Rabbi Yakov Horowitz outside the Knesset
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz outside the Knessetצילום:

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, an American Orthodox rabbi and child safety advocate, was found not liable in entire 200,000 ILS ($62,212.66) libel lawsuit filed against him by Yona Weinberg, a convicted sex offender.

The suit was filed following a 2015 tweet posted by Rabbi Horowitz, in which he urged parents of the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem to protect their children from Weinberg and to treat him “like a terrorist with a machete.” Thus ends a five-year-long legal saga during which the pedophile attempted to thwart the rabbi’s efforts to host an abuse-prevention lecture in Har Nof by filing a restraining order against Rabbi Horowitz in Israeli court.

The verdict delivered in the Jerusalem Magistrate Court by Justice Michal Hirschfeld declared that the main warning made by Rabbi Horowitz against Weinberg is both true and an expression of his opinion in good faith, which is fair grounds for dismissing the central complaint.

In addition, Hirschfeld noted, she was persuaded that Rabbi Horowitz “felt imbued with a public mission,” after his advocacy in many situations of sexual abuse of minors which destroyed their lives and in some cases even led them to commit suicide. To this end, wrote Judge Hirschfeld, Rabbi Horowitz was justified to arrive at the “fair conclusion” to regard Weinberg as a “terrorist with a machete,” based on the existential danger sex abuse poses to children.

Despite dismissing the central complaint of the suit, the Judge held Rabbi Horowitz liable for two public claims he incorrectly made, namely that Weinberg was distributing candies without kosher certification to Orthodox children and that he was a fugitive who fled America to avoid arrest on an additional child abuse charge (because those charges were not filed at the time Weinberg left for Israel). The Judge ordered the rabbi to pay Weinberg 3,000 ILS ($933), plus an additional 3,000 ILS for Weinberg’s expenses and half his court costs.

Upon noting the sum of the compensation, the judge added that “the complaint regarding the main publication which is perhaps the most significant of all – was dismissed.”

Furthermore, she was impressed that Rabbi Horowitz acted with “altruistic motives at the source of which lies genuine concern for public welfare,” noting that unlike the place where the original crimes were committed, Jewish sexual offenders who immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return are not bound by any restrictions in Israel.

Rabbi Horowitz, founding Dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, a New York Yeshiva Elementary School, was named “Rockland Educator of the Year,” in 2002. He received the 2005 Grinspoon-Steinhart Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, and the prestigious Covenant Award in 2008 for his contribution to Jewish Education and for his Child Abuse prevention work. He co-published the landmark “Let’s Stay Safe” child safety book in 2011. The book quickly became a best-seller, reaching over 120,000 Orthodox families in 3 languages.

Rabbi Horowitz is a prolific social media influencer on multiple platforms and recently launched a new Instagram page, @brightbeginningsforum, where he posts Under-a-Minute Parents Clips six days a week on a wide range of parenting topics, including child safety and abuse prevention.

Yona Weinberg is an American Orthodox Jew who immigrated to Israel at the end of 2014 and settled in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem. Five years prior to immigrating to Israel, Weinberg was convicted of sexually abusing two minors whom he had been preparing for their Bar Mitzvahs. He was sentenced to 13 months in prison, of which he served 11 months, and he is currently listed as a Level 3 sex offender on New York State’s online sex offender registry.

Upon discovering that Weinberg had moved to Israel, Rabbi Horowitz began warning the public to beware of their new neighbor. In one Twitter post that constituted one of the key elements of the lawsuit, Rabbi Horowitz tweeted: “Har Nof residents, convicted sex offender Yona Weinberg is LEVEL 3!! Treat him as a terrorist with a machete.”

Attorney Itzhak Bam, who represented Rabbi Horowitz, shared that “Yona Weinberg is a despicable and dangerous pedophile who was convicted of sexually abusing minors. The Court nitpicked with Rabbi Horowitz, ruling that some of his posts were imprecise and awarded Weinberg compensation at a minimal sum that reflects the aversion that Weinberg deserves. The verdict, that supports advocates like Rabbi Horowitz warning that pedophiles are dangerous, is welcome news for which we are very grateful.” Bam added that, “In light of the Court’s parsing Rabbi Horowitz’s words, it is very noteworthy that the judge considered “a terrorist with a machete,” an appropriate way to define the life-threatening nature of child abusers.”

Upon receiving the verdict, Rabbi Horowitz said that the 5-year legal battle was one worth fighting. He reflected back to a 2016 USA Today interview where he said that, “he won’t be intimidated by Weinberg’s lawsuit,” and that he fully intends to continue his child safety advocacy, noting that he has a sacred duty to use his public voice to educate parents in the best practices of child safety education as well as to warn them about the danger sex offenders pose to their children.

He added that, “It’s time to create a legal registry in Israel with information about sex offenders, so parents can properly protect their children from them.”