A Total Eclipse Of The Sun

By Failed Messiah blog
May 14, 2012

The New York Sun is a largely irrelevant, now web-only newspaper published by former Forward editor Seth Lipsky, sometimes with the help of the Forward's former managing editor Ira Stoll. When the Sun had a print edition, both disgraced newspaper baron Conrad Black, best known in the Jewish end of the newspaper business for looting the Jerusalem Post, and conservative money man Roger Hertog were financial backers. It is unclear if they are now.

The Sun does not have a masthead on its site that I could find, so it's hard to tell who's really in charge thse days, although Lipsky's company still appears to own it.

The unsigned editorial is published as the Sun's opinion on the matter of haredi rabbis demanding to be the gatekeepers who decide which claims of child sex abuse get reported to police and which do not.

You might think the Sun would be opposed to a haredi community that demands that it – not parents of alleged victims – through a closed process set and controlled by haredi rabbis, gets to decide which allegations and which alleged perpetrators are reported and which are not.

But you would be wrong:

Bloomberg vs. the Rabbis
Editorial of The New York Sun | May 14, 2012

The latest engagement in the campaign of the secular state to undercut religious authorities and drive back their sphere of influence has erupted in New York over how to handle child molestation cases that occur in the city's Orthodox Jewish communities. Mayor Bloomberg has just joined a chorus of Democratic politicians asserting that persons who suspect misbehavior should go straight to the police rather than their rabbis. The mayor, according to the New York Times, wants "any abuse allegations" to be "brought to Law enforcement." The newspaper suggests that he is uncomfortable with those who wish first to check with their rabbis.

In entering this contretemps with this advice the mayor has made an error of judgment. His statement was given to the Times in the context of a story it issued Friday on how the district attorney at Brooklyn, Charles Hynes, has been handling molestation cases. The mayor, according to the Times, has joined those who criticize the D.A. for failing to object to the position of the Agudath Israel of America, a major organization that represents fervently religious Jews. Its policy is, as characterized by the Times, that members of its community see a rabbi before reporting allegations of sexual misconduct to the police.

No one, least of all Orthodox Jews, denies that child molestation cases occur in the Jewish communities, just as they do in other religious and secular populations. The role of the rabbi when consulted in cases of suspected abuse, the executive vice president of the Aguda, David Zwiebel, wrote to the Times the other day, is "not to dissuade the individual from reporting to the secular authorities, but simply to ascertain that the suspicion meets a certain threshold of credibility." No doubt this was the point Rabbi Zwiebel made to Mr. Hynes when, over the summer, the two met on this head.

According to the New York Times, the rabbi told the D.A. of the Aguda's policy that members of the community first consult with a rabbi before going to the secular authorities. The D.A., according to the account in the Times, told the Aguda's president that he "wouldn't interfere with someone's decision to consult with his or her rabbi about allegations of sexual abuse." But, the Times continued, the Rabbi also told the Aguda's president that he "would expect that these allegations of criminal conduct be reported to the appropriate law enforcement authorities."

This seems to have driven the Times nearly to distraction. It quotes Rabbi Zwiebel as reckoning that the religious duty first to consult a rabbi "outranks," as the Times paraphrased the rabbi, "even New York's mandatory reporting law." It quotes Rabbi Zwiebel as saying: "The rabbis' consensus is go to a rabbi, because of the stringency of the matter on both sides of the equation, both the Jewish legal implications and because you can destroy a person's life with a false report." The Times reports the sentiment was taken issue with by the leading Democratic candidates for mayor.

"Our first concern is with victims of crime, especially potential victims of child abuse, and the first call should be to the appropriate law enforcement authorities," Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, was quoted by the Times as saying. What the Times quoted the mayor's spokesman, Marc LaVorgna, as saying, is "Any abuse allegations," the mayor said through a spokesman, "should be brought to law enforcement, who are trained to assess their accuracy and act appropriately."

This strikes us as a conceit. The notion that secular authorities are wiser, or better trained, than religious authorities looks hubristic against the three millennia of case law that line the walls of the great rabbinic studies. Within the Jewish communities, if not in City Hall, the rabbis are regarded with enormous respect. No doubt that rabbis can make mistakes. But so can the secular courts and caseworkers. Let us just say that if allegations of assault by Jerry Sandusky of Penn State on a boy in a shower had been reported to a rabbi, his alleged years of predation would have been cut far shorter than they were.

The Times seems obsessed with the idea that rabbis — and by extension, other clergy — might have a role here. But we don't know any religious authority — least of all Rabbi Zweibel, himself a lawyer and a veteran of one of the city's most distinguished law firms — who is suggesting that any Jewish person or anyone else commit misprision of felony,* which is failing to report a crime. Our impression is that the rabbis would dispute the power of the law of misprision to prohibit their right to exercise freely the rabbinical authority that is so basic to the Jewish religion. That right is protected under the same amendment to the Constitution — the First — that protects newspapers like the Times and Mayor Bloomberg's own private news service from investigating felonious behavior that hasn't yet been reported to the police.


* "18 USC § 4 - MISPRISION OF FELONY Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both."

I reproduced that in full because its stupidity and ignorance is so monumental, I can find no other way to do it justice other than to make sure you read all of it exactly as the Sun published it. (To make up for that, please click this link a time or two (although I suspect many of you will visit the Sun's website anyway just to certain this post isn't a parody of conservative opinion).

The Sun's editorial ignores the decades long coverup by haredi leaders of child sex abuse in the haredi community.

Avrohom Mondrowitz fled Brooklyn with the help of haredi rabbis just as he was about to be arrested for raping several non-Jewish boys. (Mondrowitz also raped haredi boys, but their parents backed down to rabbinic pressure and refused to cooperate with police.)

How do I know the rabbis encourage Mondrowitz to flee and even helped him do so?

Among other sources that predate it, the Israeli government citied this during Mondrowitz's second set of extradition litigation in Israel and it was reported here.

Haredi rabbis knew for decades that Rabbi Yehuda Kolko was molesting haredi children. They knew – but none of them acted to protect those children. Kolko was not reported to police and victims and their families were silenced by threats and worse. The Jewish Week did extensive exclusive reporting on this and New York Magazine did a seminal piece on Kolko in 2006 that opened the door to this entire issue. And of course this blog, UOJ, and others extensively covered this issue, as well.

It is very common to see haredi community and haredi rabbinic support for men accused and men convicted of being child sex abusers, but it is very rare to see support from these rabbis and from the haredi community for the victims. The Times notes this in its reporting and the The Jewish Week and New York Post long before that previously reported on the specific incident the Times uses as its example, so anyone seriously writing on this issue has no excuse for not knowing about it.

In fact, there is reporting in the Rupert Murdoch-owned conservative New York Post, in New York Magazine, the Forward, the Guardian, FailedMessiah.com, and most of all, Hella Winston's award-winning Jewish Week reporting that shows the Sun's premise that "if allegations of assault by Jerry Sandusky of Penn State on a boy in a shower had been reported to a rabbi, his alleged years of predation would have been cut far shorter than they were" is utterly and completely false.

So why does the Sun's editorial ignore almost a decade of reporting that proves it wrong?

It might be because Seth Lipsky had, I'm told, an odd practice when he ran the Forward – a practice that continues at the Sun. Lipsky publishes unsigned editorials meant to be taken as his paper's view that were actually written by outside groups and P.R. people.

Sometimes Lipsky published them as is. Other times Lipsky or his editors made small changes – like, for example, referring to Charles Hynes as the "district attorney at Brooklyn" – a sure sign that Lipsky's fingerprints are on this piece, because referring to the "district attorney at Brooklyn" and similar usage is a Lipsky trademark found almost nowhere else. And referring to Agudath Israel of America as "Aguda," rather than the more normative Agudah with an "h," was also the Forward's policy going back to at least 2003.

But the opening sentence seems far too clumsy to be Lipsky's own writing. It also does not appear to be Stoll's. And this leads me to speculate that someone outside the Sun wrote this piece and either used Lipsky's "at Brooklyn" and "Aguda" – or Lipsky, following his old habits, changed what was originally written to conform to his idiosyncratic usage.

At any rate, the lives of children really are at stake here.

To use this issue to take a cheap shot at the Times is deplorable and may very well be a new low for Lipsky, who should be very ashamed by what he's done – whether he wrote the Sun's editorial or not.