Breaking Ranks

01.27.14

Rebel Rabbi Exposes Child Molesters

Hasidic Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg has faced ostracism and violence to expose child molestation in his Brooklyn neighborhood.

By Antonia Marrero and Adam Grannick for the Moral Courage Project

The choice to expose a pedophile is a no-brainer, right? Mostly.

But if your community believes that ‘informing’ on other community members is unthinkable, pedophiles are left free to continue preying on kids. In fact, pedophiles flourish in insular communities. And there are few communities more insular than Williamsburg’s rapidly-growing population of Hasidim, a branch of Orthodox Judaism whose name signifies piety.

Brooklyn’s neighborhood of Williamsburg is home to approximately 180,000 Hasidim. One of them is Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, and he’s on a mission.

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"Boys used to come and tell me that they go the ritual bath—they’re being sodomized,” the rabbi said. “Girls used to tell me that their father sleeps with them.” Faced with mounting reports of child molestation, Rosenberg founded a free hotline to inform his community about sexual predators, as well as how to get the police involved.

Other rabbis denounced the open condemnation of community pedophiles, labeling Rosenberg an “informer” against the Jewish people. The smear has given apparent permission for violence against Rosenberg himself. Fellow Jews have hurled rocks at him. One particularly nasty street ambush included having bleach thrown in his face, disabling one of his eyes for a time. Of all the synagogues in Williamsburg, the rabbi can count on one hand how many will let him enter to pray.

Irony is, Rosenberg has allies among the most learned and influential rabbis in Israel. They’ve not only affirmed his stance, but have further stated that it’s mandatory for Jews to report child abuse to the cops. Still, according to Rosenberg, local rabbis often broker deals whereby the accused pedophile will pay the victim’s family for their silence.

Yet, he insists, “You can’t make everybody quiet.” Hasidic Jews are starting to speak up, overcoming the cultural modesty surrounding sexual misconduct. Rabbi Rosenberg exemplifies a depth of moral courage that’s stronger than slander, equipping him to stand up for children despite the self-censorship of their own parents.

His hotline settles the question about where shame belongs in religious communities. It places blame squarely on predators instead of victims. This is how progress unfolds—not with ease, but with truth.