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'Popular' Orthodox rabbi among men charged in underage sex sting

Aryeh Cohen has been involved in Orthodox Jewish outreach and youth activities in the Twin Cities for more than a decade.

Aryeh Cohen has been involved in Orthodox Jewish outreach and youth activities in the Twin Cities for more than a decade. Ramsey County Attorney

As of this week, a sex sting conducted earlier this year that ensnared 42 Twin Cities men has led to charges against 17 of them.

One man caught in cops' trap was a popular local rabbi involved in youth groups and community outreach, and charges against him have members of the local Orthodox community "shocked" and disturbed. 

Aryeh Cohen, 44, was arrested on February 1 outside the North St. Paul apartment used as a base for the sting. According to charges filed by Ramsey County Attorney's Office, Cohen was there to meet what he thought was a 15-year-old boy he'd contacted on the gay hook-up app Grindr, Forward reports.

As they drove to the police station, Cohen allegedly told cops, "I sort of deserve it." Once at the station, Cohen waived his right to an attorney and agreed to be interrogated, telling police he "didn't think much was gonna happen" because his would-be Grindr date was underage.

In his interactions with the agent posing as an underage boy, Cohen had asked, "A bit young for this?" (Cohen himself had lied and said he was 35.) His subsequent questions were focused on specific sex acts; Cohen also sent the Grindr account a photo of his penis.

Cohen has been charged with two felonies under a state law that prohibits both "solicitation of children for sexual contact" and "communication of sexually eplicit materials to children." Each count is punishable by up to three years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

Cohen was director of outreach for Minneapolis Community Kollel, an Orthodox communtiy center, and has worked in "youth groups and outreach for more than a decade." One source tells Forward that Cohen was "at the very center of the Jewish community in St. Louis Park," where he and his wife lived.

The Cohens were also involved in the University of Minnesota's Jewish community, teaching classes at the Hillel building on University Avenue and encouraging students to "be more observant," according to one former student. The Hillel center director observes that Cohen was not an employee, and that the organization had not received any complaints about Cohen.

A statement from the Minneapolis Community Kollel calls the accusations against Cohen "shocking and disturbing," and says the rabbi was "immediately" relieved of his duties.