Lakewood Orthodox Jewish leaders want abuse accusations addressed
One man’s criminal accusation that a teacher molested his young son has widened the rift in the Orthodox Jewish community over where religious rights stop and the justice system begins.Some inside the tight-knit enclave praised the child’s father for bypassing religious protocols last year and reporting the alleged attack first to Ocean County prosecutors. Others believe he committed a sin because he failed to get permission from a rabbinic court before pressing charges against a fellow Jew.
"The first step is to go to rabbis,’’ said Rabbi Shmuel Meir Katz, a senior Dayan, or decider of Jewish law. He teaches at Beth Medrash Govoha, a yeshiva in Lakewood that is one of the foremost Jewish universities in the world. "We have our own system. We have our own laws, and as long as the Bais Din (rabbinical tribunal) feels competent on taking care of something themselves, that’s our surest recourse in our circles.’’
At the center of the controversy are the criminal charges against Yosef Kolko, 36, a former camp counselor and local yeshiva teacher. At his arraignment Tuesday, Kolko pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated sexual assault and child endangerment. The child was between 11 and 12 years old when the more than yearlong alleged abuse began in Lakewood, according to the indictment. The Asbury Park Press is withholding the father’s name to protect the child’s identity.
The case is a stark example of what Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford described as a "wall of silence’’ in the community that has made investigating crimes difficult.