Almost 20 years ago, I was learning in a Jerusalem yeshiva. A private contractor did laundry for the students for a fee. We were told by the contractor to leave our bagged dirty clothes outside an apartment near the yeshiva. His service would pick up the bags and bring them to the laundry. That night, the service would return the bags to the yeshiva for pick up.
I normally washed my clothes in my apartment-dorm’s bathtub, as did most other students. But one day, flush with a couple of extra dollars and, in my case, several weeks of unwashed laundry, one of my roommates and I decided to use the contractor’s service. We left our bags where specified. That night, we came to pick up our clean clothes. But the bags of laundry had been stolen, and our clothes were gone.
We wanted compensation from the contractor. After all, the bags were left where and when he specified. He did not want to pay, claiming the theft was not his responsibility. At loggerheads, he suggested taking our case to Rabbi Scheinberg. And so we did.
After hearing our stories, Rabbi Scheinberg ruled. “Used clothes have the halakhic value of rags,” Rabbi Scheinberg said, “The laundyman owes you nothing. Still, for the sake of peace, I have asked him to give each of you $50 dollars. We were stunned. Rabbi Scheinberg agreed that the laundry was negligent, but he argued the negligence was not punishable according to Jewish law because the clothes had no value. We pointed out that used American jeans fetched a very high price in the shuk, more than their retail price back home, and so did other American-made clothing. “But that is not what the halakha says,” Rabbi Scheinberg answered. We thanked him and left.
We were both upset for a few minutes, but then made peace with the ruling. If that was the halakha, we would follow it. Period. And so we did, with no more complaints.
Flash forward almost 20 years to the New York Magazine article posted below exposing man-on-boy sex abuse charges against Rabbi Yehuda Kolko. Rabbi Scheinberg allegedly told victims’ parents that, as long as Rabbi Kolko did not sexually penetrate their sons, there was no sex abuse according to the Torah. Therefore, parents must be silent and not publicize the abuse.
I see a similar pattern in both cases. A very narrow reading of halakhic case law while ignoring contrary evidence and opinions, all seemingly to reach a decision protecting an insider (yes, the laundry owner was an insider) from valid charges made by outsiders.
A direct parallel? Perhaps not. But disturbing nonetheless.