Is Brooklyn DA Letting Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis Shield Sex Offenders?

By John Del Signore (Gothamist)
May 11, 2012

Powerful ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Brooklyn's insular Jewish neighborhoods have long discouraged their followers from reporting any instance of sexual abuse to the police without the rabbis' permission. Apparently, Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes knows all about this, and he's just fine with it. In an outstanding investigative report in today's Times, influential ultra-Orthodox rabbis say Hynes knows all about their policy, and he has not opposed it. In fact, the rabbis say Hynes has been very accommodating in their efforts to self-police sexual abuse.

Hynes has been repeatedly criticized for his refusal to release the names of ultra-Orthodox Jews suspected of sex crimes. A spokesman for the DA says Hynes "would not publicize information about specific accusations because he did not want to discourage victims from coming forward. But at least one ultra-Orthodox rabbi acknowledged asking him not to publicize these cases and said other rabbis had as well." One former Manhattan prosecutor calls Hynes's policy of keeping the names secret "almost perverse."

Many of these rabbis attended a Hannukah party hosted by Hynes last December. Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University was one of the few advocates for victims in attendance, and he tells the Times, "Basically, I looked around the room and the message that I got is: You are in bed with all the fixers in Brooklyn. Nothing is going to change, because these people, the message they got is: These are the ones that count."

Hynes's affinity with the ultra-Orthodox community has been crucial in his reelection campaigns; he's won landslide victories in neighborhoods with large Jewish populations.

Today's Times piece also features some revolting accounts of ultra-Orthodox sex offenders who have gotten away with a slap on the wrist. In one plea deal, "Hynes reduced two felony counts of sexual abuse to a single misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child. The rabbi received three years' probation and was not required to register as a sex offender." Hynes's office has refused to comment on the Times' investigation.

In his defense, Hynes's office points to an outreach program started in 2009 that's intended to help members of these communities report instances of sex abuse to a hotline. According to Hynes, the outreach program has led to a crackdown among ultra-Orthodox Jews, with 95 arrests involving more than 120 victims. But the Times conducted an intensive analysis of the D.A.'s claims, and it appears that Hynes is inflating the program's impact. Half of the 47 cases identified by the Times did not appear to have anything to do with the program. And some did not involve ultra-Orthodox victims, which the program is specifically intended to help.