Charles Hynes Fires Back at Critics and Brooklyn Orthodox Leaders

Prosecutor Defends Controversial Sex Abuse Policy

Firing Back: Sensing his legacy at stake, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes fired back at critics in a landmark extensive interview.
shulamit seidler-feller
Firing Back: Sensing his legacy at stake, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes fired back at critics in a landmark extensive interview.

By Paul Berger

Published May 29, 2012.
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After — by his own admission — almost two decades of failing to adequately prosecute sex abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community, Hynes set up a special program called Kol Tzedek, which means “Voice of Justice,” in 2009. Hynes claims to have brought 99 cases as a direct result of the program.

Rhonnie Jaus
shulamit seidler-feller
Rhonnie Jaus

His refusal to name the people charged in those cases, plus his apparent tacit support of Agudah’s stringent policy on reporting crimes, led him into a hornet’s nest of criticism. Jewish publications, including this paper, have repeatedly hammered him over the issue. A recent series in the New York Times redoubled the pressure.

Zwiebel says that when he met with Hynes last year to discuss rabbinic involvement in the reporting process, Hynes did not find anything about the consultation process that was “inconsistent with the standards of secular law.”

But Hynes said he told Zwiebel that “advising rabbis to screen sex abuse is a mistake” not just because they have no expertise in the matter.

He also underlined that rabbis, or anyone else, who shield abusers, could face criminal charges. He added, however, that because there is no law stopping a person consulting their pastor he had “no authority to object.”

The post of district attorney is an elected position and Hynes has won lopsided electoral victories since taking office in 1989. Hynes’s seemingly cozy relationship with Orthodox leaders has led critics, including survivor advocates and legal specialists, to accuse the DA of tacitly supporting rabbinic involvement in return for the community’s block vote.

Hynes countered that it was “madness” to infer that he is “advising rabbis not to send information” to the authorities. He pointed to his memorandum of understanding with the Catholic Church that mandates priests must report abuse.

“Why in the name of God would I… then do it a different way with Orthodox Jews?” he asked.

He mocked critics who claimed he was beholden to Orthodox Jewish leaders, calling them ‘Alice in Wonderland.’

“Well I have a helluva way of showing my gratitude, don’t I, with 99 prosecutions,” he sharply remarked.

The prohibition in Jewish law against informing on a fellow Jew to the authorities, known as mesirah, is central to the issue of reporting abuse for ultra-Orthodox Jews.


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