Rabbi was clueless over sex abuse
Yosef Feldman, above, the rabbinical administrator of Australia’s Bondi’s orthodox Yeshiva centre, claimed that, more than a decade ago, he did not know that it was illegal for an adult to touch a child’s genitals.
Feldman, giving evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, said this week that the prospect of criminal charges did not cross his mind when he spoke to an alleged abuser in 2002 the day after a young boy’s mother notified Yeshiva College of her son’s allegation against a rabbinical student and teacher’s aide known identified only as “AVL”.
Feldman told the commission he had since changed his mind, but said no one had convinced him of the religious reasons why police should be automatically informed.
According to this report, Feldman said at the time he believed the allegation only related to “AVL” lying down with the boy and massaging him.
I didn’t know it could have been a crime. I didn’t see that as necessarily being sexual … (but) it could potentially be something which is highly inappropriate. I don’t know what the criminal code is and what’s a crime and what’s not a crime. A lot of things could be a crime (when) I don’t think it is.
Rabbi Feldman said he only learned later that the complaint also involved allegations of genital touching. Asked if he had known it was against the law for an adult to touch a child’s genitals, he replied:
I didn’t know that for a fact.
The Royal Commission heard that “AVL” told Feldman and his father, who leads the Orthodox Chabad movement in NSW, the day after the complaint that he might return to the US.
The rabbis replied that they could not stop him leaving, and did not inform authorities of AVL’s possible travel plans.
“AVL” remains overseas, with the Commission learning this week that another Australian rabbi had agreed to ordain as a rabbi on the condition he kept seeing a therapist.
Feldman said “AVL” – who is related to him by marriage – might have wanted to leave the country:
Like any normal person who knows that he’s being reported.
He was fiercely questioned about a series of emails he wrote to other rabbis in 2011 when further abuse allegations involving Yeshivah in Melbourne became public amid a police investigation.
Writing as President of the Rabbinical Council of NSW, Rabbi Feldman argued that Jews with information about child sex-abuse allegations should see a rabbi rather than police. He said in the emails that:
One should just think how he’d react if one’s father, son or brother was an alleged molester. Initially one must go to the rov (rabbi), who should firstly investigate the veracity of the complaint and, if thought to be serious, warn the culprit.
There was strong disagreement from other rabbis, and the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria (COSA) issued a statement saying:
COSA unequivocally disassociates itself from the views expressed by Rabbi Yossi Feldman concerning the reporting of sexual offenders to the police.
Outside the hearing, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry said the Royal Commission had exposed the failures of religious leaders who had known about abuse allegations at Yeshiva schools in Sydney and Melbourne and failed to take them seriously.
Although the ultra-Orthodox communities in Sydney and Melbourne constitute only a small fraction of the Jewish community, it is shameful that any Jewish institution should have been associated with child abuse and attempts to cover it up.
The behaviour of the perpetrators constituted serious crimes under Australian law, for which they are being justly punished, and a grave sin in Judaism.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn