Latest update: October 20th, 2013
Fifteen years is a long time in someone’s life. Conditions that existed 15 years ago no longer exist. People die. People are born and grow up. Jobs change. Rabbinic leaders change. Community leaders change. Political leaders change. I could go on but you get my point. When someone enters prison in 2013 – life as he knows it now will barely exist when he is released in 2028. (Not to mention the way child molesters are treated by the prison’s general population. Convicted criminals have standards too… and their own system of justice. I do not envy Yosef Kolko’s situation at all.)
This is the sentence handed down to Yosef Kolko who pleaded guilty to molesting an 11 year old boy (now sixteen) in a camp where Kolko was a counselor. Although Kolko recently recanted his admission of guilt – claiming he was pressured into it, the young man he molested showed up at the hearing about his recantation, confronted Kolko and said the following (as reported in an Asbury Press article):
“Molesting may seem harmless to you, but the reality is, it kills people,” the victim said. “How can you ignore the tears and open wounds when you know how much you hurt me? You ganged up on me and hurt me again.”
Needless to say the judge ruled that there was no coercion and the sentencing followed.
To their credit, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) came out with a statement applauding the courage of the young victim for coming forward and reporting the abuse by Kolko to the authorities. But the right wing has thus far remained silent.
The problem is that the right wing rabbinic leaders of Lakewood Yeshiva (BMG) have not treated the victim and his family well at all. They considered the father of the victim, Rabbi S – a Moser. A Moser is someone who reports a fellow Jew to the authorities. The victim’s father did that.
Not that it matters – but Rabbi S is not just your average Baal Habos. He is a tremendous Talmid Chacham. He is also Charedi just like the right wing rabbis who ostracized him. This man, who is a hero in my eyes, actually followed the Charedi protocol for reporting abuse to the police. He went to the rabbis first. He was told not to report. They would investigate and find out the truth. Kolko was sent him to therapy where he reportedly admitted to his crime. But when Kolko decided to stop going to therapy and was allowed by the Lakewood rabbinic leadership to continue teaching young boys in a day school, Rabbi S. went to the police. That’s when everything hit the fan.
The Rabbinic leadership in Lakewood has in fact caused Rabbi S and his family great pain. There was a public campaign to humiliate this Talmid Chacham. Adding to it was the fact that Torah VoDaath Rosh Yeshiva and OU Posek, Rabbi Yisroel Belsky sided with Kolko… and continues to proclaim Kolko’s innocence hurling all kind of insults at Rabbi S. Despite Kolko’s conviction. Rabbi Belsky remains adamant.
Fortunately the conscience of some of Rabbi S’s critics bothered them enough to reverse their views about Kolko’s innocence and published a tearful apology asking for his forgiveness. But thus far BMG’s rabbinic leadership has remained silent.
Rabbis S was hounded out of time back when this story first broke. Having had a prestigious position in Lakewood – he ended up in another town joining a Kollel at a salary that was so small that he could not support his family with it. I am told by sources close to Rabbi S thathe had to ask for help from the communal help in order to help pay for the recent Yomim Tovim (religious holidays). I have also been told by the same source that Rabbi S contacted Lakewood’s rabbinic leaders and asked for his old job back. He has thus far been ignored!
So aside from the emotional price this family had to pay, they also have paid a financial price. I cannot tell you how outraged I am by this. The injustice here screams from the mountaintop! Here is a man whose son was sexually abused. He kept his cool and played by the Charedi rules – rules that he no doubt agreed with. As painful as this must have been for him he did not report his son’s abuser to the police. It was only when the abuser ignored the therapy he was supposed to be getting and continued teaching young boys – that he went to the police. His reward for doing the right thing was being destroyed by his own community.
This injustice can never be fully repaired in my view. Certainly not for the victim who will live with his abuse for the rest of his life. And not even for his family that will no doubt feel the effects of this episode for the rest of their lives.
But even though it can never be fully corrected – there is something Lakewood’s rabbinic leaders can do. They can apologize for the way they have treated him and give him his job back. That is the very least they can do.
I have no illusions about Rabbi Belsky ever apologizing. He has made up his mind and does not believe that his conviction proves anything. He maintains Kolko is innocent to this day…and therefore considers Rabbi S to be a Moser of the worst kind – informing on a fellow Jew about a crime that he did not commit. An innocent man (according to Rabbi Belsky) is going to be serving time in a US prison –losing 15 years of his life!
I am not going to waste my time insisting that a he apologize. Although I do wish the OU would use its leverage with him to do so. He is a paid employee.
But that is not my main concern. My main concern is that Rabbi S has his reputation restored. And more importantly he be given his job as a Rosh Chabura (lecturer in Talmud) in Lakewood Yeshiva. That is the least they can do.
Lakewood’s founder, Rav Aharon Kotler’s sense of caring for fellow Jews is legendary. He left no stone unturned when it came to trying to help victims of the Holocaust. His efforts are legendary – as reported by Amos Bunim, a community activist that was close to him. He was efforts were extraordinary. His Yeshiva has been handed down to his heirs.
Currently his grandson Rav Malkiel Kotler is the Rosh HaYeshiva. The Yeshiva is flourishing. I ask, no I beg The Rosh HaYeshiva to follow in his illustrious grandfather’s footsteps. Let him have mercy on a good family that has been victimized by sex abuse and then re-victimized by his community. Please… let Rabbi S have his job back and his reputation restored.
Even if they felt that they were right and justice was served with respect to Rabbi S and his family (i.e the Midas Hadin), let the kindness and compassion (the Midas Chesed of our forefather Avroham Avinu so vividly displayed in last week’s Torah portion) override the Midas Hadin. Let Chesed be the hallmark of Lakewood and give this man and his family back their lives. It is the right thing to do.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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