told them to be more composed. Several said they planned a celebration later in New Square.
Despite Judge Rolf Thorsen's verdict, the young man who accused Taubenfeld of sexual abuse said he hoped the fact that he testified publicly will help other victims of abuse in New Square and the religious community.
"Justice has not been served, unfortunately," he said after the verdict. "I believe, that as the victim, I did the right thing to come forward. I hope this will inspire all victims to come forward and help make this a better place for our future."
Taubenfeld, 55, also known as Mendel Zarkowsky, was charged with second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child, a felony. He read from his prayer book at the defense table as he waited for the judge to issue his ruling. More than 40 people packed the courtroom to hear the verdict.
Defense attorney Gerard Damiani said, "Mr. Taubenfeld is very happy it is over with. He always denied he ever abused (the boy) or anyone."
Damiani said Taubenfeld had taught more than 200 students over his career and not one of them had ever suggested he did anything inappropriate. Damiani said he asked for a non-jury trial because he doubted Taubenfeld could get a fair trial from many of the non-Hasidic residents in the county.
Damiani said Thorsen considered the testimony and facts presented him by the defense and prosecutor Stephen Moore, an executive assistant district attorney.
"The pressure that was on from the media, the DA, Brooklyn activists, and public opinion was tremendous," Damiani said. "We asked for a non-jury trial to get past all the prejudice."
Thorsen said he ruled on the facts, including deciding the credibility of the testimony and whether there was reasonable doubt based on the evidence. He announced the verdict just past 3 p.m. following a multi-week trial.
District Attorney Thomas Zugibe declined comment on Thorsen's verdict.
Nachum Rosenberg, a Brooklyn resident with ties to the Ramapo religious community who advocates for people who are sexually abused in the Hasidic community, was at court to hear the verdict. Rosenberg said it had been a terrible week for children in Rockland, citing another rabbi's plea to a reduced charge in a sexual abuse case earlier in the week.
Rosenberg called Thorsen's decision political, charging that the judge has aspirations for higher judicial office and owed his recent election to New Square Hasidic community. He said as long as judges are subject to political influence, "there will be no peace for children."
The courtroom had been packed with men supporting Taubenfeld, a father of 20 who is well respected within the Skver Hasidic village. His wife and a young daughter were killed in a terrorist attack on a bus in Israel. Several his other daughters testified during the trial.
His brother, Herschel Taubenfeld, pleaded guilty in 2013 to charges that he forcibly touched a young boy.
The accuser testified during the trial's second day that Taubenfeld had sexually abused him, starting when he sought comfort and an explanation for the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He was 8 years old at the time and Taubenfeld was a neighbor. He said the alleged abuse didn’t stop until he said he turned 13 and moved out of the village in May 2006.
The young man said he and his family reported the abuse about six years ago to New Square community religious leaders, who discouraged him from going to police.
Damiani, however, hammered at what he said were inconsistencies in the man's story.