NEW YORK – A Hasidic rabbi and three of his sons are suspected of sexually abusing at least four female relatives, after the rabbi's eldest victim — his daughter — confided in a co-worker at a Jewish school, police said Friday.
The 58-year-old father and his 21-year-old son fled to Israel two days ago and are wanted for questioning in the case, police said. They were apparently driven to the airport by the mother.
Two other sons, a 24-year-old and a 15-year-old, were arrested on sexual abuse and rape charges. It was unclear whether they had attorneys, and a message left at the home wasn't immediately returned.
The suspects' names are being withheld by The Associated Press to avoid identification of victims.
Police say the abuse came to light after the oldest victim, now 20, who worked as a teacher's aide at a yeshiva, a religious school, in Brooklyn, told a teacher there she had been abused. Authorities believe she was assaulted by her father repeatedly for 15 years. The other victims range in age from 8 to 19, and investigators believe the abuse was also repeated.
Police say the father is suspected of abusing at least two of his daughters. The brothers were accused of rape and other crimes for abusing their sisters. The youngest suspect was accused of sexually assaulting the 8-year-old.
Hasidism, a form of mystical ultra-Orthodox Judaism, traces its roots to 18th-century Eastern Europe. Followers live in tight-knit communities nearly closed off to modern society and wear traditional dress — for men, dark clothing that includes a long coat and a fedora-type hat. Men often have long beards and ear locks.
Most of the 165,000 members in the New York City the area live in neighborhoods in Brooklyn neighborhoods are part of three different major sects.
Isaac Abraham, an activist in the Hasidic community who often speaks publicly for the different sects, said the family was not known in the community and he couldn't comment.
The family lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Midwood in a two-story frame house and the father and mother, who are first cousins, had 14 children, police said. All but two live in the home.
The 24-year-old suspect was married and lived elsewhere, as did the oldest child. There are seven girls and seven boys in the family.
New York Police Department chief department spokesman Paul Browne said the investigation was ongoing and it's possible there could be additional victims. The father and son, who is legally blind, left for Israel from Kennedy International Airport on Nov. 29, Browne said. An NYPD detective assigned as a liaison in Jerusalem will assist officers there in the search, Browne said.
The father was a teacher at a yeshiva until about three months ago, when he resigned for unknown reasons. There was no answer at the school Friday; police would not say if it was the same school where the oldest victim worked.
State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose districts include many of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, discussed sexual abuse among members of the insular world of ultra-Orthodox Jews on a radio show in 2008, prompting dozens of listeners to come forward with stories of abuse. Critics have said sex abuse claims are sometimes handled quietly in Orthodox rabbinical courts, rather than being reported to authorities.
As a result, the state earmarked about $1 million to fund Hikind's plans to teach Hasidic Jews to speak up against child molestation. Prosecutors, counselors and religious leaders in Brooklyn banded together last year to form a program to combat sexual abuse in the community. A hot line was established where victims can call and speak with a "culturally sensitive" social worker.