Alliance between OTD and KJ Leadership Conspire to Cover Up Penis-gate Incident!

In Haredi Theology, Masturbation Kills Babies!

A Rare Alliance between many in the OTD community and KJ Leadership Conspire to Cover Up Penis-gate Incident!

Deborah Feldman reiterates in her book Unorthodox what she first reported in her blog Hasidic Feminist that a boy was found dead from a slash to his throat, with his penis severed in a basement in Kiryas Joel on January 19, 2007 (date not reported in her blog or book).

According to the circumstances of the event, as told her by her husband (who is a brother of a Hatzalah member who was involved in the incident), Feldman postulates that the boy was murdered by the father after committing the grave sin of masturbating. I quote the entire story as recounted in the book (p. 205-6):

After he puts down the phone, I amble into the kitchen and lower myself gently onto a kitchen chair. “Who was on the phone earlier?” I ask innocently. “My brother Cheskel. You know he’s an EMT, a Hatzolah member. He just had a call before Shabbos, and by the time he got there, the boy was dead.”

“A boy? What do you mean? What happened?”

“He told me they told him not to tell anyone, but he called me, he said, because he was traumatized. He doesn’t know how he can sleep tonight.”

“Why? What happened?” I straighten my back in expectation.

“When he got there, the father pointed him to the basement, and the boy was lying there in a pool of his own blood. His penis was cut off with a jigsaw, and his throat was slit too. And the father wasn’t even upset. He said that he caught his son masturbating.”

It takes me a moment to process the implications of what Eli is describing to me. “So he killed his son for masturbating? And then he called Hatzolah? I don’t understand!”

“No! Don’t jump to conclusions. Cheskel told me he doesn’t know for sure what happened. He said the neighbors told him they heard loud arguing coming from the house. When he called the dispatch, they told him to go home and keep quiet about it, that they would take care of it. He said they buried him in thirty minutes and they didn’t even issue a death certificate.”

“So they’re not going to report it? They’re going to let a possible murderer roam free to protect their reputation?” I can feel a twinge in my lower back and remember suddenly that I’m supposed to be resting for the baby. “Oy,” I say. “What is this world, that we only punish for trivialities like wearing a short skirt, but when someone breaks one of the Ten Commandments, we keep quiet?”

“Ah, you can’t know for sure. The Torah says there have to be two witnesses for a man to be tried for murder. What are you gonna do? You can’t bring back this dead boy anyhow. And you better not tell anyone about it, because Cheskel could get in big trouble for talking to me. Please don’t get him into trouble; you don’t know what these people are capable of.”

“I do now. I know exactly what they’re capable of.” I’m dying to say something to someone. I restrain myself at the Shabbos table, because I know Eli would never forgive me if I brought it up, but just this week no one has anything interesting to share, and I can’t help but wonder if someone else is holding their tongue too.

Out of all the accusations she has heaped against the haredi community this is by far the most heinous. It purports not only that a hemishe (lit. homey) Jew with shtreimel and “white socks” is a cold-blooded murderer — of his own son nonetheless– but that the village leadership quickly reached a unanimous detente that it’s best to keep the lid on the true circumstances of this murder and to promulgate a more benign version instead –suicide– in order to cover up a crime that would surely taint the entire community if revealed.

In post-book-release interviews Feldman soft-pedaled this report under persistent grilling by the media. She now no longer proclaims “KJ, a murder is in your midst” as originally reported in her blog but rather claims she is merely repeating what her husband had told her as the events were unfolding.


While she was incurring the wrath of the haredi community and many OTD’ers –who for personal grudges are determined to discredit her– Hella Winston (author of Unchosen) took it upon herself to “investigate the allegation” and subsequently reported her “findings” in The Jewish Week.

To summarize Winston’s findings:

  • The whole story is either fabricated of whole cloth by Feldman in her sordid quest to vilify the community in exchange for fame and money, OR it’s mere rumor (she does not account for how such a rumor may have started).
  • The boy was 19, not 13 as reported by Feldman.
  • A death certificate does exist and it indicates that the boy committed suicide.
  • She quotes the one Mr. Witriol –a KJ official– and a member of the family reaffirming that the rumors are untrue and the boy died of suicide.
  • She is unable to obtain a comment from State police officials who allegedly have a report on this incident. The officials have not returned her request for comment.

Alas, not only are her findings faulty but her investigation never got off the ground in the first place.

Obviously, since Feldman’s allegation is that cover-up has been orchestrated, what good does it do to quote village officials or family members? That’s like calling on a suspect in court to testify to his innocence. In an allegation such as this, IT IS CRITICAL to obtain the perspective of people who would NOT have any direct interest in a cover up, if it exists, such as State or county officials.

Feldman never claims in her book that a death certificate was NEVER issued. She reports that at the time of burial –on that fateful friday afternoon– there was no death certificate issued; which would contravene the law, which required a death certificate be issued before burying the body.

Upon’s request that Winston produce the death certificate, Winston cited “anonymous source” protection and refused to make it public. She also declined to disclose the date the certificate was reportedly issued or other essential details. Thus, it is entirely conceivable that the certificate was issued AFTER the corpse had been buried, after village officials would have pleaded that they were in a hurry to bury the body before the Sabbath and couldn’t wait for state examination of the case and issuance of a death certificate before the Sabbath. It isn’t far fetched that county and/or state officials would give them a pass under the guise of religious liberty.

Moreover, note that under New York State law death certificates are not available to the public under the FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) provision except upon a court order calling for its release. Thus, if Winston is truthful about having a copy of the document in her possession, it could ONLY have been legally obtained through the cooperation and consultation with blood relatives of the deceased. This would clearly indicate friendly collaboration between the “investigator” and the investigated, perhaps on condition that only information favorable to a suicide theory be released and presented. Without the release of the certificate, her “investigation” is a sham.

Additionally, Winston didn’t bother to interview peers of the deceased to try to mine details from them and has given short shrift to her coverage of official sources outside the realm of KJ officials or family members who are accused by Feldman of being part of the conspiracy. She seems to be happy to report that the state police officers contacted for comment did not get back to her. Is it possible that she didn’t want them to get back to her? Is it at all conceivable that as part of the cover-up, KJ officials had kindly asked state officials not to discuss the case with the media –what would seem a reasonable request, on the basis of privacy of the family, if the deceased indeed died of suicide, as claimed by KJ officials?

Winston’s report in The Jewish Week reeks all the way from KJ to headquarters in New York City. In fact, it begs the question of what prompted such a one-sided “investigation” in the first place and who stands to benefit from its tendentious findings? I dare ask: has she been contacted by members of the community to repudiate the allegation and is accordingly doing their bidding. Recall that Winston secured extensive collaboration of some elements in the community as part of her doctoral dissertation and the authorship of her magnum opus, Unchosen.


There is a robust coalition of elements determined to discredit Feldman. It goes without saying that the haredi community is furious over the revelations she has made in her book and the bad light in which they are consequently cast.

However, in a rare twist, the people who should have been standing beside her have largely deserted her. One popular website among many in the OTD community,, convened a “roundtable” supposedly representing the range of voices in the OTD community to elicit their reaction to Feldman’s book. Mysteriously, however, there is no praise from anyone, the panel’s reaction ranging from neutral to bad to awful. This, despite the absence of any compelling reason to impugn the overall tone and message of her book, which essentially is that the Hasidic culture is repressive, treats women unfairly and some crimes go unreported.

According to pundits in the field, the reason for this strange phenomenon is that Feldman isn’t playing ball. She has sought to circumvent the usual rungs in the ladder toward recognition in the OTD world and has not been sufficiently obsequious to the unofficial top brass in the movement. She has dared assume the epithet of “trailblazer” and “spokesperson” and had the unparalleled distinction of achieving a level of published success that others only dream of.

With the lack of support from the OTD top brass, on whom she would ordinarily rely to corroborate her message, her Penis-gate allegation has become the catnip around which to discredit her completely. “People are mad at her for making up such a grizzly story; it also puts in bad light the whole OTD community” as one OTD Facebooker put it. The insinuation here is that if this allegation is unfounded then her whole book is by extension mere fiction — all made up in order to sell; ergo, all OTD’ers are intrinsic losers with no valid substantial grievances.


The truth of the matter is that the rumor about a boy being found dead with a severed penis did in fact circulate at the time. The name of the deceased boy is Johanan Cohen and he was about 20 at the time of his death.

Cohen was born and raised in the Satmar community in London. At age 15 he relocated with his family to Kiryas Tosh in Canada and lived there for approximately 4-5 years. His family then relocated once more, this time to Kiryas Joel, another hotbed of ultra-religious practice. The father of the boy found employment in the community as a melamed, a teacher in the elementary school system.

Winston claims the boy was mentally disturbed (which fits well with the suicide theory) and Feldman claims the father was disturbed (which is in step with the homicide theory). Neither seems to be borne out from the preliminary examination into the event. An peer of the boy and alumnus from the KJ Yeshiva, which the deceased boy attended at the time of his death, described the boy as introverted, withdrawn and socially awkward. But he demurred from labeling him or his father as mentally deficient. He does, however, confirm that the family wasfarfrumt (ultra-ultra-religious). This observation may explain how a father would be driven to such a insanely gruesome act in a moment of passion, if true.

As I hinted at in a previous editorial, punishment in kind is an established principle in contemporary Hasidic Judaism. My Rebbe in cheder repeatedly warned us that if we say bad words he will put soap in our mouths to cleanse them. (He never followed through on his bluster, however). It is POSSIBLE, to envision that a radically religious fundamentalist would run into a dear son committing what he believes to be the gravest sin in Judaism, the pegam haberith (the tainting/abrogatiion of the covenant, in allusion to the circumcised penis as a sign of God’s covenant with Israel). In a moment of extraordinary fury at such a cardinal transgression he would have grabbed the jigsaw laying nearby in the cellar and activated it while rebuking the son that his penis should be cut off for such a grave transgression. Perhaps he then made motions toward him only as a mere concretization of what the boy deserves, but he then inadvertently went too far (this would have been easily executable while the penis was still erect). Subsequently, since the stigma and infamy resulting from the lack of a penis and outward signs of manhood would have been unbearable in the Hasidic community, the father may then have decided that it’s best to put the son out of his misery altogether and delivered the coup de grace to his throat while the boy was writhing in pain from his severed limb.

All of this is speculation. Again, I don’t claim to know what happened down there on that fateful Friday. But the readiness with which some are willing to utterly dismiss Feldman’s “allegation” and not tolerate even the notion that such an event is possible is very troubling. I’m not sure if this is one element in their animosity towards her, in which case the rebuttal of the murder allegation is merely a pawn serving the greater cause of maligning her; or perhaps this is done upon the initiative of the Hasidic leadership in KJ who are intent on defending the cover-up at all cost.

The possibility that such a horrendous act could have been committed by a very father himself is almost unthinkable. But we must think! If this is true, then we have an entire cultic religious system complicit in it — a system that demands of adolescent boys an impossibly stringent level of abstention from sexual self-satisfaction and is thus capable of triggering such a horrendous crime!

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