A Williamsburg community activist who has spoken out frequently against child sexual abuse in the Brooklyn Orthodox community claimed Monday that his life had been threatened multiple times as a result.
Rabbi Nuchum Rosenberg claimed that the threats culminated last month when he was “shot” on Berry Street, near the Williamsburg Bridge by unknown assailants.
Speaking at a press conference outside the 90th Precinct Police Headquarters in Williamsburg, Rabbi Rosenberg complained that police were unable to protect him. He pointed to a scarlet wound seared in the middle of his forehead to indicate the spot where he was hit.
But in interviews he gave before and after the press conference, Rabbi Rosenberg said he was actually uncertain just what hit him on the forehead, saying it could have been a pellet gun or even a rock.
“A car flew by as I was walking, and I felt something hit me,” he told The Jewish Week. “I didn’t see what it was.”
Police sources confirmed Rabbi Rosenberg had filed at least three complaints about being harassed or threatened over the last several months. But he acknowledged that he filed a complaint about the attack on him last month several days after it had occurred. Rabbi Rosenberg said the assault took place on Oct. 16, the fourth day of Sukkot, but that he went to the police only after the eight-day Jewish holiday.
Rabbi Rosenberg, 58, said that prior to this incident he was threatened twice at gunpoint by an unknown person speaking Hebrew who warned him to close down a telephone hotline he operated. The Yiddish language hotline featured recorded messages on which Rabbi Rosenberg addressed a host of sensitive community issues, including child sex abuse, and on which he made often incendiary charges.
On one recorded message obtained by The Jewish Week, Rabbi Rosenberg denounced various individuals by name as an “extortionist,” and a “mafia thug.”
The hotline messages also offered educational warnings to children and their families about what to do if confronted by molesting teachers or other adults and advice on how to protect against it.
On both the recorded messages and at his press conference, Rabbi Rosenberg claimed that a group in the Williamsburg community known as the Meshmeris Ha’Tznius, or Guardians of Modesty, protected pedophiles and other sexual offenders in exchange for money.
“It’s a gang,” he said at the press conference. “They’re getting white envelopes with green leaves inside.”
Law enforcement officials and community leaders have long reported that victims of sex crimes in insular, ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn communities frequently will not go to the authorities, severely limiting their ability to investigate and prosecute such crimes. Most attribute this to social strictures and community and rabbinic pressures against turning to outside, secular authorities that would expose the community to external scrutiny on matters considered shameful.
State Assembly Member Dov Hikind says he has compiled dossiers of at least 1,000 cases of child sexual abuse in Brooklyn Orthodox communities, based on first-hand accounts of victims and their families who have come to him. Many involve molestation of children at the hands of yeshiva teachers and rabbis, he says. But “99 percent” will not go to the authorities, he told The New York Times.
Benzion Twerski, an Orthodox psychologist who agreed to serve on a community panel formed by Hikind to address the issue, resigned last September after one week, citing communal pressure on him and his family.
But at his press conference, Rabbi Rosenberg said that in exchange for extortion payoffs by perpetrators, Meshmeris Ha’Tznius in Williamsburg protected sexual predators from exposure and pressured the families of any victims that might think of going to the authorities not to do so.
On his hotline, “I said who they are and what they are,” he said. “I told the stories that they tried to extort $10,000 from this one and $10,000 from that one.
“I even told them stories that when a girl was raped, they went to the rapist and they took out the money from him, and they never gave help to the girl that was raped. They tell the father don’t you dare have anything to do with the people that are trying to investigate. It’s against the Jewish law.”
Rabbi Rosenberg’s claims could not be independently confirmed. But there is no doubt the hotline provoked a fierce firestorm of denunciation against Rabbi Rosenberg.
Last July, 33 rabbis signed a public condemnation of Rabbi Rosenberg published in Der Blatt, a Yiddish language weekly paper based in Williamsburg.
“He speaks all kinds of dirt that the mind can’t tolerate, that come from places that are impure and makes other people impure,” the ad said, warning readers not to call his hotline. “He should stop from his bad ways and shut his dirty mouth.
“This destroyer is like a stone that is thrown at the Jewish people, and his position is like a transgressor who makes the public transgress,” the ad said.
The rabbis stated that Rabbi Rosenberg should not be allowed to pray with any congregation and that no one should hire him as a consultant on the building of ritual baths, which is his profession.
Yitzchak Glick, a member of the Central Rabbinical Congress, a body that represents many of the rabbis who signed onto the ban, declined to comment about the decree or Rosenberg’s allegations.
Another tract, distributed anonymously throughout Williamsburg, depicted a twisting snake with Rabbi Rosenberg’s head superimposed over the serpent’s, his forked tongue sticking out.
“Cursed are you from every wild animal,” the leaflet decried, citing him by name. “The name of this evil person should be obliterated. Get out unholy one. Obliterate the snake (Nuchem Satan) from all corners of the world.”
The ad by the 33 rabbis and others signed by the “Meshmeris Ha’Tznius” denounced Rabbi Rosenberg as a moser, one who endangers a Jewish community by informing on it to secular authorities.
Historically, in the shtetls of Europe, when Jews were persecuted, someone found to be a moser could be put to death. But “there is a general consensus today that this doesn’t apply,” said Rabbi Mark Dratch of JSafe, a group dedicated to preventing child abuse and domestic violence in the Jewish community. “I would [assume] that none of these rabbis were literally calling for his assassination. That said, I am not saying that they did not mean to intimidate him. He was being intimidated.”