May 11, 2012
Bloomberg Among Critics of Prosecutor in Brooklyn
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Friday sharply criticized the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, over his handling of child sexual abuse cases among the borough’s large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Mr. Bloomberg said through a spokesman that he “completely disagrees” with Mr. Hynes’s decision to not object to the position of an influential ultra-Orthodox advocacy group on reporting allegations of child sexual abuse. The group announced last year that adherent Jews must obtain permission from a rabbi before reporting such allegations to district attorneys or the police.
The group’s position could conflict with a state law that requires teachers, counselors and others to report allegations immediately to the authorities.
“Any abuse allegations should be brought to law enforcement, who are trained to assess their accuracy and act appropriately,” said a spokesman for the mayor, Marc LaVorgna.
The mayor was responding to an article in The New York Times on Friday that examined Mr. Hynes’s record on these cases and his relations with ultra-Orthodox leaders in neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Borough Park.
District attorneys in New York are elected, and the mayor has no authority over Mr. Hynes’s conduct. But the mayor was adding his voice to growing criticism of Mr. Hynes’s record on child sexual abuse cases involving the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Victims’ groups have accused Mr. Hynes of being too accommodating to politically powerful rabbis who have often sought to resolve allegations of sexual abuse quietly through rabbinical panels.
Mr. Hynes has also adopted a policy of not publicizing accusations of child sexual abuse involving ultra-Orthodox Jews, even as he has continued to publicize the names of other defendants accused of sex crimes. Mr. Hynes’s aides said Mr. Hynes was not publicizing the accusations to avoid revealing the identities of victims in the highly insular community.
Asked on Friday about Mr. Bloomberg’s criticism, Mr. Hynes’s spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, declined to comment.
Last summer, Mr. Hynes met with a top official of Agudath Israel of America, the ultra-Orthodox advocacy group, who informed him about the group’s position that allegations could be reported to the authorities only if a rabbi first determined that they were credible. Mr. Hynes’s aides said Mr. Hynes told the official, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, that he “wouldn’t interfere with someone’s decision to consult with his or her rabbi about allegations of sexual abuse, but would expect that these allegations of criminal conduct be reported to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.”
In an interview, Rabbi Zwiebel said the need to consult a rabbi first outranks even New York’s mandatory reporting law. Even a teacher, he said, should go to a rabbi if a child says he or she is being abused before the teacher reports it.
“The rabbis’ consensus is go to a rabbi, because of the stringency of the matter on both sides of the equation, both the Jewish legal implications and because you can destroy a person’s life with a false report,” Rabbi Zwiebel said.
On Friday, the leading Democratic mayoral candidates also took issue with the ultra-Orthodox policy on reporting abuse allegations. “Our first concern is with victims of crime, especially potential victims of child abuse, and the first call should be to the appropriate law enforcement authorities,” Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, said.
Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, said, “Law enforcement must focus all its attention on protecting victims, not on shielding abusers.”
The public advocate, Bill de Blasio, said, “There should be one standard of justice for the whole city.”
Tom Allon, a community newspaper publisher who is also a candidate, compared the issue to those involving the Roman Catholic Church “and what happened at Penn State.”
“No community should receive special treatment from the D.A.’s office,” Mr. Allon said.
Michael M. Grynbaum contributed reporting
Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse
By SHARON OTTERMAN and RAY RIVERA, NY TIMES, May 9, 2012
|Mordechai Jungreis, right, walks his mentally disabled son, 16, home from school in Brooklyn. More Photos »|
The first shock came when Mordechai Jungreis learned that his mentally disabled teenage son was being molested in a Jewish ritual bathhouse in Brooklyn. The second came after Mr. Jungreis complained, and the man accused of the abuse was arrested.
Old friends started walking stonily past him and his family on the streets of Williamsburg. Their landlord kicked them out of their apartment. Anonymous messages filled their answering machine, cursing Mr. Jungreis for turning in a fellow Jew. And, he said, the mother of a child in a wheelchair confronted Mr. Jungreis’s mother-in-law, saying the same man had molested her son, and she “did not report this crime, so why did your son-in-law have to?”
By cooperating with the police, and speaking out about his son’s abuse, Mr. Jungreis, 38, found himself at the painful forefront of an issue roiling his insular Hasidic community. There have been glimmers of change as a small number of ultra-Orthodox Jews, taking on longstanding religious and cultural norms, have begun to report child sexual abuse accusations against members of their own communities. But those who come forward often encounter intense intimidation from their neighbors and from rabbinical authorities, aimed at pressuring them to drop their cases.
Abuse victims and their families have been expelled from religious schools and synagogues, shunned by fellow ultra-Orthodox Jews and targeted for harassment intended to destroy their businesses. Some victims’ families have been offered money, ostensibly to help pay for therapy for the victims, but also to stop pursuing charges, victims and victims’ advocates said.
“Try living for one day with all the pain I am living with,” Mr. Jungreis, spent and distraught, said recently outside his new apartment on Williamsburg’s outskirts. “Did anybody in the Hasidic community in these two years, in Borough Park, in Flatbush, ever come up and look my son in the eye and tell him a good word? Did anybody take the courage to show him mercy in the street?”
A few blocks away, Pearl Engelman, a 64-year-old great-grandmother, said her community had failed her too. In 2008, her son, Joel, told rabbinical authorities that he had been repeatedly groped as a child by a school official at the United Talmudical Academy in Williamsburg. The school briefly removed the official but denied the accusation. And when Joel turned 23, too old to file charges under the state’s statute of limitations, they returned the man to teaching.
“There is no nice way of saying it,” Mrs. Engelman said. “Our community protects molesters. Other than that, we are wonderful.”
Keeping to Themselves
The New York City area is home to an estimated 250,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews — the largest such community outside of Israel, and one that is growing rapidly because of its high birthrate. 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.
Their communities, headed by dynastic leaders called rebbes, strive to preserve their centuries-old customs by resisting the contaminating influences of the outside world. 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.
There are more mundane factors, too. Some ultra-Orthodox Jews want to keep abuse allegations quiet to protect the reputation of the community, and the family of the accused. And rabbinical authorities, eager to maintain control, worry that inviting outside scrutiny could erode their power, said Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish studies at Queens College.
“They are more afraid of the outside world than the deviants within their own community,” Dr. Heilman said. “The deviants threaten individuals here or there, but the outside world threatens everyone and the entire structure of their world.”
Scholars believe that abuse rates in the ultra-Orthodox world are roughly the same as those in the general population, but for generations, most ultra-Orthodox abuse victims kept silent, fearful of being stigmatized in a culture where the genders are strictly separated and discussion of sex is taboo. When a victim did come forward, it was generally to rabbis and rabbinical courts, which would sometimes investigate the allegations, pledge to monitor the accused, or order payment to a victim, but not refer the matter to the police.
“You can destroy a person’s life with a false report,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, a powerful ultra-Orthodox organization, which last year said that observant Jews should not report allegations to the police unless permitted to do so by a rabbi.
Rabbinic authorities “recommend you speak it over with a rabbi before coming to any definitive conclusion in your own mind,” Rabbi Zwiebel said.
When ultra-Orthodox Jews do bring abuse accusations to the police, the same cultural forces that have long kept victims silent often become an obstacle to prosecutions.
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.
“People aren’t recanting, but they don’t want to go forward,” said Rhonnie Jaus, a sex crimes prosecutor in Brooklyn. “We’ve heard some of our victims have been thrown out of schools, that the person is shunned from the synagogue. There’s a lot of pressure.”
The degree of intimidation can vary by neighborhood, by sect and by the prominence of the person accused.
In August 2009, the rows in a courtroom at State Supreme Court in Brooklyn were packed with rabbis, religious school principals and community leaders. Almost all were there in solidarity with Yona Weinberg, a bar mitzvah tutor and licensed social worker from Flatbush who had been convicted of molesting two boys under age 14.
Justice Guston L. Reichbach looked out with disapproval. He recalled testimony about how the boys had been kicked out of their schools or summer camps after bringing their cases, suggesting a “communal attitude that seeks to blame, indeed punish, victims.” And he noted that, of the 90 letters he had received praising Mr. Weinberg, not one displayed “any concern or any sympathy or even any acknowledgment for these young victims, which, frankly, I find shameful.”
“While the crimes the defendant stands convicted of are bad enough,” the judge said before sentencing Mr. Weinberg to 13 months in prison, “what is even more troubling to the court is a communal attitude that seems to impose greater opprobrium on the victims than the perpetrator.”
Silenced by Fear
Intimidation is rarely documented, but just two weeks ago, a Hasidic woman from Kiryas Joel, N.Y., in Orange County, filed a startling statement in a criminal court, detailing the pressure she faced after telling the police that a Hasidic man had molested her son.
“I feel 100 percent threatened and very scared,” she said in her statement. “I feel intimidated and worried about what the consequences are going to be. But I have to protect my son and do what is right.”
Last year, her son, then 14, told the police that he had been offered $20 by a stranger to help move some boxes, but instead, the man brought him to a motel in Woodbury, removed the boy’s pants and masturbated him.
The police, aided by the motel’s security camera, identified the man as Joseph Gelbman, then 52, of Kiamesha Lake, a cook who worked at a boys’ school run by the Vizhnitz Hasidic sect. He was arrested, and the intimidation ensued. Rabbi Israel Hager, a powerful Vizhnitz rabbi in Monsey, N.Y., began calling the mother, asking her to cease her cooperation with the criminal case and, instead, to bring the matter to a rabbinical court under his jurisdiction, according to the mother’s statement to the court. Rabbi Hager did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
“I said: ‘Why? He might do this again to other children,’ ” the mother said in the statement. The mother, who asked that The New York Times not use her name to avoid identifying her son, told the police that the rabbi asked, “What will you gain from this if he goes to jail?” and said that, in a later call, he offered her $20,000 to pay for therapy for her son if the charges were dropped.
On April 24, three days before the case was set for trial, the boy was expelled from his school. When the mother protested, she said, the principal threatened to report her for child abuse.
Prosecutors, against the wishes of the boy’s parents, settled the case on April 27. Mr. Gelbman was given three years’ probation after pleading guilty to endangering the welfare of a child.
Mr. Jungreis, the Williamsburg father, had a similar experience. He first suspected that his son was being molested after he came home with blood in his underwear at age 12, and later was caught touching another child on the bus. But, Mr. Jungreis said, the school principal warned him to stay silent. Two years later, the boy revealed that he had been molested for years by a man he saw at a mikvah, a ritual bath that observant Jews visit for purification.
Mr. Jungreis, knowing the prohibition on calling secular authorities, asked several rabbis to help him report the abuse, but, he said, they told him they did not want to get involved. Ultimately, he found a rabbi who told him to take his son to a psychologist, who would be obligated to notify law enforcement. “That way you are not the moser,” he said the rabbi told him, using the Hebrew word for informer. The police arrested Meir Dascalowitz, then 27, who is now awaiting trial.
Prosecution of intimidation is rare. Victims and their supporters say that is because rabbinical authorities are politically powerful; prosecutors say it is because there is rarely enough evidence to build a criminal case. “The intimidation often works, at least in the short run,” said Laura Pierro, the head of the special victims unit at the Ocean County prosecutor’s office in New Jersey.
In 2010, Ms. Pierro’s agency indicted Shaul Luban for witness tampering: he had sent a threatening text message to multiple recipients, urging the Orthodox Jewish community of Lakewood, N.J., to pressure the family of an 11-year-old abuse victim not to cooperate with prosecutors. In exchange for having his record cleared, Mr. Luban agreed to spend about a year in a program for first-time offenders.
Mr. Luban and others “wanted the phone to ring off the hook to withdraw the complaint from our office,” the Ocean County prosecutor, Marlene Lynch Ford, said.
Threats to Advocates
The small cadre of ultra-Orthodox Jews who have tried to call attention to the community’s lack of support for sexual abuse victims have often been targeted with the same forms of intimidation as the victims themselves.
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg of Williamsburg, for example, has been shunned by communal authorities because he maintains a telephone number that features his impassioned lectures in Yiddish, Hebrew and English imploring victims to call 911 and accusing rabbis of silencing cases. He also shows up at court hearings and provides victims’ families with advice. His call-in line gets nearly 3,000 listeners a day.
In 2008, fliers were posted around Williamsburg denouncing him. One depicted a coiled snake, with Mr. Rosenberg’s face superimposed on its head. “Nuchem Snake Rosenberg: Leave Tainted One!” it said in Hebrew. The local Satmar Hasidic authorities banned him from their synagogues, and a wider group of 32 prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis and religious judges signed an order, published in a community newspaper, formally ostracizing him.
“The public must beware, and stay away from him, and push him out of our camp, not speak to him, and even more, not to honor him or support him, and not allow him to set foot in any synagogue until he returns from his evil ways,” the order said in Hebrew.
“They had small children coming to my house and spitting on me and on my children and wife,” Rabbi Rosenberg, 61, said in an interview.
Rabbi Tzvi Gluck, 31, of Queens, the son of a prominent rabbi and an informal liaison to secular law enforcement, began helping victims after he met troubled teenagers at Our Place, a help center in Brooklyn, and realized that sexual abuse was often the root of their problems. It was when he began helping the teenagers report cases to the police that he also received threats.
In February, for example, he received a call asking him to urge an abuse victim to abandon a case. “A guy called me up and said: ‘Listen, I want you to know that people on the street are talking about what they can do to hurt you financially. And maybe speak to your children’s schools, to get your kids thrown out of school.’ ”
Rabbi Gluck said he had helped at least a dozen ultra-Orthodox abuse victims bring cases to the Brooklyn district attorney in recent years, and each time, he said, the victim came under heavy pressure to back down. In a case late last year that did not get to the police, a 30-year-old molested a 14-year-old boy in a Jewish ritual bath in Brooklyn, and a rabbi “made the boy apologize to the molester for seducing him,” he said.
“If a guy in our community gets diagnosed with cancer, the whole community will come running to help them,” he said. “But if someone comes out and says they were a victim of abuse, as a whole, the community looks at them and says, ‘Go jump in a lake.’ ”
Traces of Change
Awareness of child sexual abuse is increasing in the ultra-Orthodox community. Since 2008, hundreds of adult abuse survivors have told their stories, mostly anonymously, on blogs and radio call-in shows, and to victims’ advocates. Rabbi-vetted books like “Let’s Stay Safe,” aimed at teaching children what to do if they are inappropriately touched, are selling well.
The response by communal authorities, however, has been uneven.
In March, for example, Satmar Hasidic authorities in Williamsburg took what advocates said was an unprecedented step: They posted a Yiddish sign in synagogues warning adults and children to stay away from a community member who they said was molesting young men. But the sign did not urge victims to call the police: “With great pain we must, according to the request of the brilliant rabbis (may they live long and good lives), inform you that the young man,” who was named, “is, unfortunately, an injurious person and he is a great danger to our community.”
In Crown Heights, where the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement has its headquarters, there has been more significant change. In July 2011, a religious court declared that the traditional prohibition against mesirah did not apply in cases with evidence of abuse. “One is forbidden to remain silent in such situations,” said the ruling, signed by two of the court’s three judges.
Since then, five molesting cases have been brought from the neighborhood — “as many sexual abuse-related arrests and reports as there had been in the past 20 years,” said Eliyahu Federman, a lawyer who helps victims in Crown Heights, citing public information.
Mordechai Feinstein, 19, helped prompt the ruling by telling the Crown Heights religious court that he had been touched inappropriately at age 15 by Rabbi Moshe F. Keller, a Lubavitcher who ran a foundation for at-risk youth and whom Mr. Feinstein had considered his spiritual mentor.
Last week, Rabbi Keller was sentenced in Criminal Court to three years’ probation for endangering the welfare of a child. And Mr. Feinstein, who is no longer religious, is starting a campaign to encourage more abuse victims to come forward. He is working with two prominent civil rights attorneys, Norman Siegel and Herbert Teitelbaum, who are asking lawyers to provide free assistance to abuse victims frustrated by their dealings with prosecutors.
“The community is a garden; there are a lot of beautiful things about it,” Mr. Feinstein said. “We just have to help them weed out the garden and take out the things that don’t belong there.”
|The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has been a strong supporter of Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, pictured in 1994 in Borough Park.|
An influential rabbi came last summer to the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, with a message: his ultra-Orthodox advocacy group was instructing adherent Jews that they could report allegations of child sexual abuse to district attorneys or the police only if a rabbi first determined that the suspicions were credible.
The pronouncement was a blunt challenge to Mr. Hynes’s authority. But the district attorney “expressed no opposition or objection,” the rabbi, Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, recalled.
In fact, when Mr. Hynes held a Hanukkah party at his office in December, he invited many ultra-Orthodox rabbis affiliated with the advocacy group, Agudath Israel of America. He even chose Rabbi Zwiebel, the group’s executive vice president, as keynote speaker at the party.
Mr. Hynes has won election six times as district attorney thanks in part to support from ultra-Orthodox rabbis, who lead growing communities in neighborhoods like Borough Park and Crown Heights. But in recent years, as allegations of child sexual abuse have shaken the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, victims’ rights groups have expressed concern that he is not vigorously pursuing these cases because of his deep ties to the rabbis.
Many of the rabbis consider sexual abuse accusations to be community matters best handled by rabbinical authorities, who often do not report their conclusions to the police.
In 2009, as criticism of his record mounted, Mr. Hynes set up a program to reach out to ultra-Orthodox victims of child sexual abuse. Called Kol Tzedek (Voice of Justice in Hebrew), the program is intended to “ensure safety in the community and to fully support those affected by abuse,” his office said.
In recent months, Mr. Hynes and his aides have said the program has contributed to an effective crackdown on child sexual abuse among ultra-Orthodox Jews, saying it had led to 95 arrests involving more than 120 victims.
But Mr. Hynes has taken the highly unusual step of declining to publicize the names of defendants prosecuted under the program — even those convicted. At the same time, he continues to publicize allegations of child sexual abuse against defendants who are not ultra-Orthodox Jews.
This policy of shielding defendants’ names because of their religious status is not followed by the other four district attorneys in New York City, and has rarely, if ever, been adopted by prosecutors around the country.
Some sex-crime experts and former prosecutors said the policy contributed to a culture of secrecy in ultra-Orthodox communities, which made it harder to curb sexual abuse.
Mr. Hynes, through a spokesman, said he would not publicize information about specific accusations because he did not want to discourage victims from coming forward. But at least one ultra-Orthodox rabbi acknowledged asking him not to publicize these cases and said other rabbis had as well.
The number of sexual abuse cases involving children being prosecuted by Mr. Hynes’s office is up sharply. But an examination by The New York Times shows that some of Mr. Hynes’s claims about the Kol Tzedek program appear to be inflated.
Through an extensive search of court and other public records, The Times determined the names of suspects and other details in 47 of the 95 cases attributed to the Kol Tzedek program. More than half of the 47 seemed to have little to do with the program, according to the court records and interviews.
Some did not involve ultra-Orthodox victims, which the program is specifically intended to help. More than one-third involved arrests before the program began, as early as 2007. Many came in through standard reporting channels, like calls to the police.
While the 47 cases did include charges against camp counselors, yeshiva teachers and rabbis, they also included cases like that of a Borough Park cafe owner who was convicted of molesting a female Hispanic immigrant who worked for him.
At least three others were of ultra-Orthodox defendants who groped women on public transportation, including one Borough Park resident accused of placing his penis on a woman’s shoulder. The woman immediately called the transit police.
Mr. Hynes would not be interviewed for this article. He has never publicly opposed the ultra-Orthodox Jewish position that a rabbi must first determine that an accusation of child sexual abuse is valid before the authorities are notified.
His aides acknowledged that Rabbi Zwiebel informed him about Agudath’s position last summer.
“D.A. Hynes did meet with Zwiebel and told him he wouldn’t interfere with someone’s decision to consult with his or her rabbi about allegations of sexual abuse, but would expect that these allegations of criminal conduct be reported to the appropriate law enforcement authorities,” said Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for Mr. Hynes.
Prosecutors in the district attorney’s office emphasized that the Kol Tzedek program, which has a hot line, a part-time social worker and links to social service agencies, demonstrated that Mr. Hynes cared deeply about the issue.
“This is an incredible success,” said Rhonnie Jaus, chief of his sex crimes division. “I know how many cases we used to have before that. When I say a handful, I mean a handful every single year. It’s ridiculous the difference we have that I see with my own eyes between before the start of Kol Tzedek and now.”
Asked whether the office was exaggerating the program’s impact, she said all of the victims involved took advantage of the program’s services. “Our numbers are not inflated,” she said. “If anything, they are conservative.”
Still, some who have urged more aggressive prosecution said Mr. Hynes was too beholden to ultra-Orthodox rabbis for political support.
Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University was one of the few victims’ advocates who attended the Hanukkah party in December.
“Basically, I looked around the room and the message that I got is: You are in bed with all the fixers in Brooklyn,” Rabbi Blau said. “Nothing is going to change, because these people, the message they got is: These are the ones that count.”
Potential Conflicts of Interest
David Zimmer was 25 when he groped a 9-year-old girl in a garage in Borough Park, court records said.
“She liked it,” he later told the police.
He then took two sisters there, ages 9 and 10. In August 1998, he was accused of raping the 10-year-old, according to court documents.
The police arrested Mr. Zimmer that year, but the case’s impact on the credibility of Mr. Hynes’s office resonates today.
Back then, prosecutors seemed in a strong position, with a handwritten confession from Mr. Zimmer. Initially charged with more than 24 counts of sex offenses, he pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse in the first degree and received five years’ probation.
Mr. Zimmer’s lawyer was Asher White, who is married to Henna White, Mr. Hynes’s longtime liaison to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Ms. White, an adherent of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement, makes $138,000 a year, more than most of Mr. Hynes’s prosecutors.
Ms. White organizes gatherings like the Hanukkah celebration, while overseeing the Kol Tzedek program. As a result, she has dual roles: she is supposed to encourage ultra-Orthodox victims to come forward despite opposition from some rabbis, even as she tries to maintain relationships with rabbis generally.
Ms. White and her husband declined to respond to questions about Mr. Zimmer’s case, or to disclose whether they had discussed it with each other. Prosecutors said Ms. White had no involvement, but entanglements like these have long raised questions about how Mr. Hynes handles prosecutions in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Hopes that probation and treatment would lead to the rehabilitation of Mr. Zimmer were shaken when new accusations surfaced: A prosecutor this month told a judge that while working as a locksmith in recent years, Mr. Zimmer went into homes and repeatedly molested children who lived there. The police discovered that he had kept a diary detailing the many times that he had abused children, the prosecutor said.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of sexually abusing four girls, ages 6 to 10. He is being held on $1 million bond. Ms. Jaus said the original plea agreement was the best that the office could do because the victims’ parents did not want them to testify.
“I have never received any pressure to do anything in a particular case,” she said.
But the father of the first 9-year-old, who said he never knew about Mr. White’s involvement, said he would have allowed his daughter to take the stand.
“The district attorney’s office called me and said this guy’s not 100 percent normal, so they were going to give him probation,” said the father, who asked not to be identified to protect his daughter’s identity. “If they don’t want to prosecute, what are you going to do?”
Mr. Hynes often describes how, growing up in the only non-Jewish family in his building in Flatbush, he spent the Jewish Sabbath turning on lights for his Orthodox neighbors, who could not perform such tasks under Jewish law.
When he was the only non-Jew in a four-way Democratic primary in his failed 1994 bid for attorney general of New York State, he placed advertisements in Jewish publications signed by more than 150 Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders.
“I’m really the Jew in this race,” he joked to a reporter for The Jewish Week. Referring to his opponents, he said, “I probably know more Yiddish than they do combined.”
Mr. Hynes’s attention to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has translated into votes. In 2005, when Mr. Hynes eked out a 42 percent to 37 percent victory in the Democratic primary for district attorney, he won in a landslide in several ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. In one election district in Williamsburg that is filled with Hasidic synagogues, Mr. Hynes pulled in 84 percent of the vote, according to election records.
The relationship has not always been smooth. He angered many of his closest ultra-Orthodox Jewish supporters in 1999 when he charged Bernard Freilich, a popular rabbi, with intimidating a witness in a sexual abuse case. Rabbi Freilich was acquitted the next year.
“I never knew of cases in which Joe Hynes bowed to community pressure,” said Aaron Twerski, former dean of the Hofstra University School of Law, who had served with Rabbi Freilich as community advisers to Mr. Hynes. “He would listen, and if there were merit, he might rethink something, but Joe’s his own man.”
Brooklyn’s highly cloistered ultra-Orthodox Jewish community — by some estimates, more than 200,000 people, the largest outside of Israel — would present challenges for any prosecutor. Informing on a fellow Jew to a secular authority is traditionally seen as a grave sin, and victims who do come forward can face intense communal intimidation to drop their cases.
In part for this reason, of the roughly 1,200 cases Mr. Hynes’s sex crimes unit handles each year, few until recently involved ultra-Orthodox Jews, though experts said the rate of sexual abuse in these communities was believed to occur at the same rate as in society over all.
But even when Mr. Hynes’s office did bring cases, they often ended in plea bargains that victims and their families believed were lenient. The Jewish Week, in a 2008 editorial, described Mr. Hynes’s attitude toward these cases as “ranging from passive to weak-willed.”
Rabbi Zwiebel of Agudath Israel defended Mr. Hynes’s record. “The D.A. has made a conscious effort to be sensitive to the cultural nuances of the different communities that he works with,” said Rabbi Zwiebel, though even he believes the names of those convicted should be publicized for the safety of the community.
Outreach Program Formed
Mr. Hynes seemed to turn a page in 2009 when he announced the creation of Kol Tzedek.
The announcement came in the wake of criticism after a 2008 plea deal he made with Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, a grade school teacher at a Flatbush yeshiva who had been the subject of sexual abuse complaints to rabbinical authorities for more than 30 years.
In the plea deal, which at least one victim’s father opposed, Mr. Hynes reduced two felony counts of sexual abuse to a single misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child. The rabbi received three years’ probation and was not required to register as a sex offender.
“That case really got the advocacy movement rolling,” said Mark Appel, founder of Voice of Justice, an advocacy group unrelated to the district attorney’s program of the same name. “People were so angry.”
Mr. Hynes’s aides said they had made more than 40 presentations to community members promoting Kol Tzedek. And of the few cases that yielded convictions that The Times was able to identify, the outcomes were roughly similar to cases involving offenders who were not ultra-Orthodox. Still, the new effort has not quieted the criticism.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor of constitutional law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, blamed Mr. Hynes for not speaking out against the ultra-Orthodox position that mandates that allegations must be first reported to rabbis. The position potentially flouts a state law that requires teachers, social workers and others to report allegations of sexual abuse immediately to the authorities.
She said Mr. Hynes was essentially allowing rabbis to act as gatekeepers.
“That’s exactly what the Catholic Church did, what the Latter-day Saints did, what the Jehovah’s Witnesses did,” said Ms. Hamilton, author of “Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children.”
Victims’ rights groups say Mr. Hynes has also failed to take a strong stand against rabbis and institutions that have covered up abuse, and has not brought charges recently against community members who have sometimes pressed victims’ families not to testify.
Ms. White, his liaison to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, said the district attorney had few options, in part because some victims declined to implicate those who threatened them, fearful that if they did, they would face even more pressure.
“I always feel so bad for those parents, because you watch the shock on their face when they find out that their child has been abused, and then they get all of the pressure,” Ms. White said.
Mr. Hynes’s refusal to publicize the names of people arrested through Kol Tzedek has deepened suspicions among victims’ rights groups, while winning praise from some rabbis.
“I think that’s where the rabbis put a little pressure on him,” said Rabbi Shea Hecht, an informal adviser to Mr. Hynes. “I know I went to speak to him about that. I said ‘Listen, you got to do the arrest, you go to do the investigation, but please don’t give out the names before we know if the man is guilty.’ ”
In response to a Freedom of Information request by The Times, Mr. Hynes’s office acknowledged that in the “vast majority of cases, the disclosure of a defendant’s name would not tend to reveal the identity of the sex-crime victim.”
But, the office said, because the ultra-Orthodox community is “very tight-knit and insular,” there is “significant danger” that disclosure would cause victims to withdraw cooperation, making prosecutions “extremely difficult, if not impossible.”
Several former prosecutors interviewed for this article said the policy seemed to make little sense.
“The idea is that the more information you give out, the more likely it is that victims might come forward with complaints,” said Bennett L. Gershman, a former Manhattan prosecutor who specializes in prosecutorial conduct at Pace University Law School. “So the idea that a prosecutor would conceal this kind of information strikes me as illogical, and almost perverse.”
Jo Craven McGinty, Griff Palmer and Tom Torok contributed reporting. This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:Correction: May 11, 2012A previous version of this article misspelled the surname of the executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America as Zweibel.