Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Brooklyn DA is talking the talk on enablers of child abuse in ultra-Orthodox community...

But Charles Hynes must walk the walk as well!

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes must prosecute sex-abuse cases more vigorously.

To hear District Attorney Charles Hynes now tell it, members of Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community have criminally protected child sex abusers by bullying victims and their families into silence.

“I haven’t seen this kind of intimidation in organized-crime cases or police corruption,” Hynes declared in an interview with the Daily News.

So whom among these obstructors of justice did Hynes prosecute? Virtually no one. And whom among the predators did he send to prison? Far, far fewer than he should have across the first 19 of his more than 22 years in office.

As Hynes stunningly admitted to the Jewish Daily Forward, for almost two decades he was “completely unsuccessful” in prosecuting sex abuse by ultra-Orthodox Brooklynites, a group that was politically important to him and whose leaders discourage, as a matter of religion, involvement with civil authorities.

Hynes disputes that he was passive in the face of victimization — which is no more prevalent in this constituency than in any other — but the evidence is overwhelming that he took a destructively accommodating approach to sex crime prosecutions involving the ultra-Orthodox.

In 1998, Hynes let David Zimmer, accused of groping a 9-year-old girl and raping a 10-year-old, plead guilty to a single count and a sentence of probation. Zimmer was represented by the husband of Hynes’ Jewish community liaison. Zimmer has since been charged in a series of molestations.

The 9-year-old’s father told The New York Times: “If they don’t want to prosecute, what are you going to do?”

In 2008, Hynes entered a plea bargain with Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, a teacher with a 30-year history of abuse complaints. Charged with two felony counts, he pleaded to a misdemeanor, over the objection of a victim’s father, and escaped jail time.

“I believe they were looking for angles out,” the father told the Jewish Week newspaper.

In 2009, Hynes launched a program called Voice of Justice that was billed as a “culturally sensitive” approach to community resistance to reporting child abuse.

A few months later, the Forward reported the organizing body of Modern Orthodox rabbis had affirmed that rabbinic courts should decide whether to bring sexual abuse allegations against Jews to law enforcement.

In May 2011, The Forward reported that Agudath Israel of America, a leading ultra-Orthodox advocacy group, had also told followers that they could go to law enforcement only after consulting a rabbi, even if they were in professions mandated by state law to report abuse.

Rather than protest that religious authorities have no place interfering in criminal justice, let alone counseling to violation of law, a Hynes spokesman said: “If anyone asks us, we tell them to call police or the DA’s office.”

Last summer, Agudath Israel executive director Rabbi David Zwiebel told Hynes his organization was directing followers that they could report sex abuse only after a rabbi weighed the credibility of allegations.  
Zwiebel told the Times that Hynes “expressed no oppostion or objection.” That came to light in a report that also described how the community cowed victims from testifying by expulsion from religious schools and synagogues and even eviction from apartments. The report became a tipping point for Hynes.

First, he wrote in a Daily News Op-Ed: “Although I would not interfere with anyone’s decision to speak to their religious leader, I also expect allegations of criminal conduct to be reported to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.”

Under severe criticism, he then escalated to warning that rabbis could be obstructing justice when they insist on talking to victims first.

He also defended his record over the past three years with statistics showing prosecutions by his Voice of Justice program, but he held to the misguided policy of refusing to disclose names of accused ultra-Orthodox offenders.

Hynes has also called for state legislation to mandate abuse reporting by clerics and formed a task force to address the witness intimidation that he compares to the tactics of organized crime.

He need only do the one thing he should have done since he was first elected in 1989: Prosecute.


Does Talmudic Law Require Jews To Report Sex Crimes?

The case of Nechemya Weberman, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man accused of sexually abusing a young woman, has not just spun a secretive community into international spotlight: It's also prompted questions about how Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities handle sex offense accusations, since victim and witness intimidation and shaming are common.

Indeed, even Charles Hynes has come under intense scrutiny, after reports came to light indicating the Brooklyn District Attorney's "apparent complicity in an effort by Brooklyn's Ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic leaders to cover up sex abuse in their communities."

So you might wonder: Is this seeming cover-up culture part and parcel to Judaism?

The answer is quite complicated. [NOT REALLY]

The Voice reached out to Michael Broyde, a rabbi and associate professor of law at Emory Law School and the academic director of the university's Law and Religion Program.

He's one of the leading authorities on this topic -- the intersection of secular and Talmudic law, that is. In Jewish texts, the topic in question is called "informing" (mesira in Hebrew). Broyde authored a lengthy opinion on the issue.

Historically, there is a Talmudic prohibition against snitching on fellow Jews to non-Jewish law enforcement authorities, but only when it comes to non-violent crimes.

This policy stems from the Middle Ages, when non-Jewish authorities could not be expected to treat the community fairly:

"Jews have generally lived in situations where government was unjust (or unjust towards Jews) or bandits formed the basis for government, and telling the abusive government that a Jew had money or that a Jew had broken the law was a dangerous act. Indeed, this conduct clearly, readily and directly caused people to have their money taken, themselves beaten or tortured and sometimes simply murdered. The Talmudic Sages had no choice but to enact rabbinic decrees prohibiting such informing."

The question, of course, is: What happens when Jews live in governments that generally do treat people fairly, like America?

Broyde had a bit to say on this. For starters, even in unfair governmental contexts, Talmudic law requires that they inform on each other to whomever necessary in the case of a violent crime -- like a murder or sex offense -- so that justice is served.

But even with non-violent crimes -- such as smoking pot or tax fraud -- most modern interpretations still require that Jews go to the authorities.

So we asked Broyde what the deal is, since unwillingness to do this seems to persist in Brooklyn's Hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox communities.

"The overwhelming consensus of Jewish law authorities require that one reports when secular law mandates that you report, or in situations when non-reporting produces a physical threat to the well being of another," he said.

However, "implementing mandatory reporting remains very complicated not just in a Jewish society but in every society. People don't like mandatory reporting...People don't always do what the law requires of them."

So yes. The Talmud says one thing. Modern interpretation says another. And though most Jews in the U.S. would readily inform, some apparently would not.