We have previously discussed the harassment and abuse of families in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods who have accused religious figures of sexual abuse. Like Catholic and other Christian communities, the Jewish community is facing its own scandal over the response to these allegations. This ongoing controversy is at the heart of a case in New Jersey where a leading counselor and Rabbi stands accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy — and members of the Orthodox community are accused of a campaign of harassment against the boy and his family for going to the police.
After the boy went into therapy, he told his father of the alleged abuse that he experienced at a Jewish camp by his counselor, Yosef Kolko. Kolko is a former yeshiva teacher on trial now for the alleged abuse.
Kolko, 39, is accused of abusing the boy at age 11 in 2007 at a religious summer camp in Lakewood. The boy says that the rabbi engaged in molestation and oral sex in various locations including an empty classroom, a storage room, Kolko’s car and the basement of a synagogue.
What is interesting about the case is the reaction of the father and then the community. The father was told by his son that he was sexually abused, but instead of going to the police he went to a group of rabbis to take action even though such rabbis could not imprison him or order corporal punishment. The father waited for months as the rabbis did little. He was also willing to send his kid back to the same camp. It was only after he discovered that Kolko was going to continue his work at the camp that he took additional steps. The father admits that he wanted to leave the matter in the hands of the rabbis and not report to police that his son had been allegedly sexually assaulted. I find that truly extraordinary since any action that the rabbis took would not deprive Kolko of his freedom. It is the ultimate triumph of faith for a father to refuse to go to police even when he believes that his son was raped. Both the father and Kolko went to the home of a prominent Lakewood rabbi. The father wanted the matter submitted to a rabbinical court rather than to inform police of an alleged sexual predator working with children.
The father however said that it was clear that the rabbis had not acted. He then said that he felt he had to act in July 2009. That is two years after the alleged sexual abuse so for two years he allowed someone he believed to be a sexual predator walk around free because he preferred to use rabbinical courts.
After he went to Ocean County prosecutors, however, community members denounced him and posted signs against the family. Even the father still admits reluctance in going to the police, saying “[g]oing to law enforcement is not, at this time, common within the Orthodox Jewish community. Even when it’s necessary it’s considered unusual.”
A flyer in their community denounced them of a “terrible deed” by speaking to non-Jewish officials. We have seen this abuse in other cases in the Orthodox community. However, it is the hold of faith on the father that is most striking to me in this case. To wait two years to speak with police is astonishing for a father who believes that his son was sexually assaulted. It is also interesting to see that no lawsuit has been filed against the Jewish leaders who took no action and also did not report the matter to the police. The similarity to the allegations against the Catholic Church is striking.
As for those responsible for the flyers, I cannot imagine how even profound faith could lead someone to denounce the possible victim of child abuse for simply going to police.