NEW YORK (JTA) — FBI raids in the Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel are reportedly part of a child abuse investigation stemming from two recently released videos in which a yeshiva principal intimately touches two young boys.
The Journal News reported Friday that an unidentified law enforcement source said Thursday’s raids, targeting the United Talmudical Academy and the town’s public safety building, were investigating abuse allegations.
Kiryas Joel, in upstate New York, is an almost exclusively Hasidic community, with the majority of its residents part of a branch of the Satmar sect.
In a separate development, the leader of the Kiryas Joel Satmar, Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, recently spoke out against a bill proposed earlier this month in the New York State Assembly that would give regulators new tools to enforce laws requiring religious schools to teach secular subjects. Activists have recently pressed for greater enforcement, saying that inadequate secular education at some Hasidic schools makes it all but impossible for students to find jobs and support themselves as adults.
The Forward reported Thursday that Teitelbaum, in a Yiddish speech widely circulated on social media, claimed that enactment of the bill would destroy New York’s yeshivas.
“We should pray every day that these evil doers should not lay their hands on the Jewish children here in America,” Teitelbaum said, according to the Forward.
The FBI has not made public the reasons for Thursday’s raids in Kiryas Joel, although there had been widespread speculation that it was related to the videos of the 67-year-old principal at United Talmudical Academy kissing and touching two young boys.
In March, the FBI raided the village in an apparent investigation of potentially fraudulent use of the federal government’s E-rate program, which funds the purchase of technology equipment and Internet service by schools and libraries. A separate raid in March, in the Satmar community of Brooklyn, reportedly was over potentially fraudulent use of the federal government’s school lunch program.
The Journal News reported that FBI agents spent approximately four hours at each location it raided Thursday, leaving with boxes of documents and equipment.
The videos of the principal were reportedly taken several months ago using a ceiling camera hidden in his office. It is not clear who hid the camera and leaked the videos. According to The Journal News, the Satmar school’s board of directors issued a statement Tuesday defending the principal.
“While this type of restraint may be unacceptable to some viewers, it in no way rises to the level of a criminal assault,” the statement said.
The village of Kiryas Joel issued a statement Thursday saying officials there had “fully cooperated” with law enforcement officials while they were “onsite” at the public safety building, The Journal News reported.