Sexual Abuse Scandals Threaten to Tear the Fabric of Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox Community

Brooklyn district attorney refuses to release names of those charged or convicted of child sex abuse over the past 3 years, for fear that it would reveal the names of the victims.

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Reports published in major American media outlets over the past months have revealed widespread sexual abuse in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox community.

Reports of sexual abuse against children by leaders of New York City’s Hasidic community came to light in both the Jewish Daily Forward and the New York Times, leading to fractures in the tight-knit community.

Members of Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox community. Credit: Nir Kafri

The controversy erupted in December 2011 after the Jewish Daily Forward made a request for the names of 85 Orthodox Jews arrested on sex charges during the past three years. This, after prosecutors announced that scores of Orthodox Jews had been charged under a special program designed to encourage the community to come forward with information.

According to an article published recently in the Forward, prosecutors in the case have rejected the request to reveal the names of those convicted or charged with child sex abuse due to the community’s “insular” nature .

The article in the Forward quoted Assistant District Attorney Morgan Dennehy, who stated that there is “significant danger that the disclosure of the defendants’ names would lead members of that community to discern the identities of the victims.”

The Forward article also stated that Dennehy claimed that revealing the names of abuse suspects could harm the operation of the District Attorney’s special hotline, Kol Tzedek, or the Voice of Justice, which was set up three years ago to encourage Orthodox abuse victims to come forward.

The New York City area is home to approximately 250,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews, which constitutes the largest such community outside of Israel. The community is concentrated in Brooklyn, where many of the ultra-Orthodox are Hasidim, followers of a fervent spiritual movement that began in 18th-century Europe and applies Jewish law to every aspect of life.

A recent New York Times report revealed that while some ultra-Orthodox rabbis now argue that a child molester should be reported to the police, others strictly adhere to an ancient prohibition against mesirah, the turning in of a Jew to non-Jewish authorities, and consider publicly airing allegations against fellow Jews to be chillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.

The New York Times article further revealed that in Brooklyn, of the 51 molesting cases involving the ultra-Orthodox community that the district attorney’s office says it has closed since 2009, nine were dismissed because the victims backed out. Others ended with plea deals because the victims’ families were fearful.