Rabbi Expected to Plead Guilty to Sex Abuse

By Michael Rezendes (Boston Globe)
December 14, 2011

In a case that highlighted concerns about sexual abuse in Jewish communities, a rabbi who taught at one of the region's most prestigious Jewish day schools is expected to plead guilty today to molesting three sixth-graders during the 1970s, according to two of his alleged victims and others familiar with the case.

Rabbi Stanley Z. Levitt, a former religious studies teacher at the Maimonides School in Brookline, was indicted by a Suffolk grand jury two years ago after one of his students, Michael Brecher, told Suffolk prosecutors that Levitt molested him when he was an 11-year-old patient at Children's Hospital Boston, and a second student said Levitt abused him in the shower of his Brighton home.

Brecher, now 48, said yesterday that he has pursued his case against Levitt, 65, "to protect other innocent and vulnerable children from potentially suffering the unendurable life I have been suffering for decades.''

Brecher also said he hopes the case will underscore the problem of child sexual abuse among Jews, particularly in Orthodox communities, where accusations of any kind against fellow Jews are often discouraged.

"We are the last ones to get it,'' Brecher said. "We stigmatize the victims, often silencing them.''

The Levitt case, with echoes of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, is similar to other abuse cases that have erupted in Orthodox communities, where rabbis are esteemed and the social penalties for criticizing them can be high, Jewish scholars have said.

But Yosef Blau, an Orthodox rabbi who is the senior spiritual adviser at the theological seminary at New York's Yeshiva University, said yesterday that awareness of the problem is growing due to cases such as Levitt's, with beneficial effects.

"Denial is much harder to maintain now,'' he said. "There are too many stories out there. Now the question is, how extensive is the problem?''

Brecher and a second alleged victim, who asked for anonymity, said prosecutors have told them that they believe Levitt will plead guilty to molesting all three of his accusers from the Maimonides School and that he will be asked to accept a sentence of three years probation, including mandatory treatment for sex offenders and a prohibition on any unsupervised contact with minors.

The Globe does not publish the names of alleged sexual abuse victims who wish to remain anonymous.

Any plea agreement would have to be approved by the presiding judge, and Levitt's alleged victims said prosecutors cautioned them that neither the expected guilty plea nor the conditions of possible probation are a certainty.

Neither Levitt nor his attorney, Scott Curtis, responded to messages from the Globe.

Levitt, who left the Boston area in 1980, has also faced sexual abuse charges in Philadelphia, where he is believed to be living. Seven years ago, he pleaded no contest to molesting a boy in an Orthodox community and received a five-year sentence of probation. He was also cited for violating his probation when he refused treatment at an institute for sexual offenders, according to court records and a Philadelphia prosecutor.

The Boston case against Levitt began unfolding two years ago when Brecher and the second former student approached Suffolk prosecutors. The second boy said Levitt molested him on more than one occasion in the shower of his Brighton home during an overnight stay.

Subsequently, a third student also contacted authorities to say that he, too, had been molested by Levitt in his Brighton home.

In addition, other Maimonides alumni made additional allegations to investigators or testified before the Suffolk grand jury that handed up the indictments against Levitt, who spent three years teaching at the school during the mid-1970s, according to court records reviewed by the Globe.

One former Maimonides student, the records show, told Boston police Levitt took him and other students to Montreal, where Levitt conducted a ritual purification bath, or mikvah, while the students were naked, an inappropriate practice according to Blau.

Yesterday, Nathan Katz, the school's executive director, issued a statement saying, "We have fully supported the district attorney's office in their investigation, providing them with all information in our possession, and our deepest concern and prayers are for the victims; we pray that they find healing and strength.''

The statute of limitations on the accusations against Levitt, the time after a crime during which prosecutors may file charges, is 27 years. But prosecutors were able to charge Levitt based on 35-year-old allegations because the clock on the statute stops ticking when an alleged perpetrator leaves the state.

Although Levitt's whereabouts after he left Maimonides, following the 1976-1977 school year, remain unclear, prosecutors say he left Massachusetts in 1980.

Prosecutors would not comment on Levitt's expected plea, but in the past they have agreed to sentences of probation with no jail time in similar cases because of the difficulties they face when trying cases based on decades-old allegations, where there are no witnesses and little or no scientific evidence.

Levitt's expected guilty plea would mark his first conviction on child sexual abuse charges, even though he has been charged with molesting three Philadelphia boys.

In the first of those cases, Levitt was found not guilty. In the second case, he pleaded no contest and received the five-year sentence of probation. In the third case, the alleged victim withdrew his charges.

Mitchell Garabedian, Brecher's lawyer, praised his client yesterday.

"By having the courage to come forward and speak out, my client has sent a message to all sexual abuse victims that they are not alone and that they too should come forward,'' said Garabedian. "My client, through his actions, has made the world a safer place for children.''