Anyone can make a mistake. Any fool can keep making the same mistake. But Rabbi Belsky is no fool. He is a great lamdan (scholar of rabbinics).
He is a very smart man who makes it his business not to know the truth by refusing to talk to accusers. As he explained to an askan (community activist) ‘I talked to Yudi Kolko and I can tell he is innocent.’
This sort of arrogant assertion of discernment is damning enough in a layman. But Rabbi Belsky is a posek (adjudicator of questions of Jewish law). The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, better known as the Orthodox Union certifies the kosher status of a half a million products using its familiar logo, a U inside an O. The largest kosher agency in the world relies on Rabbi Yisroel Belsky and Rabbi Hershel Schachter as their senior halachic poskim (Jewish law decisors).
I am not expert on kashrus and I don’t pretend to be a lamdan. But this much I know, you have no business being a posek if you don’t pay attention to the facts and you don’t listen to both sides. Someone told me that the Chazon Ish (Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz) believed most bad psak is not because of halachic ignorance, but inattention to the metzius (particulars of the case).
Not only is Belsky given to snap judgments on behalf of his favorites but he acts on them with a vengeance. Even in his teen years he was pugnacious and, at least in one instance, a pugilist. According to one rabbi who has tracked his career for decades, he is a “thug” who uses halachic tools recklessly. His red hair has faded but not his fiery temperament.
Having decided to back Yosef Kolko, against the judgment of those rabbis in Lakewood who had investigated the facts and supported reporting him to legal authorities, he issued an astounding public psak (Hebrew, English translation).
My ears should have been spared hearing the horrific news that one of your fellow residents in town informed upon a fellow Jew to the hands of the secular authorities, may G-d spare us, for which the [Jewish] law is undisputed that one who commits such an act has no share in the world to come. (see: Choshen Mishpat 388:4)
After conducting a thorough investigation I am absolutely certain that R’ Y.K.[Yosef Kolko],may his light shine, is perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing of any nature whatsoever. And not only is he innocent but it is also as clear to me that all these allegations are fabrications made by [REDACTED].
Further, all the reports made to the secular authorities were only for the express purpose of casting blame for their[the victim’s family] own shameful and cursed existence on others. And the truth is that the allegations they make against others are crimes they themselves are in fact guilty of and they seek to cleanse their reputation by blaming an innocent man for their own deeds.
Accordingly, as it is a great mitzvah to rescue the pursued from the hands of the evil‐to rescue a pure and righteous soul. Therefore, anyone who has the ability to rescue the righteous and does not do so is considered as if he is himself the pursuer. (See: Rambam – Laws Regarding Informing 1: 14)
Thus, all who have the ability to influence the informers that they should retract their terrible deeds should do so.
Kolko’s guilty plea reveals the many falsehoods in this letter. However, it is worth a careful reading to assess Yisroel Belsky’s qualifications as a posek. In this document we see that:
- He falsely claimed he conducted a “thorough investigation.”
- He slandered (motzi shem rah) a respected talmid chacham (.e.g., “the allegations they make against others are crimes themselves are in fact guilty of”).
- He failed to recognize that in accordance with the rulings of Maran Rav Elyashiv, when there are plausible suspicions, one must report a molester for criminal prosecution and that this case qualified as a necessary action to protect potential future victims.
- He called the father of the victim a rodef (pursuer). In Jewish law, a rodef can, if necessary, be murdered since it is considered self defense. Yigal Amir, the yeshiva student who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, based his actions on rabbinic proclamations that Rabin was a rodef. Belsky’s inflammatory language could have led to disastrous consequences. In August 2010, Shaul Luban (son of Yaakov Luban, OU Executive Rabbinic Coordinator of Kashrut Division) to organize harassing phone calls for which he was arrested and pled guilty.
This horror show continues, even after the guilty plea, with Belsky still insisting that Kolko pled guilty even though he is innocent and “there is more than meets the eye.”
This is what I expected from Belsky since he is not one to let mere facts interfere with his opinions. But why is the Orthodox Union so complacent about Belsky’s outrages.
Belsky’s OU defenders claim he is not their spokesperson, just a hired hand. This is a ridiculous evasion of the issue. He is one of their most important poskim for their most important product, the OU hechsher. The hechsher generates the revenue that keeps the organization afloat. Their trademarked OU logo is their most valuable branding asset. The value of their business will plummet into the penny stock trading segment if the buying public comes to associate the OU with the defense of molesters and reliance on a shoddy posek.
The Modern Orthodox world has an inferiority complex. They keep on looking over their right shoulder for endorsements of their observance from the Haredi world. This is a futile endeavor but they persist, nay, over-persist. They salivate with pride when Mishpachah or Ami magazine does a favorable profile of one of their leaders.
It should be the other way around. The Modern Orthodox world has higher ethical standards when it comes to disciplining rabbinical misconduct and dealing with child abuse.
When Rabbi Michael Broyde’s deceptions were exposed by Steven I Weiss, the Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and the Beth Din of America (BDA) secured his resignation in a matter of days. This was necessary because a dayan must be cleaner than a hound’s tooth. The credibility of a beit din rests on the ethical rectitude of its members.
When Rabbi Mordechai Tendler was accused of misconduct with adult women, the RCA conducted an investigation and expelled him from the organization. They did that even though he was son of one of their most prominent members and the grandson of R. Moshe Feinstein zatzal.
The RCA also has a strong policy of reporting child molesters to the police and condemning the harassment of victims. The RCA affirmed its support for victims going to the police when Nechemya Weberman was convicted. It followed up two days later with a statement urging strengthening of synagogue and school policies. At the same time the OU first posted this statement by the RCA, its “rabbinic arm” and then removed it, supposedly because of haredi pressure according to the Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt. The retraction may not be Belsky’s accomplishment, but it is certainly consistent with his contempt for the Modern Orthodox halachic commitment to fighting sex abuse of children.
Most consumers who rely on the OU do not understand the intricacies of halachah. In fact some of them are Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, vegetarians or people with lactose intolerance. Some of their customers are Conservative and Reform Jews who keep kosher homes but couldn’t care less about different shades of orthodoxy. Even hareidim who buy some OU items rely on the OU’s integrity.
The OU administration of kashruth is more disciplined and less corrupt than many of its heimish mehadrin competitors. All this has been accomplished independently, or even in spite, of Belsky who is a consultant, not an administrator.
Organizational reputations are as fragile as earthenware. If earthenware absorbs the taam (flavor) of a chazer (pork) there is no way to kosher it. Even Belsky himself could not come up with a heter (permissive ruling).
The OU is at a decision point. It must decide what’s more important, their reputation for integrity or their endorsement by a discredited Haredi posek. They can’t have it both ways. The price of hitching themselves to his reputation includes absorbing the stench of his rabbinical misconduct.