Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Levin (RACL) wears many black hats. He is the head of the Telz-Chicago Yeshiva. He is a member of the Moetzes (Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America) and of the Vaad Roshei Yeshiva (Committe of Yeshiva Heads) of Torah Umesorah (TU).
It was the TU hat that almost had him deposed yesterday morning under oath/affirmation about his defense of Rabbi (sic) Yisroel Bodkins, a yeshiva teacher in Miami. In 2013 he wrote a letter that got him entangled in a lawsuit.
Rabbi (sic) Yisroel Bodkins referred to in the letter was fired by Yeshiva Elementary School because he was accused of molesting several boys.
Unfortunately, the victims were discouraged from reporting the abuse to the police and the public was not warned about the danger he posed. RACL was trying to leverage the yeshiva’s failings by converting their silence into a chezkas kashrus (presumption of innocence). RACL was trying to get the Yeshiva to further weaken their limited action of firing him by getting them to say Bodkins was not a molester.
The blog about which RACL was complaining is Ad-Kan: Enough is Enough (AK), which maintains a Wall of Shame where it posts the names of sexual predators. On 10/20/13 Ad-Kan posted (original link & backed up link on Internet archive):
WARNING! Rabbi Yisroel Bodkins allegedly molests young boys in Miami
RABBI YISROEL BODKINS was recently fired from an elementary Yeshiva in Miami Beach after word got out that three individuals reported to police that they were sexually abused by him. Bodkins… is still working with young Jewish boys from a public school in Miami…Yisroel Bodkins is allegedly a DANGER to children and he should be kept away from young boys at ALL times! The community in North Miami Beach where Bodkins lives should come together and demand that Bodkins not be allowed to attend any shul or public place where there are children present. If you know of any child who has been victimized by Bodkins please call the police. You can contact email@example.com and we will do as much as we can to help you.
Normally, culprits like Bodkins ignore the blogs or accuse them of lying and being untrustworthy because they are anonymous. This works pretty well for Haredi molesters. The Internet is in any event considered untrustworthy and approved Haredi media hardly ever cover sex abuse and never mention the names of molesters. It is exactly that silence that leads bloggers like me, AK, and many others to fill the gap and report these stories.
Bodkins, a schmendrik with hardly a penny to his name, filed a lawsuit against AK accusing AK of libeling him. This sort of lawsuit probably costs a pretty penny and in his case was going to be hard to win. This is not the kind of case lawyers take unless they are paid up front. Bodkins managed to get the backing for his lawsuit. Somebody figured they could intimidate AK into removing him and many other alleged offenders from the Wall of Shame.
But this attempt at intimidating AK ran into some problems. Ad-Kan is not wealthy but AK lucked out and got pro-bono legal representation. AK’s defense was that AK didn’t libel him because AK was telling the truth. AK established the case by getting court approved subpoenas to depose various individuals who could establish the argument. RACL was scheduled to be deposed yesterday morning. For the last few weeks the pressure on AK mounted and all sorts of intermediaries were contacted to get AK to back down. The intermediaries included major askanim and rabbis. AK held firm. They did other things to mess with AK’s life. AK held firm. They also offered AK various kinds of help. AK held firm.
The night before the scheduled deposition, at 11:55 p.m., the Florida court was notified that Bodkins was withdrawing the lawsuit. It seems Rabbi Levin had something he did not want to talk about. If he actually believed his letter was the truth, he would have been willing to show up in court.
It turns out that in the end, Bodkins was not acting on his own behalf. When push came to shove, Bodkin’s claims of innocence were not that important. The most important thing was protecting R. Levin’s reputation and not exposing his role in a cover-up.
I will have more to say about this case when I have had more time to digest the documents. In the meantime, I just want to say, don’t pay too much attention to Rabbi Levin’s declaration that the seminaries controlled by Meisels are now safe. I am not sure he would be willing to back up his claim if threatened with a legal deposition.
UPDATE 9/2/14 –
Following Rabbi Levin’s letter to Principal Jankowski on October 25, 2013, Jankowski fell in line and joined in on a proclamation (kol koreh) with other rabbis denying that Bodkins was a child molester. It was clearly the result of Levin’s “persuasion.”
Bodkins, as was stated earlier, withdrew his suit before Torah Umesorah depositions scheduled for August 28, 2014. The withdrawal was effected electronically on the August 27 at 11:55 p.m. . In explaining his withdrawal, Bodkins’ submission stated:
We are now confronted with the other side issuing subpoenas to leading scholars and heads of institutions in Chicago, Illinois, New Jersey and New York. None of whom know me personally, or can testify as to any of the points at issue in this lawsuit for libel and slander. But all are being annoyed and burdened.
That is a funny thing to say. Rabbi Levin wrote a letter defending the innocence of Bodkins and even got Jankowski to change his position. But Bodkins was telling the truth. There was nothing he and others could say under threat of perjury that could save him in this lawsuit.
Bodkins was also right that they were “all being annoyed and burdened.” It is burdensome and annoying to have to admit you cannot justify the letter you sent defending Bodkins, especially when a trial would have revealed evidence exonerating Ad-Kan and destroying the reputation of Bodkins. ‘Tis a terrible thing to sue someone for libel when truth is a defense.
The claim that he could not afford the lawsuit was hokum. If the scholars and heads of institutions (e.g., Torah Umesorah) supported his fundraising, he would have had his legal expenses paid. Moreover, it will cost him to withdraw his suit. Ad-Kan (AK) can now sue Bodkins for libeling AK by claiming AK made false accusations on the blog. At that point, AK can again proceed to depose all the relevant parties or get Bodkins to settle with money provided by his backers. I suspect that if AK does sue, Bodkins will settle at the last moment before the depositions hit too close to home.
This was a great victory for outing abusers by blogging. Of course it would be much better if we were unnecessary and the orthodox community just reported sex offenders to the criminal justice system as soon as they are detected instead of putting more kids at risk of abuse. Hopefully, this victory will help move us closer to the day when they do the right thing on their own.