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Kosher no more

After new sex allegations send kosher restaurateur to jail, rabbis say they won't renew kosher supervision

Za’akah led a protest at one of Shalom Yehudiel’s restaurants in November.
Za’akah led a protest at one of Shalom Yehudiel’s restaurants in November.

The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office has arresteded a high-profile kosher chef and restaurateur and charged him with raping a minor he employed at one his restaurants.

Shalom Yehudiel was arrested and sent to the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack last Wednesday. He faces counts of first-degree sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, and third-degree endangering the welfare of a child.

On Thursday, the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, which provides kosher supervision for Mr. Yehudiel’s restaurants, the Humble Toast and La Cucina Di Nava, announced that it would not review its supervision when its contracts with the restaurants expire in October and January. Back in November 2021 the RCBC barred Mr. Yehudiel from his establishments in the wake of two civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of minors.

The criminal charges against Mr. Yehudiel reflect complaints from a third alleged victim, who was an employee of his. According to the charges, Mr. Yehudiel committed multiple sexual assaults against the employee last September, October, and November. The assaults allegedly took place in Teaneck. According to the complaint filed by the Bergen County prosecutor, the employee turned 16 during that period. (Sexual assaults of 16- and 17-year-old minors are treated less severely under New Jersey law than those on 13- through 15-year-olds; assaults on younger children are treated more severely still.)

Before the accusations, Mr. Yehudiel had maintained a high profile in the world of North Jersey kosher food. He had been featured on the Food Channel’s “Chopped” show in 2020, and in May 2021 he was a featured participant in a virtual breakfast fundraiser held by Project Sarah, a Jewish organization dedicated to supporting victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

According to the prosecutor’s office, Mr. Yehudiel’s alleged crimes against his employee were reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigations in November, and the FBI passed the report on to the prosecutor’s office for investigation.

The earlier civil suits allege abuse of two other victims, one an employee and the other a fellow congregant at a Fair Lawn synagogue. In at least one of those cases, the allegations had been reported to the prosecutor’s office, which had declined to prosecute.

The report to the FBI came not long after Za’akah, an organization devoted to fighting sexual abuse in the Jewish community and advocating for its victims, began a social media campaign highlighting the civil suits against Mr. Yehudiel. According to Ariella Kay, Za’akah’s social media manager, the organization chose that time to post about the cases because a window for retrospective lawsuits against child abusers created by the New Jersey Child Victims Act was closing.

“After initially posting the information about the lawsuits against Shalom Yehudiel, we received a number of calls from other victims alleging that Yehudiel had sexually assaulted them as well,” Asher Lovy, Za’akah’s director, said. “We hope that they can see some justice for what was done to them.”

In late November — after, unbeknownst to Za’akah, the prosecutors’ office had begun its investigation — the organization’s publicity efforts culminated in a demonstration in front of the Humble Toast. Shortly afterward, the Rabbinical Council of Bergen Council decided that Mr. Yehudiel would not be allowed into his restaurants, pending resolution of the lawsuits.

Mr. Yehudiel had maintained his innocence regarding the lawsuits, and intended to file counterclaims for defamation, his attorney said in November. He has retained a separate attorney for this criminal case, and that attorney did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

After posting bail, Mr. Yehudiel was released under house arrest in Fair Lawn, Mr. Lovy said.

“Terms are no contact with minors except his child, no contact with employees, all contact with employees must be through his wife, he is not to leave the house even to go to either yard unless he’s meeting with his lawyer or has a medical emergency. No exception for prayer,” Mr. Lovy said.

If he is convicted of the first-degree sexual assault charge — which applies to a victim 13 to 16 years old over whom the defendant had supervisory power — Mr. Yehudiel faces a sentence of up to 20 years.

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