By Dave Gahary
According to an article in the November issue of the Jewish weekly Forward, New York District Attorney Charles J. Hynes “claims to have arrested an unprecedented 89 men on child sex abuse charges in ultra-Orthodox [Jewish] communities of Brooklyn over the past two years.” The announcement of the arrests and charges of nearly 100 Orthodox men was met with derision by sex abuse survivors who claim that Hynes had made it a decades-long practice of “overlooking molesters in the borough’s tight-knit, ultra-Orthodox communities for fear of political retaliation from the borough’s powerful rabbinic leaders and their bloc-voting Orthodox voters.” Hynes was first elected in 1989 and is currently serving his fifth term.
Members of Orthodox communities around the world have long been ordered by their rabbis to ask permission from them before reporting criminals, including pedophiles, to secular authorities. In fact, this past summer, one of the largest Orthodox congregational organizations, Agudath Israel, “reaffirmed the organization’s policy that it is prohibited to report sexual abuse to authorities without prior rabbinic permission.”
The spotlight was shone on child sex abuse in the Brooklyn community after the horrific murder and mutilation of eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky, who was kidnapped by another member of the Jewish community as he walked home from summer camp. The senseless slaughter served as a wake-up call to many in the community who began questioning the instruction and advice of their rabbis, who maintain an extreme, and some would consider bizarre, hold over their congregations based on religious law and traditions stretching back perhaps thousands of years. The word rabbi derives from a Hebrew word meaning “master,” and it is these rabbis that are responsible for teaching their followers the Torah, or first five books of the Old Testament.
Based on how the district attorney released this information, sex-abuse survivors and their advocates are accusing the top New York legal office of lax enforcement. As explained in a column by advocate Michael Lesher in the New York Post, “[Lacking] detail about the arrests— the Brooklyn D.A. has declined to give names, charging information or current case status for any of the suspects, or even how far back these cases date—is cause for legitimate concern.”
In order to dig deeper into this disturbing matter, AFP conducted a 60-minute interview on Dec. 1 with writer and attorney Michael Lesher, an Orthodox Jew from that community. Lesher works as an advocate for Orthodox sexual-abuse survivors and their families. He has been pursuing perhaps that community’s most notorious child sex offender, the self-proclaimed rabbi Avrohom Mondrowitz.
Suspected of sexually molesting hundreds of boys, Mondrowitz fled to Israel with his family in 1985, a few steps ahead of detectives after they received an anonymous tip.
Despite several U.S. extradition attempts, Mondrowitz remains free to this day. Extradition has been complicated by the fact that Israel’s definition of “rape” does not include sodomy. Therefore Mondrowitz has not broken any Israeli law and cannot be extradited.
Lesher, who represents several of Mondrowitz’s victims, has filed for case material from the DA’s office through New York’s freedom of information law, but has been stymied by those whose job it is to provide transparency to the public. His request is now before the New York Court of Appeals, with a hearing expected this winter.
Many want to know if this kind of child abuse coverup is underway in other Orthodox Jewish enclaves across the nation—and the world.