(JTA) — Joel Kolko, a Brooklyn rabbi who was accused of molesting students at the yeshiva where he taught for years, died of Covid-19 while in Israel, according to the New York Post.
The newspaper could not confirm his date of death but said he had been visiting Israel when he fell ill and died at age 74.
Multiple former students of Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn accused Kolko of molesting them over the years and, in 2016, the yeshiva paid $2.1 million to two former students who accused Kolko of sexual assault. The boys were 6 years old at the time of the abuse.
The lawsuits filed by Kolko’s former students claimed that the school knew about the assaults but kept Kolko on staff. (A 2006 New York magazine article detailed some of the accusations and noted that one attorney representing a victim had also been involved in lawsuits over the Catholic Church’s handling of child sex abuse claims.)
The school is currently facing additional lawsuits from other alleged Kolko victims who filed suit after the passage of New York’s Child Victims Act in 2017, which increased the window of time in which victims could sue for damages for assault that happened when they were minors.
The Post cited a notice for a Zoom memorial service announcing, “We regret to inform you of the passing of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko.” Vos Iz Neias, a charedi Orthodox news site, posted a simple announcement of his death on Oct. 23.
Whether Kolko’s death will impact those lawsuits was not immediately clear. “You have grown men who claim that 40 or 50 years ago something happened, and now the person alleged to have done it is not available,” Avi Moskowitz, a lawyer representing the yeshiva, told the Post.
But a lawyer for one of the victims told the tabloid it would not affect the case. “At the end of the day, there’s little denying Kolko did what he did. My client will testify,” said Niall MacGiollabhui, the lawyer.
In 2008, Kolko, also known as Yehuda, pleaded guilty to two counts of child endangerment and was sentenced to three years’ probation.
Under the plea agreement, Kolko, then 62, made no admission of sexual wrongdoing. He did not have to register as a sex offender, and pleaded guilty only to a misdemeanor — not a felony.