Sunday, April 13, 2014

Belatedly - A Wrong Has Been Righted

R' Aharon Kotler,ZTL - founder and RY of BMG
A source close to Rabbi S has informed me that he has been restored to his former position in Lakewood Yeshiva (Beth Medrash Govoha - BMG).

For those who don’t recall, Rabbi S was a Rosh Chabura (senior Talmud lecturer) and Bochein  (admissions - test administrator) in Lakewood.  His son was sexually molested by his Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Kolko, at the school he attended. Rabbi S followed the Charedi protocol of reporting the abuse to the rabbis in his community who deal with these things. He did not go to the police first. Those rabbis examined the case and determined that there was enough evidence (I believe he admitted it) to require Kolko to get counseling. Rabbi S was assured that this would continue and that the Rebbe would no longer be allowed to teach children.

Kolko went to a couple of sessions, and then reneged on his promise and quit. If I recall correctly he also continued teaching young students apparently without any rabbinic objection. When Rabbi S found out that Kolko quit his therapy - he went immediately to the police and reported the molestation.

All hell then broke loose. Rabbi S was vilified by many of the Charedi Askanim (community activists) in Lakewood. Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah VoDaath got involved in an ongoing smear campaign implying (in writing) that it was Rabbi S, not Kolko, that molested his own son! The constant harassment caused him to leave Lakewood. He relocated to Midwestern city where he continued disseminating Torah to great acclaim.

Meanwhile Rabbi Kolko faced trial, was convicted and sentenced to 15 years behind bars.  There were mea culpas by some of those Askanim who then realized they were wrong; that Rabbi S was right all along. I remember one particularly poignant letter that was made public. An activist made a profound apology - begging Rabbi S for forgiveness. I should note that Rabbi Belsky was not among those expressing any regret. He maintained Kolko’s innocence even after his conviction.

At about that time I made a public plea to the Roshei Yeshiva of Lakewood to give Rabbi S his old job back… that justice demanded that. I was told at the time that Lakewood Mashgiach, Rav Matisyahu Salomon was extremely upset and regretted  his own part in what happened to Rabbi S. Nonetheless nothing happened.

I should add that to his credit and despite his pain, Rabbi S did not want to hurt Lakewood Yeshiva by making noises about returning. He believed it was still a great Makom Torah and the last thing he wanted to do was to hurt it. When I inquired if I should proceed with a campaign to get him his job back, I was told that Rabbi S appreciated my concern but that he did not want to do that.

That was in October of last year. Now, 6 months later it happened. Better late than never, I suppose. I don’t know if any apologies were made – privately or publicly, but that too would have been the right thing to do. I can’t imagine the pain and embarrassment he and his family must have felt going through such an ordeal. To say nothing of what his son’s molestation has done to the family.

Why did it take so long? My source speculated that based on his knowledge about how the Lakewood community operates - that there were two competing forces pressuring the Roshei Yeshiva there.

On the one hand were the extremists on the right (who felt that Rabbi S was a Moser). On the other hand there were those (like me) who felt a great injustice was done that needed to be corrected.  The leadership at Lakewood were themselves divided on this issue. I’m glad to see that the right side of this issue has prevailed.

But I have to ask, how can anyone who is considered a rabbinic leader today, (and I would think the Roshei Yeshiva of Lakewood would be considered rabbinic leaders) look over their shoulders to see which way the wind is blowing?! How can they not make a decision based on what’s right without thinking about what the Askanim or the public would say? If you are going to look over your shoulder to see what others might say then you are not a leader. You are a follower. And who are you following anyway?

The model of leadership in the Charedi world should be Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. Even though I have disagreed with him on occasion (most recently about the Charedi draft issue) – he is a man that does not care what others think. He tells it like it is to whomever asks. No matter how unpopular his decision may be. That’s the mark of leadership. Looking over your shoulder? Not so much.