Agudah Opposes Child Victim Act Despite Conflict

By Michael Orbach (The Jewish Star)
Issue of May 1, 2009 / 7 Iyar 5769

Agudath Israel of America acknowledged a possible conflict of interest but will oppose legislation to allow victims of child sexual abuse currently beyond the statute of limitations to bring their cases to court.

Agudah and educational affiliate Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, said last week they would not object to legislation "designed to give victims of abuse greater recourse against perpetrators." However, they "vigorously oppose" doing away with the statute of limitations, even temporarily for a year, since that "could subject schools and other vital institutions to ancient claims and capricious litigation, and place their very existence in severe jeopardy."

Agudah acknowledged a conflict related to a lawsuit against Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn, and longtime rebbe Yehuda Kolko. The Agudah-owned Camp Agudah, Inc., is a defendant in a 2006 suit filed in Brooklyn Federal Court that alleges that David Framowitz, identified as John Doe No. 1, was molested by Kolko at Camp Agudah in the summer between seventh and eighth grade.

"It is not anything that was ever hidden," explained Rabbi Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel's executive vice president.

"The camp is the same name. Notwithstanding that this group of rabbonim who sat on this question for the last number of weeks is among the most senior and respected rabbonim and roshei yeshiva, when you get to that level, chances are you're going to be affiliated with institutions that operate programs that young people participate in. It's impossible to imagine a question of this nature should not be considered by the leaders of the community simply because they are affiliated with institutions."

Rabbi Zwiebel added: "If we're sinister, we should surely do a much better job of covering our tracks."

Agudath Israel's position applies across the nation, according to Rabbi Zwiebel. It pits Agudah against the Child Victims Act, sponsored by Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Queens) that would extend the civil statute of limitations by five years and open a yearlong window for civil cases currently beyond the statute. Agudah supports a competing bill by Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) to extend the civil statute by two years; it does not include the yearlong window.

Critics refer to the Lopez legislation as "The Hide the Predator Act." Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton called the Agudah position "indifferent to the safety of children." Similar laws in California and Delaware led to the identification of 360 previously unknown sexual predators, she said.

"Without the window, the predators remain in the shadows so that they can groom more children for abuse," she explained. "A stand against the window is a stand for the predators."

Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani (spiritual guidance counselor) at YU's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, said "the old system does not work" and the only way to fix it is "a communal responsibility to bite the bullet."

"This is the only way that institutions will take responsibility and abusers will not be given the opportunity to move from one place to another," he asserted. "Institutions that have been completely negligent should be sued."

Adapted for print from this report that appeared online on April 26, 2009