Many in Baltimore’s Orthodox Jewish community thought the case against Rabbi Steven Krawatsky was closed.
Author Alison Knezevich
A 7-year-old boy at a summer camp in Adamstown had accused the popular teacher of sexual abuse, and he was suspended from his job at the private Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville. Two other boys later came forward with similar allegations. Frederick County prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to charge Krawatsky, and by early 2016, “Rabbi K” was back in the classroom, teaching Judaic studies to middle school students.
So it came as a shock in January when Beth Tfiloh fired Krawatsky and banned the 40-year-old father of four from the campus where he worked for nearly 15 years.
There had been no new allegations. Instead, school officials cited explosive details from the three cases published in January by a Jewish newspaper in New York.
Now the case, the latest in a series involving allegations of sexual misconduct by Jewish leaders in Baltimore, has divided the local Orthodox community and ignited a debate over how their institutions handle the issue of abuse.
Some ask why Krawatsky was allowed to work with children long after Child Protective Services said it had found credible evidence he abused two of the boys. (The rabbi appealed the findings, and the agency changed its position, saying it did not have sufficient evidence to indicate abuse.)
“This case shows a complete failure,” said David Ohsie, a friend of the father of one of the boys who alleged abuse. “It is clear that the system is broken.”
Others say Krawatsky has been falsely accused.
“One of the best rabbis I ever met!” one person wrote on the Facebook page “The Truth About Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky,” set up to support the rabbi, using his Hebrew name. “Rabbi K is an innocent man!” wrote another.
Krawatsky denies the allegations. He has filed a federal defamation lawsuit against the parents of his accusers and a New York activist who has spoken publicly about the case and is working with the families’ lawyer.
Krawatsky declined, through his attorney, to speak with The Baltimore Sun.
Krawatsky has not been charged with any crime. Police in Baltimore County, where Beth Tfiloh is located, said this week that they have not received any complaints about him.
Baltimore’s Orthodox Jewish community has been confronted over the years by several cases in which leaders were found guilty of sexual misconduct.
Rabbi Bernard “Barry” Freundel, who taught at Towson University, pleaded guilty in 2015 to 52 counts of voyeurism. He admitted that he videotaped dozens of women at the National Capital Mikvah in Washington. The same year, Frederick Karp, an Ohio rabbi accused of abusing a Baltimore County girl while visiting her family, pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a minor and third-degree sex offense.
In 2009, Rabbi Jacob Aaron Max, who had led the Liberty Jewish Center, was convicted of molesting a woman. In 2008, former bar mitzvah lesson teacher Israel Shapiro was found guilty of child sexual abuse and a third-degree sex offense.
And in 2007, years after his death, Rabbi Ephraim Shapiro, the former principal of the Talmudical Academy, was accused of abuse by former students in an expose published by the Baltimore Jewish Times.
Advocates for victims say leaders haven’t done enough to confront abuse.
“The knee-jerk reaction is to protect their reputation,” said Ben Hirsch, co-founder of Survivors for Justice, a New York-based advocacy group for Jewish victims of abuse. “Victims are intimidated. They’re discouraged from coming forward.”
The father of one of the boys who accused Krawatsky said that was his family’s experience.
“I had multiple leaders say, ‘Let’s just keep this quiet,’” the man said. “Even among people who believe our child and believe it happened — they still believe you’re not allowed to talk about it.”
He cited the concept of lashon hara — literally, “evil tongue” — speaking negatively about another person. In Judaism, it’s considered a sin.
The Baltimore Sun does not typically publish the names of alleged victims of sexual abuse. The Sun is not naming the father because it could identify his son.
The Baltimore Child Abuse Center is launching what it says is an unprecedented effort to help local Jewish organizations adopt new policies and procedures for preventing and responding to abuse.
Funded by a $300,000 grant from The Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Charitable Foundation, the center plans to help at least 30 synagogues, schools, camps and other institutions establish model child protection policies.
Adam Rosenberg, executive director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, said the “Blueprint for Child Protection” model will be adaptable to all types of organizations.
“The Baltimore Jewish community certainly has had its own share of high-profile incidents, but they’re not unique in that,” Rosenberg said. “There’s not a Baltimore Jewish problem. There’s a national problem.”