Hasidic political power broker has inside access to mayor, new emails reveal
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An illegal school in the Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough was the target of a youth protection operation on Wednesday, led by Batshaw Youth and Family Centres with the help of the Montreal police.
The school is operated by the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community, apparently operating without an Education Ministry permit.
About 60 students attend the school, a three-storey brick building featuring a storefront with covered windows on Parc Avenue at the corner of Beaubien Street.
There was a heavy police presence at the school on Wednesday.
Dozens of Hasidic boys were seen exiting the school, using their hats to cover their faces.
Earlier, police escorted a group of a dozen women out of the school and to their cars. Some of them were holding folders, but neither they nor police would confirm if they were teachers in the school.
Youth protection officials had been attempting to arrange a visit to the school to assess the children and came with police Wednesday to gain access.
Officials from the school says they had been in negotiations with Batshaw about scheduling that visit when the raid occurred.
A community spokesperson told CBC the school never refused access to youth protection officials but could not say how long those negotiations had been going on.
Hershber Hirsch, a member of the school’s board, said the visit will take place “in the coming weeks.” He said the raid was not required.
“We are certainly not very happy with the trauma caused to the kids, which was not in any way necessary given our co-operation with the [youth services] up until now,” he said.
“We will surely continue to cooperate with them,” he said.
LostMessiah, March 24, 2016
The following article is being reposted from a post from 2006. The text where we picked it up is here. It is quite disturbing that it has been nearly 10 years since the article was originally written and little has changed. In fact, what was set forth in this article is more true today than it was then and still crime rates sore and the skill with which crimes are committed sharpen. Is it not about time that we do something to make a change?
The UOJ Archives – August 2006
By Joel Cohen
As a prosecutor and, more recently, a white-collar defense attorney in New York, I have witnessed a disturbing rise in crime among Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. When I broach the subject with Jewish friends, they say that writing about this subject will be “a disgrace to the name of God,” viewing the writing on the issue as the disgrace and ignoring the underlying conduct. They see Jews, particularly observant Jews, as a community that outsiders focus on in search of scandal and feel that exposing the problem will add fuel to the fires of anti-Semitism. I feel that this reasoning is wrongheaded: To ignore crime within our ranks does us a great disservice, both because it weakens us as a community and because tolerating it suggests to the outside world that Judaism does not promote a righteous moral compass.
A Growing Problem
There is no shortage of high-profile Jewish crime. Take the infamous New Square scandal, in which four Hassidim were convicted for defrauding the government of $11 million by setting up a fictitious yeshiva to receive federal student aid money. Or the case in Williamsburg, New York, in which the rabbi of a Jewish day school [Hertz Frankel of Satmar] stole 6 million dollars from the Board of Education over several years by falsely identifying more than eighty individuals as school employees.
The problem in the observant community, however, is not merely occasional, nor does it often make headlines. Daily, in metropolises around the country, yarmulka-wearing criminal defendants appear before the bar of justice. In the early 1970s, a particularly imaginative criminal defense lawyer in New York City successfully sued the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to provide kosher food for one or two of his incarcerated clients. The sad truth is that these days, kosher food has become as commonplace in many penal institutions as it is on airlines.
Today, every day in the minimum-security camp at the Otisville Federal Correctional Institution in Rockland County, New York, there are sizeable minyanim, three times daily. A full-time rabbi attends to the congregation’s spiritual and religious needs. Daily religious classes are offered. Shabbat and holiday meals are provided. There are so many observant inmates—inmates who were ostensibly observant at the time of their arrest, not those who “found God” after they broke the law, thereby increasing the numbers—that such provisions are now available at a number of other federal penal institutions. Anyone practicing in the justice system of a large urban metropolis with a significant Jewish population—New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, for example—has seen a similar trend.
These observant defendants are not typically charged with street crime or narcotics trafficking. The most common charge is fraud: against businessmen and run-of-the-mill citizens alike, most frequently involving victims outside of the Jewish community; against the government; against insurance carriers; against banking institutions; health care fraud; money laundering; and stock swindling.
Perhaps most disturbing is a new breed of fraud involving observant community leaders, sometimes rabbis themselves, and intended to benefit the community itself, such as fraud against government spending programs for education and health care. The perpetrators in these cases don’t typically profit personally, but the government and the intended recipients of these government programs are no less defrauded of funds designated for a particular use. And more often than not, the community, including its lay and religious leaders, stands up for the perpetrators by defending, or at least excusing, their behavior. For example, following the convictions of four Hassidim in the New Square scandal, Hassidic leaders defended President Clinton’s pardon of these individuals on the grounds that the stolen funds were funneled back into their community rather than into their own pockets.
The Key Question
Why is fraud so common in the Orthodox and Hasidic communities? Perhaps Judaism itself concentrates too heavily on technical observances designed to honor the Kingdom of God and not enough on a code of conduct honoring and respecting each other. Maybe the religion, as taught, isn’t sufficiently concerned with ethical precepts particularly with regard to faceless government bodies or individuals outside the fold. Even more disturbing, perhaps criminal, or merely unethical, behavior is simply not inconsistent with religious observance.
Whatever the reason, the ultimate question is simple: Do the religious obligations of Orthodox and Hasidic communities require their members to behave ethically in their everyday behavior, including in their dealings with everyone of every faith? Several responses to this key question will invariably invoke talmudic niceties, such as, “What do you mean by ethical behavior?” Responses of this nature highlight a root problem: talmudic exercises that can be used to rationalize misbehavior. Yet, these rationalizations find little support in the teachings of the Torah itself. Indeed, the Torah contains an explicit injunction against maintaining two weights, one large and one small—the biblical equivalent of two sets of books—declaring it an “abomination to God” to act with such weights corruptly (Deut. 25:13-16). How did we stray so far from such a clear anti-fraud philosophy of the Torah to the present-day efforts by some to defend fraudulent behavior with hyper-technical talmudic logic?
Consider this example: Money laundering did not violate American law until 20 years ago. Nor did it violate any specific biblical law, or post-biblical law, ever. But it now violates American law and is a very serious offense. Some, however, argue that even a serious violation of American law, such as money laundering, that is not also criminalized by the Torah does not require the observant community’s condemnation (e.g., “Our Higher Authority doesn’t itself forbid it”). Without question, a whole category of secular laws criminalizes conduct not proscribed by the Torah. And, in many instances, the proscribed conduct would not violate the morality of the Jewish religion or, for that matter, the state. Indeed, many are so-called victimless crimes.
It may even be that particular criminal statutes are discriminatory in their enforcement or affirmatively harm certain segments of society. This is not true, it is worth noting, of money laundering, insider trading, or criminal tax laws, which may be onerous in the extreme and sometimes unfair in their application, but not discriminatory, e.g., they were not enacted to “get” Jews.
There are certainly times when we are justified in disobeying the law. To invoke the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, there may be times when “if there is nothing worth dying for, there is nothing worth living for.” Some laws imposed by a secular government are so inappropriate—indeed, perhaps, although rarely, anti-Semitic—that the good citizen’s duty is to take the consequences and civilly disobey them in protest. Such laws are rare in post-World War II America. But engaging in civil disobedience to protest the repugnant law is not the same as simply breaking the law for monetary gain. If a law-abiding Jew disobeys a law to protest its unfairness, fully recognizing the consequences of his protest, one can argue that he remains an observant Jew.
Still, civil disobedience aside, if a statute exists on the books, there is a halachic consequence to violating it, however victimless or onerous it may be. This is true, however, even if the law is seen as designed to protect the financially entrenched against the outsider, and thus is itself immoral. Some observant communities have argued, for example, that the education finance regimes do not fairly address the financial needs of Jewish parochial schools, thus requiring extralegal machinations to level the playing field. “Extralegal,” here, though, really means illegal.
Jewish law, handed down through the generations through Maimonides, pronounces that “the law of the land is the law.” In other words, an act criminalized by a secular government is also prohibited by the Torah simply by virtue of existing under the secular law of the society in which we live. If we truly believe in that fundamental concept—for observant Jewry it should be as binding as a law appearing verbatim in written Scripture—it hardly matters that the particular law is not ethically based, does not violate a specific precept of the Torah, or may even be of questionable social value. If the Jewish or observant Jewish community believes that the law was enacted largely because that community does not have an adequate voice in government, it should get out the vote—not defy the law.
Finally, some may suggest that certain Jewish groups who emigrated from Eastern Europe were victimized there by anti-Semitic regimes, which makes their disrespect for secular rule of law understandable. This argument raises a bizarre affirmative action defense that seeks immunity from the laws of the United States for wrongs that the United States had nothing to do with. Regardless, the previously victimized community should take no solace in such an explanation, as there is simply no comparison between Poland in 1939 and America in 2004.
The Community’s Response
It is astonishing, sometimes, how the observant and Hasidic communities react to criminal charges by a superficially observant defendant. Often, those communities assume that anti-Semitism is the driving force behind an unfounded prosecution or that the defendant is being prosecuted (or persecuted) more severely because he is Jewish. Even after a guilty verdict or plea (which should remove any lingering doubt about guilt, as well as any claim of a frame-up), his community will frequently write supportive letters to a sentencing judge suggesting that this is simply aberrant behavior for “an otherwise observant Jew.” And that may be true—sometimes. For some, psychological or compelling financial reasons may induce one-time criminal episodes, contrary to how the individuals conduct otherwise exemplary lives.
But what about the habitual offender who leads an otherwise pious life? He is a regular attendant at minyan; he is meticulous in his kashrut observance; he joyfully sanctifies the Sabbath; he gives charity generously. He also, because it is simply the right thing to do, treats his employees well and is a dedicated and respected leader of the community. Nevertheless, he engages in fraudulent business practices, over and over—but he only cheats the government, non-observers, or non-Jews. Should the religious community that he comes from still stand behind this individual as an observant Jew or “an otherwise observant Jew”?
To be sure, this man deserves the emotional support of his family, friends, and even his community when he is in trouble with the law. We are a people proud of the traditions of forgiveness and repentance. Clearly, the members of his religious community, if they have something favorable to say to a judge about him, should come forward and not abandon him when he has fallen on hard times for his waywardness—especially if he demonstrates true acceptance of responsibility and contrition.
But his community also deserves something in these cases. It deserves the outspoken and unequivocal condemnation of the conduct as being contrary to religious observance. And for this condemnation to have any real impact on that community, it must come from lay and religious leaders within the community itself, who must acknowledge that religious observance is flatly incompatible with fraudulent behavior. Only with the open denouncement of wrongdoing from within the particular observant community can the community hope to demonstrate and protect the Torah’s commitment to honesty in one’s interpersonal dealings as being at least equal to, if not greater than, its commitment to technical observance of mitzvot. Indeed, frequently, the community and its rabbis stand behind the seemingly flexible rule that Jews may not testify against other Jews in a secular court, notwithstanding the seriousness of the offense—hardly a position calculated to encourage the denouncement of wrongdoing or scandal.
Thus, advocating leniency for an observant felon precisely because of his so-called piety as an “observant Jew” harms both the religion and the observant community by suggesting that religion allows for a divergence between piety and morality. Indeed, if this same yarmulka-wearing man were a completely honest businessman whose aberrant conduct was, instead, a weakness for shrimp, would the observant community refer to this man as an observant Jew or an otherwise observant Jew? Surely not! Is kashrut a more fundamental observance in Judaism than basic honesty?
Presiding over a case involving a Hasidic Jew who had pleaded guilty to burning down unoccupied buildings for insurance, Federal Judge I. Leo Glasser turned to the large number of Hasidim who had come to court in support of their fellow Hasid and said:
Some persons might characterize [your presence here] as being a chilul hashem [a disgrace to the name of God].… Sometimes one wonders whether … more emphasis is placed on form and not enough on substance….[T]he words that you recite three times a day and the code and the laws that you study should be thought of in terms of what those words mean and what they are intended to move us to do in terms of the kind of life we lead.
For a secular judge to have used the term chilul hashem in an American court suggests that he is speaking to the defendant as both judge and fellow Jew. His are words that we should all heed.
No matter how we try to justify it—whether as victimless crime, the result of past persecution, something that only affects “outsiders” while helping the Jewish community, a just response to unjust policy, or irrelevant missteps by the otherwise pious—criminal behavior simply cannot be condoned in observant Jewish communities. It undermines the foundations of what we believe, as well as damaging us in the eyes of the outside world. The disgrace of Jewish fraud is not only a disgrace against God, but also a disgrace to ourselves and each other. The Torah and Jewish teaching will give us guidance on how to live ethically, even in our complicated modern society, if we only listen to its truths. At day’s end, the burden lies with all of us. In the words of Edmund Burke, “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”
Joel Cohen, a former prosecutor, practices white-collar criminal defense law at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP in New York. He is the author of Moses: A Memoir.
Mitzva no. 614 of the Torah (negative commandment)
- It is forbidden for a Jewish woman to drive a car for behold, it is stated that it is immodest for a Jewish woman to show herself in public in the driving seat of a four-wheeled motorized vehicle.
- If she is married, she may travel as a passenger in her husband’s car. However, she may not sit next to him in the front for this is deemed immodest. Instead, she must travel in the back seat (whether or not there are any other passengers in the car).
- A woman may travel in her father’s car, but only in the back seat.
- If a woman needs to get from Point A to Point B, she may take a taxi, where she should sit in the back seat. However our sages do not deem it problematic if the taxi driver is a male, whether Jewish or not.
Puzzled? Yes, so was I when I first heard that women in two hasidic (ultra-orthodox) communities in upstate New York are forbidden from driving cars.
At first I thought I must have misheard. What, are you trying to tell me that there are women in 21st-Century, post-feminist American society who live in such closeted, fettered communities where their ‘modesty’ is called into question in such a dramatic way that they aren’t even allowed to drive a car, I asked in a state of near panic?
Yes indeed is the answer. In both Monroe, where a large Satmar community lives, and New Square, home to the Squarer hasidim (who famously have separate sides of the street for members of each sex to walk on), women are not permitted to drive.
I found this out through a frum relative of mine (let’s call her Tania) who is secretly teaching a wayward Satmar colleague of hers how to drive. She tells me that her colleague (let’s call her Suri) has slowly been coming to the mind-blowing realization that you can be a frum, halachic Jewish woman like Tania and alsodrive a car.
Let’s make things very clear: Suri still wants to lead an orthodox Jewish life. She covers her hair (but does not shave it) as halacha requires, she keeps Shabbatand kosher, she keeps all the laws of family purity, etc etc. Yet, as an apparently intelligent young woman, she’s realized that her community has extended Torah prohibition into the realm of pure societal customs and restrictions. And it is against these customs that she is now secretly waging her own personal war.
Indeed, it is the spurious conflation of these societal prohibitions or taboos – often involving dubious ways of repressing women in the name of modesty (women not driving, women having to shave their hair when they get married) – with real halachic prohibitions (such as not keeping Shabbat or kosher) that is the problem here. The women – and men – in these communities are not even taught the difference between real Torah prohibitions and community-specific interdictions. Thus, they grow into adulthood fully believing that if a woman learns to drive a car, she’s well-nigh breaking a Torah commandment.
So when you ask me what bothers me in this whole sorry story, it’s not just the feminist in me that protests (although believe you me, she’s raging mad), it’s also the Jew/person of religion in me that cries out against this insidious and entirely disingenuous slide within the orthodox Jewish world – and invariably in other faith communities too – that is allowing community leaders to create ever-more dazzling structures of power, control and prohibition under the guise of religious leadership.
Oh and a final word on Suri which really made me sink into despair. Apparently the hairband she’s been wearing on her sheitel (wig) which is two inches wide, as opposed to the standard community practice of four inches, is really rubbing people up the wrong way. Her mother reportedly called her up and asked her, in all seriousness: “Where have I gone wrong with you?”
In a post on onlysimchas.com posted February 3, 2016 and entitled
“HEAVY Speculation that Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz Involved In Closing Of Failed Messiah Blog
Rumors are flying around the Frum community, into what prompted Failed Messiah owner Shmarya Rosenberg to write a final post and say that he is closing his infamous blog down.
Strong speculation is that the noted philanthropist and leading Baal Tzedakah in Klal Yisroel, R’ Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz had a hand in the deal.
Failed Messiah is notorious for publishing anything that would make Frum Jews look bad. Every time an Orthodox man was arrested, even for a simple traffic infraction, it received a prominent article on the FM blog, along with 100 comments by hateful bloggers.
The rumors claim that allegedly Rechnitz was simply fed up with the amount of hatred towards his fellow Jews, and simply could not bear to watch it continue.
Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz has become a household name in Chesed, and has given hundreds of millions to charity in the past decade. His huge heart never stops helping broken souls around the globe.
Naturally, Rechnitz has used his wealth to make a Kiddush hashem on a massive scale, by not only giving to Jewish causes. A few months ago, Rechnitz was on national news after he paid $50 per meal for approximately 400 U.S. Soldiers in an airport in Shannon, Ireland. He saw them eating standard army food while all the other passengers in the terminal were eating in trendy and appetizing restaurants. Rechnitz then asked their commander if he can give them something extra.
This incredible Kiddush hashem is just a tiny glimpse into who this walking Kiddush Hashem of a man is.
Last week, Rechnitz made international headlines after delivering a speech at a dinner in Lakewood about the issue of children not being accepted into Yeshivas.
If Rechnitz had any hand in the deal to have FM pull the plug, his share in Olam Haba’ah will have just grown to an unimaginable level.”
Given the epidemic proportions of the sexual abuse of children within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and reports of human sex-trafficking, widely publicized between 2011 and 2015, little should be surprising. Human sex-trafficking within the ultra-Orthodox community of Israel, Canada and to some extent the United States, (as well as trafficking of body parts), has been widely publicized. The idea of importing women from places like Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe to act as genetic expansionists is, however, remarkably unsettling.
LostMessiah has been told by an unnamed source that members of the Satmar community of Kiryas Joel have been engaging in the practice of importing women from countries like Poland and Belgium to act as “genetic expansion tools” for the highly insular Satmar community. According to our source, this practice is an unspoken reality within that fundamentalist community in genetic preparation of the future of the sect.
In a scathing article which appeared in Newsweek on March 3, 2016 entitled “Child Abuse Allegations Plague the Hasidic Community“, quoted on this site and others numerous times, Elijah Wolfson addressed the issue of the ongoing sexual abuse of children within the ultra-Orthodox and fundamentalist Jewish community. Given the source, that article has been pivotal in terms of mainstream discussion of sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community. Despite the efforts of activists like Rabbi Nuchum Rosenberg, who has been speaking openly about the issue since he, himself, witnessed abuse in 2005, sinfully it has taken this long.
The world writ large and the Jewish community writ small, have been hearing about abuse for years. Few realized, as Rabbi Rosenberg pointed out, that approximately 1 in 2 children are abused within the ultra-Orthodox and fundamentalist Jewish community. We have only recently acknowledged that the problem extends worldwide, from New York, to Israel, to Australia, to London. Some have commented, though much to the politically-correct, or is it incorrect chagrin of Jews and Zionists worldwide, that Israel is the center of the Jewish sexual abuse problem, in large part because when an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man (or woman) is accused of sexual abuse, he (or she) runs to Israel to hide. The case of Malka Leifer, covered many times by Shmayra Rosenberg in FailedMessiah.com, is the prime example, particularly when Israel refuses to extradite her to Australia.
The fact is articles on the subject began coming out in 1998, or so. FailedMessiah, on February 2, 2016 had 2,446 posts categorized “Pedophilia and Related Crimes.” Yet, the subject of child abuse in the ultra-Orthodox, Agudath Israel and the fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox community has remained enshrouded in secrecy. Like the Catholic Priests, no one, Jewish or otherwise, was wiling to acknowledge the problem existed. Thanks, in part to Newsweek, it is hard to ignore.
Sex trafficking had been reported to us when we first started this site but we were reluctant to cover the topic. It was not until we noticed, lost within the groundbreaking Newsweek article, the mention of one Hasidic man who had been on trial for sex trafficking, that we decided to look into the possibility that our unnamed source could be onto something.
In a blogpost by Kevin Alfred Strom, article entitled, “The Informed – and the Informers“, from an American Dissident Voices broadcast of February 7, 2015, Strom discussed the various cases of sex trafficking within the Jewish community. He mentioned Rabbi Rosenberg’s estimate of one in two children being abused within the ultra-Orthodox fundamentalist community (though he doesn’t make the fundamentalist distinction that we prefer to make). Unlike Strom, we prefer it to be quite clear that not ALL Jews behave as described in his article. While his piece borders on “anti-Semitic tripe,” a critical description a Jew gave to his broadcast, (though that same Jew admitted to the truth and accuracy of the subject matter), we cannot ignore the content of the article, despite our dislike for its clearly Jewish hating stance.
Strom’s piece is anti-Semitic. The guy hates Jews. Unfortunately, he is using the worst behavior of a fundamentalist Satmar sect, and unrelated, the bad behavior of wealthy Jews and Hollywood and New York elite, as they relate to sex-trafficking, to come to his conclusions about Jews as a whole. His accounts were too well documents, however, to ignore.
There are accounts of Jews trafficking body parts by Ultra-Orthodox Jews. A well-publicized series of cases in 2009 brought these issues to light. It should not, then, be so surprising that human sex-trafficking is a problem within the ultra-Orthodox community.
In 2011, the Brandeis Hoot, in an article entitled, “Rabbi discusses human-trafficking trade in Israel“. While the reference here was to the use of brothels and prostitutes by ultra-Orthodox and Haredi men and Israel’s efforts at stopping the practice of sex-trafficking, the rabbi clearly acknowledged a problem.
On January 12, 2012, the Jerusalem Post reported that four men were convicted of sex trafficking.
On May 18, 2012, the Jerusalem Post reported that the ringleader of a sex-trafficking ring was given an 18-year sentence.
In 2014, in an article entitled, ‘Jewish Taliban’ Sect Suspected of Human Trafficking and Forgery, Haaretz newspaper reported that, “Disaffected members of the ultra-Orthodox sect Lev Tahor tell of teenage girls being wed to older men, coerced drug-taking and removal of children from their families.” According to this article, this practice was widely publicized in Canada, where it was occurring until the sect emigrated from Canada to Guatemala.
Since 2014 there have been only a few reports and other blog posts on the issue of sex trafficking in the ultra-Orthodox community. Shmarya broached the subject on FailedMessiah during and since that time. To our knowledge, what we have been told is a common practice in Kiryas Joel, has not received attention.
Our source tells us that girls from Poland and other European countries are being brought to the United States, specifically Kiryas Joel, to increase the gene pool of the ultra-Orthodox fundamentalist Satmar community. Any information on this subject would be greatly appreciated.