MONSEY — Concerned about drug use in the Orthodox Jewish community, more than 130 people have signed a petition urging Rockland prosecutors to take a hard line against a Monsey man charged with selling drugs.
The petition organized on the website change.org calls for prison time for Shlomo Ettlinger as a deterrent. The petition features a photo of Ettlinger and is signed by local residents and a dozen Orthodox rabbis, including those from the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Jewish Union.
Ettlinger, a member of the Nanach Breslov Hasidim, was charged in April with possessing two pounds of marijuana, 370 grams of hashish oil, a .357-calber Smith & Wesson with ammunition and $2,000 cash. The Ramapo police investigation led to the arrest of five people on minor possession charges involving the purchase of marijuana after a party at Ettlinger’s house on Blauvelt Road.
District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, who gets email updates on petition-signers, said the petition will not influence how the case will be prosecuted.
“We take all these cases very seriously, especially when the allegations include drugs and young people,” Zugibe said. “We consider multiple factors when assessing a case, but a petition is not one of them. This case will be considered on the merits.”
Ettlinger, an ordained rabbi, does not have a criminal record.
He has pleaded not guilty to felony counts of second-degree criminal possession of marijuana and fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.
He also was charged with a misdemeanor count of fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. The unlicensed gun, with ammunition in a bag, was found in his home.
Ettlinger could not be reached for comment. He is scheduled to appear in Ramapo Justice Court on July 9.
The larger concern for the petition-signers is drugs in the community.
Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz said the Orthodox Jewish community is not immune to drug use and other negative behavior. As founder of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and Center for Jewish Family Life in Monsey, Horowitz works with families and has several secular videos out on raising children and dealing with social issues.
“One of the drawbacks of our community, is people have a false sense of security,” Horowitz said. “People believe the insular nature of our community — and the beautiful components of strict family life — makes us exempt from world problems. We’re not. These are human issues and it only becomes a problem if we ignore it.
“The tendency is to circle the wagons,” he said. “We have to deal with these issues, whether its substance abuse or child abuse.”
There is a growing push to speak out against drug dealing in the community.
Ramapo Detective Sgt. Lynch said community complaints led to two months of surveillance of Ettlinger’s home at 61 Blauvelt Rd. He said five people were arrested on marijuana possession charges before Ettlinger’s arrest.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, who signed the petition, wrote: "Any person - Jew or non-Jew - who sells illicit substances to anyone should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and if convicted, sentenced to prison. Those who posit that Jewish law can be used to protect such miscreants know little about Jewish law, about life and about morality.”
The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America issued a statement reaffirming that “anyone with firsthand knowledge or reasonable basis to suspect child abuse or endangerment, or the sale of illegal drugs, has a religious obligation to promptly share that information with secular law enforcement.”
Yossi Gestetner, a political commentator and community spokesman, said any drug problem in the Orthodox Jewish community is very limited, saying the community’s focus on family and discipline helps people make positive decisions.
“Are there people in the community, youngsters who are confused without jobs, absolutely,” Gestetner said. “Anyone who says it’s widespread, that’s an exaggeration.”
By Steve Lieberman - Lohud