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Jury deliberating damages after Baltimore rabbi found liable for sexual abuse of children


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Editor’s note: This article contains specific descriptions of sexual violence against children.

After three families accused Rabbi Steven Krawatsky of sexually abusing their children, the rabbi sued for defamation, completely denying the charges.

But Krawatsky’s efforts to clear his name after a 2018 article made allegations about his time as head counselor of an Orthodox summer camp in Maryland haven’t yielded the outcome he’d hoped.

A Maryland civil court jury, which is hearing both Krawatsky’s suit and the defendants’ counterclaims, ruled Friday in response to the counterclaims that Krawatsky had committed assault against one child and battery against another. It will begin deliberations on damages today.

The saga around the allegations against Krawatsky and his response was seen by some as a referendum on the power of the Baltimore Orthodox community, which in spite of other high-profile instances of sex abuse in the rabbinate, fought to defend Krawatsky’s innocence.

Victims’ advocates hailed the verdict.

“After six years of hell that he put them through with the defamation suit — and the community did with its harassment of the victims — this verdict vindicates them,” said Asher Lovy, founder of Za’akah, which fights child sex abuse in the Orthodox community. “I hope it can bring them healing, and I hope it sends a message to enablers that they can try as hard as they want to but the truth is going to come out.”

The court rejected a battery claim involving a third child, meaning that Krawatsky’s defamation claims against that child’s family could still proceed. After deciding damages, the court will review those claims, as well as those Krawatsky filed against a victim advocate, Chaim Levin, who used Facebook to issue a public warning about him, calling him “extremely dangerous.”

The victims’ additional counterclaims against Camp Shoresh and its director, Rabbi David Finkelstein — whom they accused of knowingly employing an abuser and enabling his behavior — were thrown out in January after the judge decided they were not sufficiently substantiated. In 2022, a judge dismissed Krawatsky’s claims against New York Jewish Week and Hannah Dreyfus, the author of the article, ruling that Krawatsky failed to prove that the publishers of the story had acted with malice. (Dreyfus has also written for the Forward.)

Krawatsky, who turns 47 this month, worked in Jewish education in New York and Baltimore for nearly two decades before a bombshell 2018 report in New York Jewish Week raised the families’ allegations. His attorney did not respond to a request for comment after Friday’s verdict was delivered.

According to the Jewish Week, three children, then 7 and 8 years old, started displaying behavioral issues when they came home from Camp Shoresh in 2014 and 2015. Eventually they each told their parents that “Rabbi K,” as Krawatsky was known, had sexually abused them.

The article revealed that Maryland Child Protective Services investigators in 2015 found child abuse was “indicated” for two of the children and, for a third, “unsubstantiated” — a legal designation that means neither confirmed nor ruled out, but which adds the accused to a confidential database for five years. In both cases, protective services in 2016 downgraded the two “indicated” determinations to “unsubstantiated” in exchange for Krawatsky dropping his appeal of the CPS finding.

One child eventually told investigators that Krawatsky had orally and anally raped him, and another said Krawatsky had offered them $100 to touch his genitals. (The jury found Krawatsky liable for abusing these two children.)

Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, an Orthodox school in Baltimore where Krawatsky had taught since 2003, fired him the day after the article was published. Its director of education informed the school community that they had been aware of the allegations since 2015, but had let Krawatsky stay when investigators downgraded the claims against him to “unsubstantiated.”

Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim, a Baltimore-area synagogue where Krawatsky was the youth director, announced his resignation a few hours later.

Krawatsky filed the defamation suit, which claimed the families fabricated the accusations and that the Jewish Week knowingly printed the falsehoods, on Jan. 30, 2018 — less than two weeks after the article’s publication — seeking millions of dollars in damages.

The Baltimore Orthodox community was split on the allegations. Beth Tfiloh alumni wrote an open letter expressing their disappointment in the school’s handling of the case. But many others rallied to Krawatsky’s defense.

Jon Little, who represented the families, told The Baltimore Sun that his firm’s Facebook page was inundated with one-star reviews from the Orthodox community. And Levin said he received numerous threats.

A Facebook page, “The Truth About Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky,” was also set up to defend the rabbi.

“They thought they could bully their way out of this,” Little said in an interview.

All three of the children whose families made allegations against Krawatsky testified during the civil trial, which began this month after years of delays due to COVID-19. (All are still minors.)

Krawatsky also took the stand during the trial.

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