Leiby Kletzky's Death Is So Difficult to Process

Washington Jewish Week
July 15, 2011

I read on one of the many web blogs and Internet articles about the death of Leiby Kletzky that the very walls that some segments of our community build to keep its members safe, could be the very walls that led to the death 8-year-old Brooklyn boy.

If you haven't heard about this horrific tragedy, I advise you just to use your favorite search engine, enter his name, and you'll have more than enough difficult news to read.

There is a quote that I read, and it's attributed to Borough Park Rabbi Joseph Hershkowitz, who counsels families.

"It's against Halacha (Jewish law) to go to the police without speaking to the rabbis. "We consider Shomrim (an Orthodox safety organization) and Hatzolah (an Orthodox based ambulance service) family. So you go to family first."

In this difficult situation, it is reported that Shomrim was notified by Leiby's family some three hours prior to the organizations initial contact with police.

By then the ensuing events proved any search futile. And Levi Aron, 35, is now charged with murder.

Why am I not surprised that 911 wasn't called the moment the child was missing?

I have sat in meetings with 500 people in attendance to hear answers and directions in the area of child molestation only to hearthe director of the organization Ohel, tell the audience to not call a first responder, but to instead call your local rabbi.

More recently, the Agudath Israel movement at its conference said virtually the same thing.

I have heard rabbis say from the pulpit that a Jew should not go to jail or that the police never should be the first all made.

Instead a Shomrim unit was called first, not the police.

Three hours?

Maybe Leiby Kletzky would still be alive, who knows?

But this wall that has been built to keep the world out of some segments of the community, has now become a wall of danger.

Would you call the fire department to ask a question of Rambam or Rashi? Hardly, so then why are we asking our rabbis what to do if there is a missing child, or a suspected person of danger in our midst?

Sometimes, as we've seen in the Catholic Church, the rabbis solution is to "keep an eye" on the suspect, that is get him a job in a public place, such as a retail store. In Baltimore, a convicted child molestor works at a local butcher shop, because we can "keep an eye on him there." Not to mention, a rabbi with a track record of molestation on his hands remains at the local rabbinical college for the same exact reason.


Shomrim and Hatzalah and all of these organizations do a great job, and their volunteers spend countless hours serving their communities. But there comes a time when even Shomrim and Hatzalah have to understand that they are not the law. Police and public safety professionals need to be called at any suspicion, especially one as severe as the incident in Brooklyn. There are also news reports that this Shomrim chapter keeps a book of suspected child molestors, a book it doesn't share with the police department. Why not?

Leiby Kletzky's death is so difficult to process, because the so-called "wall" placed him in a position of danger.

And we thought it was safe inside that place.

Maybe it's not as safe as we think. And for sure it's not as transparent as it should be.

But the rabbinic leaders in some parts of this country just don't realize that while they are trying to protect their communities, they are at times making individuals more vulnerable.

Years ago I interviewed a young adult who had been molested while a student in a yeshiva by his dorm counselor. I remember how he described it.

He said that at the time, there was an illness in his family back home, and that he was concerned about the welfare of an ill brother. His dorm counselor knew that, and his dorm counselor also knew that he was vulnerable.

"He was like an animal, a cheetah, who stalks his prey, looking for the elk in the herd who is lame. I was that elk, I was the lame person."

When the young man told his parents, the rabbis at the school didn't report it to the police. Instead, the dorm counselor was fired. Not tried, not jailed, not offered therapy, just put outside of the "wall."

It wasn't long before the same guy was back inside of the "wall." God only knows who met him when he returned.