As I reported on 2/27/14, rabbis in New York’s Five Towns and Far Rockaway (5T/FR) took the unprecedented step of collectively denouncing a long-time, local colleague, Rabbi Dovid Weinberger, as unfit to work in the rabbinate because of his sexual misconduct with girls and women. Around early February most of them denounced Weinberger from their pulpits in a declaration which included the following language:
Recently, RDW [Rabbi Dovid Weinberger], a rabbi, resigned from his position as a rabbi of a congregation [Shaaray Tefila, Lawrence, NY], educator of young women in our community, and counselor to many who sought his advice. Following that, we learned from professionals of a number of documented cases of his unfortunate and unacceptable behavior. It is the collective judgment of these professionals that this behavior may continue. We therefore feel obligated to inform our community of this concern and advise that there be no interaction with this rabbi in any rabbinic, educational, counseling or private setting.
I do not believe he has any hope of either returning to the 5T/FR or successfully suing his former employers. He has made noises about that possibility but Congregation Shaaray Tefila is hanging tough and is ready to defend itself with one of America’s best labor law attorneys, Allen I. Fagin, a former board member of the OU.
Weinberger gave up on getting another synagogue in the 5T/FR and moved in with his son-in-law in Monsey’s Kiryas Radin where he is plotting some alternative future. At this point he is probably just trying to mute the reputational damage. Part of his strategy is to challenge the validity of the allegations against him. He knows he cannot sue for defamation, because the truth is always an effective defense. Moreover, a trial would lead to more nasty revelations about him.
However, he can skirmish with his accusers by claiming they denied him due process under Jewish law. One of Weinberger’s remaining supporters (Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginzberg of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center in Cedarhurst) turned to Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, a Rosh Yeshiva at Torah Vodaath and a senior kosher posek (Jewish law authority) at the Orthodox Union (OU). Belsky, a pro at defending molesters, rose to the challenge. Belsky has consistently defended the Kolko family’s molesters including Yehuda Kolko and his nephew, Yosef. Both eventually pleaded guilty but Belsky continues to insist upon their innocence.
Belsky obliged on March 18-19 by writing a letter on behalf of Weinberger. Below is a copy of that letter followed by a translation.
(Click on image to enlarge and sharpen)
Rabbi Y Belsky
506 East 7th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11218
To my friend the Honorable Rav [name was omitted in the letter]
My heart pounded when I read your letter, as the Chazal already said a long time ago in connection to a similar situation, “Why are you placing my head between two huge mountains etc., I fear that you want my head.”
Particularly after I heard this awful news about rumors circulating amongst Jewish areas and neighborhoods, rumors spread no less by my beloved friends and by my friends who love me very much.
But what should I do? Rav Dovid Weinberger is also counted among my friends and advisors!
I saw they had already decided and concluded his guilt without giving him the opportunity to defend himself. What are we to do with the laws of the Torah that state that it is forbidden to listen to an accuser without the defendant being present? They threw him to the wild beasts like a rotting carcass without hearing his side. They placed his case in front of men and women disguised as expert doctors, without listening to his defenders, some of whom are experts in this field.
They made him into a sinner and isolated him from the tribes of Israel; they made him into a pariah, all without harking to his shouts as if all gates of mercy were shut.
Even when one is a blasphemer, the Torah states that one must investigate. How much more so, Reb Dovid, someone who has served his community selflessly for over 30 years and many benefited from him.
17th of Adar II, 5774 [March 18-19, 2014], Brooklyn, NY
Chaim Yisroel Halevi Belsky
This letter is strange for Belsky whose usual style is pugnacious and intimidating. When he was defending Yosef Kolko, he called the father of the testifying victim a molester. But here he takes pains to be respectful if critical. He also deliberately omits the name of the recipient of the letter. He understands that it will hurt the recipient to be outed for soliciting the letter.
Belsky is also careful to acknowledge his personal relationship with Weinberger, perhaps because he has been accused of issuing rulings where he had a conflict of interest and he realizes his status at the OU is in decline where they recently overturned his rulings on quinoa for Passover.
But for all his polite veneer, Belsky is trying to defend Weinberger by suggesting a procedure for evaluating the accusations which would intimidate the victims. Serial offenders like Lanner at the OU or Mordechai Tender always try to get to their accusers and often succeed in intimidating them. The rabbis in the 5T/FR took testimony from therapists and listened to recordings. There was also a kolo delo pasuk (a longstanding murmur of accusations that would not subside). They used that information to establish the pattern. They used the judgments of professionals to determine that this was behavior so manipulative, exploitative and persistent that they could not realistically hope for teshuvah and good behavior in the future.
Contrary to assertions by Belsky there is established halacha going back to the Shoel Umeishiv (Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson, Lemberg/Lvov) in the 19th century that communities can make decisions about personnel on the basis of such information regardless of whether the witnesses are males or adults or whether there was a beit din.
Similar issues arose in Monsey when a group of Haredi rabbis denounced Rabbi Mordechai Tendler as unfit for the rabbinate. The eminent Hasidic posek, Rabbi Benzion Wosner, led the denunciation which was reported in the Jewish Week.
From what I hear, very few rabbis in the 5T/FR are intimidated by this Belsky letter though they do feel some pressure and they are weighing their responses.
Meanwhile, the real action is the backlash against Belsky’s Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. They are in desperate financial straits and have been asking local rabbis to set them up for appeals and parlor meetings. But the rabbis and the laity are furious about Belsky’s ham-fisted intervention and many are refusing.
Ironically, the last time there was such a backlash by this generous and affluent community it also involved Rabbi Dovid Weinberger. He hosted the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe whose followers were avid rock throwers in Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim. The community rebelled and his take was down some 75%. (See my 2009 post, Controlling the Impulse to throw Stones and Kugel: A Hassidic Saga).
Once again, I urge the residents and leaders of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway to send a message to Belsky, “We will not tolerate your defense of a sexual predator and we will not fund your misconduct.” While Belsky may not be sensitive enough to do a cheshbon hanefesh, I believe he will pay attention to his bookkeeper’s calculations.
Fedora and Kippa Sruga Tips to my anonymous translator and to my many valuable informants in the Five Towns, Far Rockaway, and beyond.
UPDATE 3/27/14 8 p.m. — The decision to denounce Weinberger was backed by the mashgiach of Beth Medrash Gavohah of Lakewood, Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, and by the Rosh Yeshiva of Philadelphia and member of the Agudath Israel Moetzes, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky. Furthermore, Rabbi Solomon had extensive meetings with Rabbi Weinberger for over a half a year. While he was initially willing to keep Rabbi Weinberger’s misdeeds private he eventually concluded they had to be publicized to the 5T/FR community for the protection of residents. Thus, in writing his letter, Belsky was being misleading when he claimed Rabbi Weinberger did not have a fair chance to present his side. In fact, Rabbi Belsky was coming in as an interloper to wreck a process of great deliberation and collective decision making.
It is no wonder that the leadership and laity of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway are furious. Some groups are refusing to host previously planned fundraising events. In other cases the events will happen but individual donors will withhold or downsize their donations. Supporters of Torah Vodaath speak of a $200,000 shortfall. They are complaining bitterly instead of reflecting on the misconduct of their cowboy rosh yeshiva, Yisroel Belsky.