Two prominent Orthodox rabbis — one a former president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) — spoke out forcefully this past week on the need for transparency and justice on sexual abuse in the community, and criticized the Orthodox Union (OU) and the RCA for not taking a stronger stand against a well-known rabbinic authority on kashrut who defended a confessed pedophile.
Rabbi Heshie Billet, spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Woodmere and a former president of the RCA, wrote an Opinion column on The Jewish Week website. The piece, “Not Enough Progress By Rabbis, Leaders On Dealing With Sexual Abuse,” described the role Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, a major kashrut expert and halachic consultant to the OU, played in publicly defending a confessed sexual abuser, Rabbi Yosef Kolko, who taught youngsters at a Lakewood, N.J., yeshiva.
Further, Rabbi Belsky accused the parents of the victim of going to the police, and wrote that one who does so is guilty of being a moser, the rabbinic term for a Jew who informs on another Jew, and, wrote Rabbi Belsky, “has no share in the world to come.”
Under communal pressure, the boy’s parents moved away from the Lakewood community.
“The OU has refused to publicly rebuke or take any action against Rabbi Belsky,” Rabbi Billet wrote, calling on the major Orthodox group to “publicly condemn his defiance of the rules of the RCA and the OU,” which say child abuse must be reported to the secular authorities.
“Principles must trump kashrut revenues in a major Orthodox organization’s order of priorities,” Rabbi Billet wrote.
Mayer Fertig, chief communications officer of the OU, told The Jewish Week that while the organization has “high regard” for Rabbi Belsky in terms of his kashrut expertise, it “profoundly disagrees with his conclusion and whatever actions he may have taken” regarding the Kolko case, and has told him so in private conversations.
“In no way does Rabbi Belsky speak for the OU,” Fertig said.
Several sources say OU officials were embarrassed and angered when Rabbi Belsky publicly came to the defense of Rabbi Kolko in a letter distributed in Hebrew in Lakewood. But insiders acknowledge that no action was taken against him because his kashrut expertise is highly respected in the haredi community, a major market, and there is concern that if he were to be terminated or publicly called out, some haredim would look elsewhere for kosher supervision.
“You can make a strong argument that principle should trump all,” one OU source noted, “but it’s not a simple issue here, and the pragmatists want to keep it quiet.”
The OU is by far the world leader in the field of kashrut supervision.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, spiritual leader of the Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida, in his weekly column to congregants, referred to the Belsky incident without mentioning names.
Among other cases cited he wrote: “When a major Jewish organization retains a rabbi who continues to defend a pedophile who pled guilty in court, and continues to defend a letter he wrote stating that the victim who reported the pedophile is a moser who has no portion in the world to come, it is on the wrong side of this issue.
“We, the rabbinic community and the leadership of the Modern Orthodox establishment,” Rabbi Goldberg wrote, “are in profound need of collective teshuva [repentance].”
Similarly, Rabbi Billet wrote that “the fact that communal leaders … are protecting and enabling abusers, or condemning legitimate accusers, underscores that our community still has a long way to go.”