Case of Rabbi Bernard Freilich

Acquitted of death threats to an alleged incest survivor

1995 - Rabbi Bernard Freilich, administrator of the Council of Jewish Organizations in Boro Park, told The New York Times that "people are outraged at these charges. They are unbelievable, impossible nonsense. It is impossible that an Orthodox Chassidic person would even speak to a female, much less touch her."

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Table of Contents:  



  1. Two Rabbis Are Charged In Sexual Abuse on a Plane  (06/02/1995)

  2. Grand jury to hear sexual misconduct case involving rabbis (06/06/1995)


  1. Officials Seize Records Of Jewish Charity Group (11/20/1996)


  1. Brooklyn Rabbi Charged With Witness Tampering  (05/16/1999)

  2. Rabbi on state police payroll  (05/27/1999)
  3. A prominent Hasidic rabbi has been charged with making death threats  (06/23/1999)
  4. Rabbi Is Charged With Threatening a Witness in a Rape Case (06/23/1999)
  5. N.Y. rabbi accused of death threats  (07/09/1999)
  6. Rabbi's Lawyer Expects to Face Charges in Death Threat Case  (07/14/1999)
  7. 2 Lawyers Join 2 Rabbis Accused of Tampering  (07/15/1999)
  8. Lawyers charged in probe of rabbis  (08/06/1999)


  1. Rabbi Is Acquitted In Death Threat Case  (03/07/2000)

  1. Orthodox Jews, Angered Over Recent Cases, Up in Arms Against Brooklyn D.A.  (03/15/2000)
  2. Brooklyn rabbi acquitted  (03/16/2000)

Also see:  

  1. Case of Rabbi Yehudah Friedlander

  2. Case of Rabbi Yisrael Grunwald

  3. The Awareness Center's Brochure  

  4. Rabbis, Cantors and Other Trusted Officials

  5. Offenders: Problems Our Parents Wouldn't Speak Of

  6. Recidivism of Sex Offenders  (U.S. Department of Justice: Center for Sex Offender Management)


Two Rabbis Are Charged In Sexual Abuse on a Plane


New York Times - June 2, 1995

The chief rabbi of a Hungarian Hasidic congregation in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and his assistant rabbi were charged in Los Angeles yesterday with sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl on a flight from Melbourne, Australia, where the men had been on a lecture tour. The rabbis denied the allegations.

The suspects, Rabbi Israel Grunwald, 44, the head of Congregation Tuldos Yakov Yosef, and his assistant, Rabbi Yehudah Friedlander, 44, were arrested as they stepped off a plane at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday on the basis of a complaint made during the flight by a sobbing girl and radioed ahead, Federal officials said.

Arraigned in Los Angeles yesterday before a United States magistrate, Carolyn Turchin, Rabbi Grunwald was released on $10,000 bail for a June 21 preliminary hearing on a Federal charge of sexually touching a minor, an offense with maximum penalties of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Rabbi Friedlander, who was charged with more extensive sexual abuse, was held for further investigation after the court was told he had admitted some of the acts to Federal agents, though contending that the girl had encouraged him, and that Rabbi Friedlander had pleaded guilty to a charge of third-degree sexual abuse in Monticello, N.Y., in 1991. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years and a $250,000 fine.

Neither suspect entered a formal plea during the hearings, which were attended by dozens of rabbis from Los Angeles and New York in support of their colleagues. But outside the court, Mitchell Egers, a lawyer representing both men, said his clients vehemently denied the charges.

"These are fine, decent, moral men, highly respected and looked up to by thousands of people in their community," Mr. Egers said. He said neither rabbi knew the girl, who is American, and he called the case "a mixup" and said he was "confident that the truth will emerge and that we'll all be happy."

Rabbi Bernard Freilich, administrator of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Borough Park, which represents 250 Jewish congregations, said Rabbi Grunwald was the son of Josef Grunwald, the late Grand Rabbi of the Pupa Hasidim, who transplanted Holocaust survivors from Pupa, Hungary, to Brooklyn after World War II.

Today, the sect has more than 12,000 members in Monsey, N.Y., Montreal, London and Jerusalem, as well as in Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn. Yakov Grunwald, the founder's eldest son, is the Grand Rabbi and head of the Williamsburg community, and Israel Grunwald leads several hundred families in Borough Park.

The acts were said to have occurred on United Air Lines Flight 842 over the Pacific. Federal prosecutors, who assumed jurisdiction under laws governing United States aircraft in flight, said the girl, whose name was withheld because of her age -- she turned 15 during the flight -- had accused Rabbi Grunwald, after first engaging her in conversation, of reaching across an empty seat, placing his hand under her shirt and touching her breast.

The girl's detailed complaint said Rabbi Friedlander, who had been sitting on the far side of his colleague, exchanged seats with Rabbi Grunwald, and made a series of unwanted approaches while the cabin lights were dimmed for movies and rest periods during the long overnight flight.

She said he forced his hand under her clothing and touched her breast repeatedly and her vagina, despite her pleas for him to stop and her efforts to push his hand away. The girl said she finally began sobbing and retreated to the lavatory.

An affidavit by Mark Van Steenburg, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's senior agent at the Los Angeles Airport, said that another passenger, Sheila Myers, seated across an aisle just forward of the girl, told him she saw Rabbi Friedlander grope the girl for five to eight minutes under a blanket and alerted the flight crew.

Mr. Van Steenburg said Rabbi Friedlander told him the girl had put his hand on her breast twice, and on her pelvic area. "I did it, I shouldn't have done it, but it happened," the agent quoted the rabbi as saying.

The allegations stunned the rabbis' colleagues, neighbors and members of their community in Borough Park, many of whom called the actions unthinkable and the charges unbelievable, possibly trumped up by the teen-aged girl. They also complained that the rabbis, who were dressed in their traditional black garb and wore beards and sidecurls, had been humiliated by Federal agents who handcuffed them as they stepped off the plane.

"It's the most shocking thing I could ever think of," said a neighbor of Rabbi Grunwald, who lives with his family above his synagogue at 1137 53d Street.

Rabbi Freilich spoke of "tremendous anger in the Jewish community" over the charges, and said: "It is impossible that an Orthodox Hasidic person would even speak to a female, much less touch her. Our information is that she was trying to get into a conversation with them. To us, it looks like she drummed up a charge."


Grand jury to hear sexual misconduct case involving rabbis


Jewish Telegraphic Agency - June 9, 1995

LOS ANGELES -- Federal authorities will decide next week whether to seek indictments of a respected Chassidic rabbi and his assistant, both of whom have been charged with sexually abusing a 15-year old girl on a flight from Australia to Los Angeles.

The assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, Joel Thvedt, said he intended to present the case to a grand jury, which would decide whether to prosecute.

The accused are Rabbi Israel Grunwald of Brooklyn, a leader of the Hungarian Pupa Chassidim, and his assistant, Yehudah Friedlander, both 44 years old.

Their arrests have sparked outrage in the Chassidic and Orthodox communities of New York, while Los Angeles rabbis moved quickly to aid their colleagues.

Both of the accused have vehemently denied the charges, according to their attorney, Mitchell W. Egers.

After a hearing here June 2, U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Turchin released Grunwald on $10,000 bail. He immediately flew back to New York.

Grunwald, charged with sexually touching a minor, faces a maximum of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine if he is convicted.

Friedlander remained in detention over the Sabbath and the Shavuot holiday, despite Egers' protests. He was being held pending clarification of the disposition of a 1991 arrest in New York state, in which he was charged with a sexual offense.

On Tuesday, Turchin denied a cash bail to Friedlander, calling him "a danger to society."

The judge said Friedlander only would be released if someone put up his or her house with equity valued at least at $100,000.

If convicted, Friedlander, who was charged with more extensive sexual abuse, faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Friedlander has been identified in the media as a rabbi or "assistant rabbi," but according to Egers and New York sources, he is actually a non-rabbinical assistant.

A nine-page affidavit submitted to the court by an FBI agent, which cites statements by the young girl, a witness on the plane and Friedlander, alleges a number of occurrences during the long United Air Lines overnight flight.

The girl, an American traveling alone, accused Grunwald of leaning across an empty seat and, following some conversation, touching her necklace and fondling her breasts.

At some point, Friedlander allegedly exchanged seats with Grunwald, and while the cabin lights were dimmed, Friedlander allegedly groped and fondled the girl's private parts and breast for some five to eight minutes, the complaint charged.

The teenager told authorities that she tried to fend off the advances but was too embarrassed to call for help. However, a woman passenger observed the alleged incident, talked to the girl and then notified the flight crew, which radioed a report to authorities.

When the plane landed in Los Angeles, FBI agents, who assumed jurisdiction under the laws governing American aircraft in flight, arrested the two men.

One agent quoted Friedlander as telling him that it was the girl who initiated the advances, adding that "I shouldn't have done it, but it happened."

Egers said Friedlander was "in a state of shock and deeply upset that the whole Jewish world" knows about the accusations.

Egers, a veteran trial lawyer with close ties to the Orthodox community, said when he and his two clients appeared in court last week, he was "besieged by armies of reporters, with just about all the media from New York and Los Angeles on hand." For a day, "we were bigger than the O.J. Simpson case."

Reaction to the arrests was sharpest in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, where Grunwald serves as rabbi of Congregation Tuldos Yacov Yosef.

Rabbi Bernard Freilich, administrator of the Council of Jewish Organizations in Boro Park, told The New York Times that "people are outraged at these charges. They are unbelievable, impossible nonsense. It is impossible that an Orthodox Chassidic person would even speak to a female, much less touch her."

Rabbi Abner Weiss of the Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills took a less categorical view. He was being installed as the new president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California when he received word of the arrests.

In his first act in office, Weiss conferred with Aaron Kriegel, a Conservative rabbi who serves as prison chaplain, to assure that the two Chasidim would receive kosher food. Weiss said he personally bought loaves of challah for Grunwald and Friedlander.

Without passing judgment on the case, Weiss, who holds a graduate degree in psychology, noted that, in general, "Jews are not immune to any kind of illness, physical or mental."


Officials Seize Records Of Jewish Charity Group


New York Times -  November 20, 1996

Federal and city agents seized records from a politically influential social-services group in Brooklyn yesterday, and an investigator said they were examining whether government money and charitable contributions to the group had been illegally diverted for other uses.

The group, the Council of Jewish Organizations of Borough Park, whose programs include job training and aid to local businesses and immigrants, has long been an essential stop for politicians seeking support from Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn.

Yesterday, agents from the Internal Revenue Service, the Postal Inspection Service and the city's Department of Investigation arrived at the group's headquarters at 5224 13th Avenue, in the bustling commercial heart of Borough Park, and carted off dozens of boxes of records and files, as bystanders gathered on the street outside.

The executive assistant United States Attorney in Brooklyn, William Muller, would say only that ''a search warrant from this district was executed this morning at the offices'' of the council, which is widely known in Borough Park as COJO. But Mr. Muller declined to provide any other information, saying that the court papers submitted to support the request for a search warrant were sealed.

Another official involved in the investigation, however, who insisted on anonymity, said, ''There are allegations that charitable contributions and Federal and state money that went into the council were being used for personal expenses.''

The official declined to say who might have misappropriated the money, saying only, ''We're looking at a number of people.''

The council has close links to Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat, who represents the area. He has obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in state money for the council and its affiliates, which in turn have doled out lucrative consulting contracts to Mr. Hikind's aides, political advisers and at least one of his relatives.

The official who spoke on condition of anonymity said it would be unfair to describe Mr. Hikind, or any other individual, as a target of the investigation, which he described as in an early stage.

Mr. Hikind issued a statement through his office yesterday that said: ''COJO is a communal organization affiliated with the Borough Park community for over 20 years. Until the investigation is completed, I have no further comment.''

Last summer, the Assemblyman said that once he obtained state money for the council, he did not monitor how the organization spent it, but that he thought that the money had been used properly for charitable works. He also termed preposterous any notion that he expected the council to provide jobs for his aides in return for the funds. Nonetheless, he said, he would no longer allow people in his office to work for the council.

The only official of the council who could be reached yesterday, Rabbi Bernard Freilich, the director of administration, said he had no idea what the investigators were looking for yesterday and what records they took. ''I wasn't there,'' he said.

Among those who could not be reached at the council's offices or at their homes were the council's executive director, Rabbi Morris Shmidman.

The council coordinates the work of 200 Jewish organizations in Borough Park, a stronghold of Orthodox Jewish life in New York City. The council's events have long drawn candidates for office, who are well aware of the strong voter turnout among Orthodox Jews in the city, and its officials enjoy good relations with elected officials from City Hall to Albany to Washington.

When he was running for mayor three years ago, for example, Rudolph W. Giuliani spoke before the council. At its annual awards dinner in 1989, Mayor Edward I. Koch, in an unsuccessful campaign for re-election, gave the keynote address, while two Democratic rivals, David N. Dinkins, who defeated him that year, and Richard Ravitch, were also on hand.

Politicians have not been the only ones the council has helped.

Inside its building yesterday evening, classes in English were being held for immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Others in the area also spoke of what it had done for them.

''They helped me find a job in a camera store,'' Stanley Goldstein, 40 years old, said after the Federal and city investigators had left with the records.

''It's a place you go to for help,'' he added. ''As far as I know, it was a good organization.''


Brooklyn Rabbi Charged With Witness Tampering

New York Times - May 16, 1999

A prominent Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn has been accused of making death threats against a woman scheduled to testify against her father on rape charges, law enforcement officials said yesterday.

The rabbi, Bernard Freilich, was charged with misdemeanor witness tampering on Thursday, said Kevin Davitt, a spokesman for the Kings County District Attorney's office. Mr. Davitt added that prosecutors would seek to upgrade the charge to a felony next week.

Prosecutors at his arraignment could have already charged Rabbi Freilich with the felony. But Mr. Davitt said that they chose to wait because the police in Borough Park, where the rabbi lives, insisted that he be charged with a misdemeanor.

Marilyn Mode, a spokeswoman for the Police Department, refused to comment on Mr. Davitt's statement, except to say, ''It is the District Attorney who decides the charges.''

Rabbi Freilich, who has been active in political and civic issues in Borough Park and is a special assistant to State Police Superintendent James McMahon, went to the woman's home in Borough Park on April 25 and warned her that she ''would end up in the cemetery'' if she testified against her father, according to officials with the Kings County District Attorney's office. Rabbi Freilich pleaded not guilty to the charges during his arraignment on Thursday.


Rabbi on state police payroll

River Reporter - May 27, 1999

ALBANY -- New York State has been paying a Brooklyn rabbi $76,000 a year as a "spiritual advisor" to the state police, according to a Times Herald-Record report.

Rabbi Bernard Freilich was paid by the Health Department and drove an unmarked state police car, but neither agency is saying exactly what he was doing.

Others say the rabbi acted as cultural and language interpreter for the Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, but no similar interpreters are maintained for other religious or cultural groups.

Freilich was recently suspended from the job after New York City police charged him with intimidating a woman who planned to testify in support of her charge that she was raped by her father.


A prominent Hasidic rabbi has been charged with making death threats

Associated Press - June 23, 1999

NEW YORK CITY — A prominent Hasidic rabbi has been charged with making death threats against a 22-year-old woman to keep her from testifying that her father raped her as a child.

Rabbi Bernard Freilich, 47, allegedly went to the woman's home earlier this year and told her he "would teach her a lesson and send her to the cemetery" if she took the stand, court papers said. A grand jury indicted Freilich on felony charges of witness-tampering, witness intimidation, and harassment. If convicted, he would face up to 4 years in prison.

Freilich had pleaded not guilty in May to misdemeanor charges in the same case. His lawyer said he will enter the same plea when he's arraigned on the more serious charges next month. The attorney described his client as a community leader who prides himself on his connections to law enforcement. Before he was first charged, Freilich had been a special assistant to a superintendent in the New York State Police.

The lawyer said Freilich does not know his accuser, whose name was not released. But prosecutors have said the rabbi and the woman's father are close friends. The father was charged in Feb. with first-degree rape, incest, sex abuse, and harassment in the pending criminal case. He was arrested again on April 22 after allegedly violating an order of protection by pounding on his daughter's door and warning her it would be her last day unless she withdrew her accusations.

Prosecutors say that three days later — with the daughter about to testify before a grand jury — Freilich went to her home and threatened her; allegedly repeating the threats the next day. Another Borough Park man also has been charged with trying to get the woman to drop the charges


Rabbi Is Charged With Threatening a Witness in a Rape Case


New York Times - June 23, 1999

A prominent Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn was indicted yesterday on felony charges that he made death threats against a woman scheduled to testify that her father had repeatedly raped her as a child, officials with the Kings County District Attorney's office said.

The rabbi, Bernard Freilich, 47, of Borough Park, was charged by a grand jury with witness tampering, witness intimidation and harassment, said Kevin Davitt, a spokesman for the District Attorney's office. If convicted of the most serious charges -- tampering with a witness and intimidation of a witness -- Rabbi Freilich could spend up to four years in prison, Mr. Davitt said.

Noting that Rabbi Freilich had previously pleaded innocent to misdemeanor charges of the same crimes, the rabbi's lawyer, George Meissner, said his client would also plead innocent to the felonies. He is to be arraigned in about two weeks.

''He's not guilty, absolutely not guilty,'' Mr. Meissner said, adding that the community supports his client. He said he did not know whether the father and daughter were members of the rabbi's congregation. Prosecutors said the rabbi and the father were close friends.

Mr. Meissner said that his client had repeatedly offered to take a polygraph test, if his accusers would do the same.

''Why these people picked on him, I have no idea,'' he said.

Mr. Davitt noted yesterday that the results of polygraph tests are not admissible in court. ''It would have no value to either party,'' he said.

According to prosecutors, on April 25, Mr. Freilich went to the home of the woman, whose name was not released, and warned her that she ''would end up in the cemetery'' if she testified against her father.

The father was charged on Feb. 28 with first-degree rape, incest, sexual abuse and harassment. Prosecutors said he repeatedly molested his daughter over several years. The father was arrested again in April and charged with witness tampering and criminal contempt. Despite a restraining order, prosecutors said, he pounded on his daughter's door, yelling that unless she took back the charges, it would be her last day on earth.

Prosecutors said Pinchas Shor, another prominent member of the Borough Park neighborhood, has also been charged with witness tampering in the case.

Asked why Rabbi Freilich was not originally charged with felony counts, Mr. Davitt said that police officials at the 66th Precinct station house in Borough Park had been insistent that the charges remain misdemeanors. Mr. Davitt declined to speculate on their motivation.

Before he was charged, Rabbi Freilich had been a special assistant and spiritual adviser to Superintendent James McMahon of the New York State Police. He has been suspended without pay, according to the state police and his lawyer.


N.Y. rabbi accused of death threats

JTA - July 9, 1999

NEW YORK (JTA) -- A New York grand jury late last month indicted a rabbi on charges that he made death threats against a woman scheduled to testify that her father had raped her as a child.

Bernard Freilich of Boro Park, Brooklyn, is scheduled to be arraigned this month on felony charges of witness tampering, witness intimidation and harassment.

A lawyer for Freilich, who has been suspended from his job as special assistant and spiritual adviser to the New York state police, said he would plead innocent to the charges. The woman's father has been charged with first-degree rape, witness-tampering and criminal contempt.



Rabbi's Lawyer Expects to Face Charges in Death Threat Case


New York Times - July 14, 1999

The lawyer for a Brooklyn rabbi charged with making death threats against a woman scheduled to testify in a rape case expects to be indicted today, the lawyer's attorney said last night.

The lawyer, George S. Meissner, does not know what the charges are, only that ''an indictment will be unsealed,'' said his attorney, Benjamin Brafman. But a person familiar with the case against the rabbi said that the charges against Mr. Meissner stemmed from the case involving the rabbi and might include conspiracy. The Brooklyn District Attorney's office declined to comment.

Mr. Meissner, a prominent, politically active lawyer with close ties to the Orthodox Jewish community, is defending Bernard Freilich, a rabbi in Borough Park who was indicted last month on charges of witness tampering, witness intimidation and harassment.

Prosecutors say that in April, Mr. Freilich went to the home of a woman who was scheduled to testify that her father had repeatedly raped her when she was a child and told her she would ''end up in the cemetery'' if she testified. Mr. Freilich was arraigned yesterday.

Mr. Brafman said that whatever the charges against Mr. Meissner turned out to be, he was not guilty.

''All I can say is that Mr. Meissner is one of the most respected, talented lawyers in the city and this has got to be a terrible mistake,'' Mr. Brafman said. ''We are confident that when all the facts come out, he will be completely vindicated.''

Mr. Meissner, who has been a lawyer for more than 40 years, is known for his work in several high-profile cases. He was the lawyer for the Council of Jewish Organizations of Borough Park, a powerful vote-producing group.

Mr. Meissner was also a longtime paid director of the state Division of Servicemen's Voting until he resigned in 1991 under pressure from Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.

In another political era, he was the lawyer and associate of Meade Esposito, the longtime Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman.



2 Lawyers Join 2 Rabbis Accused of Tampering

New York Times - July 15, 1999

Two lawyers were charged yesterday in a widening witness-tampering case involving a Brooklyn man accused of raping his daughter.

The lawyers, George Meissner and Richard Finkel, pleaded not guilty to conspiring to intimidate the woman who accused her father of rape. Prosecutors say the lawyers were acting on behalf of a client, Rabbi Bernard Freilich. Rabbi Freilich is one of two rabbis previously charged with threatening to harm the woman, who is 22, if she testified against her father, a member of Borough Park's Orthodox Jewish community.

The father was charged last February with first-degree rape, incest and sexual abuse for attacks that prosecutors say occurred in 1996 and 1997. He was arrested again on April 22 on charges that he violated an order of protection by pounding on his daughter's door and warning her that it would be her last day unless she withdrew her accusations.

An indictment alleges that Mr. Meissner and Mr. Finkel arranged a meeting with the woman in May in which Mr. Meissner told her that if she did not drop her accusations, she ''would be punished for unrelated matters.''


Lawyers charged in probe of rabbis

JTA - August 6, 1999

NEW YORK (JTA) -- Two lawyers were among those charged last month with conspiring to intimidate a witness in a widening incest-rape case involving two rabbis in Brooklyn.

George Meissner and Richard Finkel previously represented Rabbi Bernard Freilich, who is accused of attempting to prevent a woman from testifying that her father repeatedly raped her when she was a child. Freilich and Rabbi Pinchas Shor pleaded not guilty to separate charges last month.


Rabbi Is Acquitted In Death Threat Case

New York Times - March 7, 2000

A prominent Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn was acquitted of felony charges yesterday that he had made death threats against a young woman who had accused her father of raping her.

The rabbi, Bernard Freilich, 48, of Borough Park, was charged with witness intimidation and witness tampering last June after prosecutors presented evidence that the rabbi had gone to the woman's home in April and warned her that she would ''end up in the cemetery'' if she testified against her father.

During the jury trial in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, the prosecutors tried to show that Rabbi Freilich had been close friends with the father of the young woman, who told the Brooklyn district attorney's office that she was raped in 1997. Rabbi Freilich's lawyer, Peter R. Schlam, contended that his client was not friends with the man and thus had no motivation to have threatened her.

Two lawyers, George S. Meissner and Richard Finkel, and three other men continue to face charges of witness tampering; they are suspected of trying to prod the woman's husband into dropping charges. Another rabbi, Pinchas Shor, is facing charges of having threatened the woman. The woman's father is awaiting trial.


Orthodox Jews, Angered Over Recent Cases, Up in Arms Against Brooklyn D.A. - Hynes and His `Haman'

by Rebecca Segall

Village Voice - March 15 - 21, 2000

Influential Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn are calling for the removal of District Attorney Charles J. Hynes following the acquittal last week of Bernard Freilich, a prominent Hasidic rabbi, on charges of witness tampering. Coming in the wake of a grand jury's failure to indict four cops accused in the killing of Gidone Busch in Boro Park last year, the Freilich prosecution is seen as the latest in a series of wrongs directed against the Orthodox community.

In the Freilich case, an immigrant couple, Moshe Israel and Anna Shapiro, alleged that the popular Boro Park rabbi—who until his arrest was also a special assistant to the state police—threatened to have them killed unless they dropped allegations of incest and rape against Ms. Shapiro's father.

"Hynes went after Freilich with a vengeance," says Rabbi Leib Glanz, a leader of the Satmar Hasidic community, referring to the D.A.'s decision to assign two top deputies, Michael Vecchione and Jay Shapiro—his lead prosecutor on death penalty cases—to the Freilich case.

In a dramatic response to Freilich's acquittal, about 2000 Boro Park residents attended a celebration in his honor on Saturday at the Satmar Hasidic shul. On Sunday, the head rabbis of each ultra-Orthodox sect in Boro Park met with Freilich, and in speech after speech referred to him and their community as having survived "persecution and prosecution."

"This is a man with 25 years of service in the public life of Boro Park," Rabbi Glanz told the Voice. "He was instrumental in creating Tomche Shabbos," an organization that feeds thousands of Hasidic families each week.

During the trial in Brooklyn Supreme Court, Ms. Shapiro testified that Freilich had come to the couple's Boro Park home last April on the day before she was to give grand jury testimony, and told them that if she testified they would wind up "in the cemetery." After she appeared, she alleged, Freilich showed up again and pledged to make good on the threat. Freilich maintains he has never spoken to the couple.

Since his acquittal, Freilich—who friends say once got up at sunrise to help Hynes's campaign—warns the D.A. of political trouble ahead. "The community doesn't trust Hynes anymore," Freilich says, "and he's obviously going to have problems regaining their support."

As family members celebrated Freilich's victory, an uncle gave a short vort (talk) over kosher Chinese cuisine: "This month is Purim, the holiday that commemorates Jewish freedom from their Persian persecutor, Haman. Today, the wicked Haman has once again been defeated by the pious Mordechai—this time Freilich." One way to interpret the analogy, he explained, is that "the prosecutor, Vecchione could be Haman, while Hynes, his enabler, is the King."

"I will not be excited to support Hynes again," Glanz told the Voice. "It's unlikely that anyone running against him will be worse."

In a March 10 editorial, the ultraconservative Jewish Press declared: "What bewilders us is the alacrity with which D.A. Hynes indicts persons such as Rabbi Freilich, which is in sharp contrast to his categorical reluctance to [indict the] police officers who shoot a Jew dead on the streets of Boro Park. In our view, there is something very wrong in the way business is conducted in the Brooklyn D.A.'s office."

"I'll put it to you this way," says Reb Avraham, a prominent Hasidic activist who goes only by that name, "regarding the Busch case, the Boro Park community is more furious with Hynes than they are with Giuliani. Hynes was supposed to oversee a fair investigation," but failed to indict the four cops involved in the shooting of Busch, 31, in Boro Park.

Doris Busch Boskey, Busch's mother, alleges: "Hynes never had any intention of getting an indictment, and he didn't even pursue the possibility of lesser charges. I hope my son's ghost hangs heavy over Hynes, Giuliani, and Police Commissioner Howard Safir as a constant reminder of his senseless murder and the lack of accountability and justice."

Raphael Eisenberg, a witness to the Busch shooting who testified at the grand jury hearing at which the officers were cleared, told the Voice that the D.A.'s office seemed to be looking for any minor discrepancy to invalidate testimonies. "Hynes's career is dependent on his popularity among the police," he asserted.

Reb Avraham maintains that anti-Hynes feelings are now so strong that many Orthodox Jews would join with African Americans—"two communities that have been wronged by Hynes"—to elect a black moderate. "He did some good, but it's over now what with the legacy of Busch, Freilich, and other cases."

Avraham translates the last line of a full-page editorial in the March 10 edition of Nayis Baricht (News Report), a major Yiddish-language paper: ". . . perhaps the time has come for [Hynes] to bring his political career to an end and retire while it can still be said that the good of his administration outweighs the bad."

According to many ultra-Orthodox Jews, there has been much good. For the last decade Hynes has enjoyed a cozy relationship with Brooklyn's Orthodox communities. Henna White, a Lubavitch woman who serves as Hynes's liaison to the Jewish community, points to what she sees as culturally sensitive preventive programs for pedophiles, batterers, and drug users that Hynes's office has initiated over the last two years.

"Hynes is a very caring D.A.," she maintains, "and the community knows it. The recent incidents are not going to influence Boro Park's feelings toward Hynes." White says she was particularly impressed by the way Hynes handled the Crown Heights riots.

However, following the Freilich case, Hasidic leaders who attended the trial are alleging that one of Hynes's aides made anti-Semitic comments during his summation. Last week, the Jewish Press promised to print portions of the summation—which is currently being transcribed—in upcoming issues, allowing readers to "judge for themselves the appropriateness of some of his comments." Last year in another controversial case that left the Orthodox community in a state of fury, the same aide allegedly made comments in private to a prominent rabbi and to his lawyer that were construed as anti-Semitic. The lawyer on that case, Roger Adler, told the Voice, "I was shocked when the aide made comments that sounded like more personal attacks on my client than intellectual discourse regarding his innocence.

After Freilich was indicted last year, Orthodox leaders reached out to black Brooklyn assemblyman Clarence Norman—a close friend of Hynes's—beseeching him to share their concerns with the D.A. The Hasidic community has made other unorthodox alliances regarding Hynes. Park Avenue Synagogue rabbi David Lincoln wrote to Hynes asking why he took such an aggressive stand against Freilich, whom he described as "an outstanding man." Lincoln told the Voice that Hynes has spoken at his synagogue at least once, "but I think he has lost some credibility over this matter."

Andrew Stettner, executive director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, agrees. "We are disappointed with the D.A. Across the board in the Jewish world—and in the Asian and black communities—there is a widespread feeling of injustice." JFREJ has been organizing events at which secular and religious participants have united in support of petitioning Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate the Busch case.

In the aftermath of the Busch and Diallo cases, the United Jewish Appeal's Young Lawyers Committee met two weeks ago with Reverend Calvin Butts of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church and Gidone Busch's brother Glenn Busch, a New York-based lawyer. "In my brother's case, Hynes never indicted," Busch told the group. "We need independent prosecutors in police brutality cases."

On March 5, Congressman Jerrold Nadler reproved attendees at a UJA professional breakfast in Manhattan for not putting more pressure on the Justice Department to help the Busch family, implicitly criticizing Hynes's office.

"There are certainly questions that have gone unanswered," he said, such as, "What went wrong in this investigation?"


Brooklyn rabbi acquitted

JTA - March 16, 2000

NEW YORK (JTA) -- A leading rabbi in Brooklyn was acquitted of having made death threats against a woman who had accused her father of rape.

Five witnesses still face witness-tampering charges in the case in which Rabbi Bernard Freilich was found innocent. The woman's father still must stand trial on the rape charges.



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Last Updated:  02/14/2003

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