Rabbis at two West Orange synagogues stand by their decision to bar a man facing multiple allegations of “exploiting his title as rabbi to enable him to take or to attempt to take liberties with various females in past years.”
A notice barring the man, Rabbi Yeshaya Dovid Kaye, formerly of Liberty NY, was sent to congregants on Sept. 18 and signed by Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler of Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David and Rabbi Marc Spivak of Congregation Ohr Torah.
In a notice titled “IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO THE WEST ORANGE COMMUNITY,” Zwickler and Spivak assert “that it would not be appropriate for Rabbi Kaye, at this time and for the foreseeable future, to attend or be present in our respective shuls for any purpose and have so advised him.”
Kaye, onetime leader of Congregation Ahavath Israel, an Orthodox congregation in Liberty, NY, left that position and moved in with his parents in their West Orange home in July. He was the subject of an article in the Oct. 8 edition of New York Jewish Week, in which various women allege that the married Kaye manipulated “naive and trusting women” into having sexual relations.
Lawyers for Kaye say their client “vehemently denies such activity.”
The rabbis’ decision to bar Kaye from their West Orange congregations comes amid a series of high-profile news stories relating to charges that various Jewish institutions ignored or covered up allegations of sexual impropriety by members of their staff.
“You have to put what the rabbis are doing in context,” Bruce Shoulson, an attorney for Zwickler and Spivak, told NJJN. “Consider the Catholic church and our own religion and the criticism leveled against people who were made aware of similar allegations but failed to notify their communities.”
The ban and Kaye’s response came to wide public attention after a full page advertisement ran — inadvertently, it turns out — in the back of The Star-Ledger’s front section on Oct. 2. In the ad, attorneys for Kaye object to the notice distributed by the rabbis.
The ad, in English and rabbinic Hebrew, alleges that the synagogues’ statements had placed Kaye in a “false light” and caused him “irreparable damage.”
Kaye, speaking through his lawyers, asserts that the allegations against him are vague and anonymous.
“It’s quite troubling to have our client accused of not one, not two, but multiple acts of impropriety and not be provided with a single sliver of testimony, documents, or even the name of the person complaining,” John L. Kemenczy, who is representing Kaye along with Mitchell A. Liebowitz, said in an interview with NJJN.
He added that the original message from the rabbis “makes it sound like the Frankenstein monster has been let loose in the village, and now the villagers need to come after him with torches.”
In their notice barring Kaye, Zwickler and Spivak acknowledged that “no formal legal proceeding has been instituted with regard to any of the matters and, therefore, no determination or finding has been made by any court or other official agency” regarding Kaye.
However, in an Oct. 2 interview attended by Zwickler, Shoulson, and Spivak (who joined by telephone), Zwickler told NJJN he started receiving calls regarding Kaye shortly after Kaye moved to West Orange.
Zwickler said he and Spivak spoke to alleged victims, witnesses, and “prominent” rabbis about Kaye’s alleged behavior before issuing the notice banning Kaye.
“I believe we have a moral imperative as leaders in the community to listen when people come forward to express their thoughts and concerns,” said Zwickler. “Without being judge and jury, we just feel it is not appropriate for him to be in shul here for the foreseeable future.”
Spivak added, “We did as much research as we could, and we spoke to multiple alleged victims to verify the credibility of the people making the allegations. We didn’t take this action lightly. But we have a moral responsibility to protect people in our community who are vulnerable.”
Kaye’s lawyers object that their client’s reputation has been sullied without due process or in accordance with Halacha, Jewish law.
“[O]nce the Rabbis' announcement was published on the listserve, individuals receiving the listserve communication were empowered to further disseminate it,” Kemenczy wrote in an e-mail to NJJN. “This in fact happened with the publication of the Rabbis' message on various websites. As the response to the Rabbis’ announcement stated, ‘In this day and age, a communication to the “West Orange Community” is in reality a message to the world.’”
Liebowitz added, “We are sensitive to the competing interests here. We respect women saying things to the rabbis and others and needing to respect their desire for privacy. On the other hand, Rabbi Kaye has a need for a full and fair hearing.”
Kaye’s lawyers said they suggested to the rabbis that they engage in a dialogue in an open forum, but their request was denied.
According to a biographical statement that was posted at Ahavath Israel, Yeshaya Dovid Kaye, 50, attended Beth Medrash Emek Halacha Rabbinical College in Brooklyn from 1981 through 1985 and received rabbinic ordination from “prominent poskim [decisors] of the last generation.” He was not a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, the umbrella organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis. (He is not the same person as Rabbi David Kaye, a Florida rabbi caught in a Dateline sting in 2005 and convicted in 2006 of soliciting sex from a minor.)
In an odd twist, the full-page ad in The Star-Ledger was printed inadvertently, according to Kaye’s attorneys and Star-Ledger staff.
Although Kaye’s attorneys drafted the text of the ad and sent it to The Star-Ledger, they said in a phone conversation that they had not given final approval for it to be published.
Medinah Jones, assistant to The Star-Ledger’s classified department manager, confirmed that the ad ran inadvertently.
Spivak and Zwickler said their notice marks the first time either has made the decision to ban someone from their respective synagogues, and both said they believe it is unprecedented in either synagogue. The ban does not extend to other members of Kaye’s family.
“This is very unfortunate for the parents and family of Dovid Kaye. We have tried to be as caring and understanding as we can,” said Spivak.
Added Zwickler, “But it is more unfortunate for the alleged victims. ”