Report Child Sexual Abuse to Rabbi, Not Police, Influential Orthodox Jewish Leader Says

An Orthodox Jewish leader addressing a group in Brooklyn earlier this month discouraged the reporting of <"">child sexual abuse within the community to secular authorities. According to a report from the Failed Messiah blog, the remarks were made by a leading American Orthodox rabbi, Shmuel Kamenetsky, the vice president of Agudath Israel of America’s Supreme Council of Rabbinic Sages on July 12.

According to the report, Kamenetsky told a group gathered at a conference in Flatbush that child sexual abuse must be reported to a rabbi, who will investigate and determine if police should be called. The remarks are particularly disturbing because according to Failed Messiah, Kamenetsky is not only very influential in the Orthodox Jewish community, but is also “considered to be the most favorable of all the senior Agudah rabbis to child sexual abuse victims.”

The report only adds to a growing mountain of evidence pointing to a widespread policy among Orthodox Jewish leaders to discourage child sexual abuse victims and their families from reporting such crimes to police.

“There are prohibitions and a psychological fear about saying bad things about people or talking about negative things that bring shame,” Long Island psychologist Michael Salamon, author of the upcoming book “Abuse in the Jewish Community,” recently told the New York Post.

Kamenstky’s remarks were even more tragic because they were made on the same day that many Orthodox Jews, as well as other New York City residents, were frantically searching for 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, who had disappeared from his Brooklyn neighborhood while walking home from summer camp. The little boy’s dismembered body would be found the following day in a dumpster and in the apartment of Levi Aron, a suspected child predator.

Leiby Kletzky’s murder has also raised questions about the role of the Shomrim, a volunteer community watch that operates in New York City’s Orthodox Jewish community. These groups are highly respected in their communities, and are called about everything from vandalism to missing persons, domestic violence and sexual abuse.

According to The Jewish Week, there was a lag of more than two hours between the time Leiby’s mother reported him missing to the Shomrim and his father’s call to police. While Police Commissioner Ray Kelly publicly praised the Shomrim for mobilizing the community in a massive search effort for the boy, The Jewish Week also reported that another unnamed NYPD official said it was “unconscionable” for the Brooklyn South Shomrim to have not called the police immediately upon learning of young Leiby going missing.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Commissioner Kelly said the time lag most likely did not make a difference in the outcome of the Leiby Kletzky case, but acknowledged that the Shomrim often do not immediately notify police when they get reports and that this has been a “longstanding” issue for the department.

In another disturbing development, there is speculation that Leiby’s alleged murderer may have been known to the Shomrim. According to The Jewish Weekly, it was reported by The Daily that the Shomrim were warned about Aron in the weeks leading up to the murder, after he harassed another boy in the neighborhood. Yakov Daskal, founder and coordinator of the Brooklyn South Shomrim, has denied these claims, but did acknowledge that his organization maintains a list of suspected child molesters. According to the Jewish Weekly, Daskal told The Daily News that suspects on the list are not reported to police because “the rabbis don’t let you. It’s not right.”

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