Sunday, March 6, 2016

UPDATED::The Shame of Borough Park

UPDATE::  If there is one thing I have learned over the course of 5+ yrs of blogging, I never get the full story.  There are always at least 2 facets to every story and with this update or addendum that tid-bit holds true.
Score For Chasidic Sex Abuse Whistleblower In Forward Suit  
The defamation suit concerns a 2013 article written by Paul Berger, “Sam Kellner’s Tangled Hasidic Tale of Child Sex Abuse, Extortion and Faith,” and a tweet, mistakenly referring to Kellner as a convicted extortionist.

The lawsuit alleges that Berger used an illegally obtained recording that had been and doctored by the Lebovits family to falsely claim that Kellner suggested to the family of a child molester that they could “buy off prosecutors” with Yankee tickets and other gifts.

It also claims that Berger falsely accused Kellner of “conspiring to commit extortion.” However, Kellner’s lawyer argues that when one listens to the entire recording, it is clear that claim is not true.

Lastly, it points to the tweet, which not only mistakenly refers to Kellner as a convicted extortionist but also went uncorrected for six days after the paper was alerted to the error.

The Forward sought to have the case dismissed on the grounds that the article was purely opinion, and thus protected speech. It also argued that the mistaken language of the tweet was inadvertent and not intended to defame Kellner.

James rejected the claim that the article was an opinion piece, but wrote that based on the evidence presented so far, the piece appears to be based on undisclosed and/or misrepresented facts. As for the tweet, James ruled that its “required intent cannot be determined on these motion papers.”

The judge also found that in its motion to dismiss, the Forward failed to prove that Kellner is a public figure rather than a private person, writing that he “was drawn into the public forum against his will in order to obtain redress for his son, and then to defend himself.” This is a key distinction because as a private figure, Kellner would have to show only that The Forward acted negligently rather than with actual malice. However, the judge also noted that this determination could change after the discovery period, during which witnesses are deposed, and more facts come into evidence.
This is a long read but worth every minute. Kellner risked everything to bring out the truth and his story highlights very well that religious communities are not always moral when they’re isolated from the rest of society.

Not only that but it demonstrates just how far some people will go to avoid facing justice and why separation of religion from government is so important.
The committee granted him permission, as long he had the approval of a rabbi. The rabbi would have to make an exception to the Talmudic prohibition against mesirah, the act of turning over another Jew to civil authorities. According to some interpretations of Talmudic law, a Jew who informs on another Jew has committed a capital crime. He is a “wicked man,” who has “blasphemed and rebelled against the law of Moses,” the twelfth-century Torah scholar Maimonides wrote. The law was meant to protect the community from anti-Semitic governments. Kellner said, “The way history tells it is that if a Jew was arrested he was thrown in jail and never heard of again.”
Kellner sought counsel from Rabbi Chaim Flohr, the leader of an institute where rabbinic scholars study how the teachings of the Torah translate to contemporary dilemmas. After listening to Kellner’s story, Flohr called the modesty councils in Borough Park and Williamsburg (where there are sixty thousand Hasidim) to see if other children had reported being molested by Lebovits. Flohr wrote in an affidavit that “numerous complaints and allegations of a similar nature had been made against Baruch Lebovits dating back over a long period of time.” Flohr told Kellner that he was justified in going to the police, because Lebovits could be considered a rodef, or pursuer, someone who is endangering the lives of other Jews. In a letter, Flohr wrote, “Behold I make known in the public arena: to praise an honest man, namely Mr. Shloma Aron Kellner, may his light shine, that how he acted in regards to the government was based on a query before a rabbinic court and was done according to our Holy Torah. . . . It is forbidden to trouble him or humiliate him.”

Aron had tried to leave the Hasidic community, but he struggled to assimilate into the secular world. Many of the yeshivas in Brooklyn teach in Yiddish and provide less than two hours of secular education a day. Aron had a heavy Yiddish accent, a rudimentary grasp of written English, and no diploma. In a video filmed by a friend, Aron complained about his limited education and social skills. He said that he didn’t know how to interact with women—he had been forbidden to mingle with them or look them in the eye—and no one had taught him “what your body is about.” He had struggled to process what was happening when Lebovits, a pious man, put his mouth on Aron’s penis. “My head, like, exploded,” he said. “Call it an epiphany, I guess.”
The Shame of Borough Park

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