Rabbi Yisroel (Stanley) Kleinman, a 62-year-old, 5th grade Jewish studies teacher, was arrested on December 18, 2017 on charges of molesting and penetrating an 11-year-old girl multiple times for over a year. Kleinman, was put on paid leave by his employer of thirty years, Rabbi Yakov Bender, the Rosh Yeshiva (Dean) of Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway (Queens, NY).
Two months later, in the end of February 2018, when Rabbi Bender knew the story was about to appear in the New York Daily News, he told their reporter that “parents of children in his class have been notified.” However, just a few weeks earlier I spoke to people at the school who knew he was being replaced by substitutes but not the reason.
Rabbi Bender should have informed parents of entire school, as well as others who dealt with him over the years, of the arrest as the reason for his suspension from the classroom. This helps to surface any other instances of abuse and provides support to other potential victims. Some people will say that there were no grounds to suspect Kleinman of molesting in this all-boys yeshiva because his criminal charge involves a girl. But child molesting is not necessarily a single-sex behavior. Some molesters go after both boys and girls.
Many people are praising Bender for placing Kleinman on leave. But once there are criminal charges that is what almost all yeshivas do. Even Yeshiva Torah Temimah, which kept Rabbi Yehuda Kolko employed in spite of decades of allegations, dumped him once he was criminally charged in 2006.
The problem at most Haredi yeshivot is not that they keep on employees after they are arrested. But that they either do nothing, despite complaints until someone is arrested, or at best, let them go, only for them to move on to another job, without warning the new community. In this case, Darchei Torah had nothing to do with the arrest. The allegation did not come from one of its students; the alleged victim attends a totally different school. The report came to the authorities through the reporting of a mental health professional who is a mandated reporter.
Some will say it is generous of Bender to pay Kleinman while he is on leave. But Kleinman’s brother, Elly (Martin), the scandal-plagued CEO of Americare, is a very generous benefactor of the school, and many other charities in the ultra-orthodox world including the new Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center. In 2011, Elly was the honoree of the annual dinner of Yeshiva Darchei Torah. According to an article in Matzav “The Kleinmans have a close relationship with Darchei Torah, as Elly’s brother, Rabbi Yisroel Kleinman, is a veteran and beloved fifth grade rebbi in its elementary school. They are also the proud grandparents of five talmidim (students) in the yeshiva.” The cost of Yisroel’s paid leave is probably offset by Elly’s contributions.
Rabbi Bender is trying to have the best of all worlds, assuaging his funder while seeming to adhere to best practices by keeping Rabbi Kleinman away from children. So on the one hand he says to the Daily News, “until this is cleared up I can’t have him in the classroom… because I have to be cautious.” On the other hand he says things like, “He’s very well liked,” “He is an excellent teacher,” “He is a wonderful, wonderful person,” and “He’s going to be cleared, I really believe that.”
In saying Kleinman will be cleared, Dean Bender is effectively denying the validity of the allegation. He is implying that the accuser is either lying or deluded. He is furthermore casting doubt on the integrity and diligence of the cops and prosecutors in this case. Bender of course knows better. He knows that the Brooklyn District Attorney goes out of his way to avoid offending the orthodox community with its influential voting block.
Rabbi Bender makes a point of saying he knows all about Rabbi Kleinman’s fine character. But he does not know the girl, he does not know what happened behind closed doors. In short, he knows nothing except his bias in favor of the adult rabbi he knows over the child. Yet he feels free to slander her by asserting Kleinman’s innocence. Bender may claim he is adhering to the laws of loshon horah (prohibition against gossip) but he isn’t because he is slandering the victim. I can understand witholding judgment about Kleinman’s guilt. But by insisting on Kleinman’s innocence, in spite of the arrest, he is feeding the knee-jerk Haredi reflex of invalidating allegations as false.
I am disturbed by Bender’s handling of the case, of his minimizing knowledge relevant to the parent body till it was unavoidable, and all but accusing a complaint vetted by cops and prosecutors as false. I am glad that a minimum standard is established to not employ teachers facing felony child molesting charges. But the community is entitled to more.