Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, top, and Rabbi David Zwiebel
According to a spokesman for Charles Hynes, “DA Hynes told Dovid Zwiebel [Agudah’s executive vice president] that it was a mistake to advise someone with information about child abuse to first speak with a rabbi,” the spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, told The Jewish Week. In doing so, Schmetterer continued, “Zwiebel … risks having the rabbi prosecuted for obstructing a law enforcement investigation.”
James A. Cohen, associate professor of law and the director of the Trial Advocacy Program & External Affairs at Fordham University School of Law, concurs with the district attorney’s position. “Encouraging delay in reporting a crime, particularly a crime against a child, is obstructing justice,” Cohen, an expert in witness tampering told The Jewish Week.
Some believe that the Agudah’s position in and of itself may constitute a crime, as Rabbi Zwiebel has made it clear that unless a person is a victim or a direct witness of sexual abuse, reporting allegations to the authorities without first seeking rabbinic counsel constitutes mesirah — a sin that was once punishable by death and today often results in threats, acts of intimidation and social ostracism.
According to Orthodox attorney and author Michael Lesher, “Under federal law, it is a crime to use the threat of force to interfere with someone’s right to the benefits of state law, including the criminal justice system, if you make that threat because of the victim’s religion. By invoking the language of mesirah — a religious offense that authorizes the use of deadly force against any Jew who ‘informs’ to the authorities — Agudah’s stated policy amounts to a deliberate call for the use of force to stop a Jew, because he or she is a Jew, from going to police against a rabbi’s instructions.”
As such, Lesher told The Jewish Week, this “could make Agudah complicit in a civil rights crime any time an Orthodox Jew gets a threat for talking to the police when a rabbi told him not to.” It’s an “appalling step for any Jewish organization to take,” he added.
By Hella Winston - The Jewish Week