Can there be a positive outcome from Malka Leifer’s “innocent escape”?

On the issue of child abuse, I recently read an excerpt from notes formally approved by Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch of the Eida Charedis in Jerusalem.Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch

One frequently encountered problem is when there is clear evidence of child abuse and yet the rabbi consulted says not to go to the police. He might say that the molester promised never to do it again or that the molester’s family or community or yeshiva might suffer significant financial losses or embarrassment. In other words if the rabbi is saying to sacrifice children for the sake of money or embarrassment or the disgrace to the community, it is clear however that this view has no basis in Jewish law. We don’t sacrifice innocent people for the sake of negative consequences to others. Rav Moshe Sternbuch commented that any rav who would say such a thing is not practicing as a rav. A rabbi has an obligation to provide protection to the victim. By definition it seems it is an unjust ruling. Any rabbi who makes such a ruling may be ignorant of either the halacha or he doesn’t understand what the molesting or wife abuse causes. Therefore if there is time – another rabbi should be consulted.

However an alternative reason that a rabbi might say not to report the molester is that he feels he can guarantee protection for children against the molester. For example he might threaten the molester with a severe beating or provides supervision or he claims the molester has repented and won’t abuse again. He might also claim he can provide therapy equal or better to a psychologist. While these seem to be logically equivalent to the police, the likelihood that they will be effective is not very high. Therefore one should find a competent rabbi who agrees that the police should be informed in the case of actual abuse. Rav Sternbuch commented that only a known talmid chachom posek can posken these problems.

After reading these comments, (with which some Rabonim disagree and consider too lenient) my mind wandered back to the unresolved case of Malka Leifer

Malka Leifer

and the Adass Israel School in Melbourne. For those who are not acquainted with the case see the forward article and the age report.

In short, there were strong allegations that Mrs Malka Leifer, a then principal of the Charedi Adass Israel School, sexually molested her female pupils. It was further alleged that two Charedi communal Rabbis knew about the allegations for some time.

Molestation and Pedophilia know no boundaries and are not restricted to Charedi circles, although it would appear that Charedim are more likely to cover up such incidents. In my opinion, the reason Charedim may be more likely to suppress such incidents has little to do with the laws of Mesira and Halacha. Rather, the process of washing one’s linen behind sealed doors is more likely to be a syndrome of a closed society, where everyone lives in each other’s proverbial pocket and nobody wants any remote smell of “a stain” (פגם) to waft from their house (even if they are an actual victim). There would be concerns that knowledge of any allegation will diminish the dignity of a family in the eyes of Shadchonim and the community.

We noted that in the Leifer case, strong indications are that two Melbourne Charedi Rabbis are alleged to have known about the allegations for quite some time. In the well-known YU Lanner case, the Beis Din that had protected Lanner initially, finally apologised and announced that they were wrong. Rabbi Blau, in particular, has been so profoundly affected by the Lanner error that he is now an active campaigner against Rabbinic cover-ups and a profound supporter of alleged victims.

Has anyone in Melbourne ever apologised in respect of the Leifer case? Is anyone seriously still pretending that “nothing happened?” Even if Leifer cannot be prosecuted, given that two well known Rabbis were allegedly privy to complaints for some time (almost a year according to some sources), and now know, in retrospect, that they ought to have acted promptly, why do they not admit their error of judgement in the same way that the Beth Din in the Lanner case did? Yes, Lanner was convicted and Leifer ran away, but whose fault is that?

Where is Leifer now? Do people around her know the allegations against her? I shudder to think if she is involved in Chinuch in any way.

Thankfully, the Rabbinic Council in Victoria and others, notably the Jewish Taskforce against Family Violence, have taken on the general issue in a serious and responsible way, liaising with the Melbourne Rabbinate including the Charedi Rabbinate, schools, victims and authorities respectively, with education being a critical focus.

One can only pray that any Rabbis who were allegedly “in the know” in respect of the Leifer case, have attained the wisdom to realise that they are decidedly not experts and that the authorities are the correct point of contact when an allegation of molestation arises and the victim, or their parent/s, come forth.

ה ‘  ירחם

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have nought to do with my employer. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

22 thoughts on “Can there be a positive outcome from Malka Leifer’s “innocent escape”?”

  1. Those who are attracted to certain “sins” arrange their affairs in such a way that the oppurtunity to sin in their favourite area is maximized.Why should there be surprise when those who like little boys or little girls or indeed big boys or big girls find employment where their favourite avera is laid on?Quite simply when you want to fish go where the fish are.That being the case surely the relevant vulnerable institutions should be pro active in preventing,monitoring & prosecuting offenders.I would be more alarmed & suspicious of an institution that claimed to have a 100% clean slate ie “no offence ever occured” than one that actively publicized & prosecuted when an offence occured,
    Bruce J Cooke

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    1. You are right, Bruce, unfortunately. I do not know what Leifer is doing now, but it scares me, because these types of people do re-offend and sadly seem to have little ability to control themselves. Exporting problems, never solved anything. This has been seen time and time again.

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  2. The Beit Din which investigated Lanner in 1989 comprised Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Rabbi Aaron Levine and Rabbi Yosef Blau (not Rabbi Bleich).

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  3. Isaac, the reference to the RCV statement is self serving.

    In the RCV had done nothing in relation to the spate of events that have negatively impacted our community.

    Many members of the RCV were presnet and did NOT act in the Liefer and Kraemer case.

    The RCV statement was done at a time when the RCV was seeking a grant from the Government. This was the sole purpose.

    For your reference I refer you to http://www.vosizneias.com/15420/2008/04/29/melbourne-australia-whistleblowers-come/ , an article originally from the AJN. You will recall, nothing ever happened. No matters where referred by the RCV to the police. The alleged offenders, some of which still live in Melbourne remain ‘active’ members of our community, one with a pulpit.

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    1. K,
      I had a hand in pushing for that statement to be adopted. It is true that in the past the RCV did little, but I also have personal experience of having to deal with a case where an alleged offender might have been in a situation to re-offend, and I got a lot of help from both R’ Meir Shlomo Kluwgant (RCV) and the Taskforce.
      You are correct about members of the RCV not acting on the Liefer case. The Kraemer case was much older, no?
      From my knowledge of the case I was involved with, it was difficult, because we needed just one person to come forward with an official complaint. In the end, they did not come forward. It is a big problem. One was married, and his wife did not know. He did not want to open up a hornet’s nest. Can you blame him?
      I believe I know about the pulpit Rabbi you refer to, and perhaps this is the case from vosizneias.com? If that is so, I have to agree with you. I cannot look at this person. Only last week I passed him in the street and my father asked me why I didn’t acknowledge him. I do agree with you that more should be done, however, I think that Meir Shlomo does try to do it where possible.
      I have issues with allegations against someone who also parades as a professional who works with people and lectures!, and I have raised these with a Rabbi and gotten nowhere. In general, Rabonim find this issue too hot to handle. They are terrified. Let the police handle it. Pass on allegations as soon as they are heard. Yes, there will be some where an attempt is made to besmirch someone, but you have to trust our system to extract the truth, surely?

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  4. I believe I know the ‘someone who also parades as a professional who works with people and lectures’ you refer to.

    I believe you have just proven the point.

    There are many known cases. None have been referred to the police by the RCV or community leadership (including certain school principals). The RCV know many of these cases as does Meir Shlomo.

    The reality is we, as a community are caught ina time warp, where we are taught….shhh don’t tell you will cause embarrassment to the community and will commit a sin by reporting the person to the authority.

    No one wants to be labeled a ‘maser’, and run the risk of being placed in cheirum…it was only a couple of weeks ago that Rabbi Telsner reminded the Chabad Community that mesirah is the worst possible sin….need I say any more.

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    1. On the matter of this person, I would have thought that the issue was that none of the alleged victims was prepared to come forth. I believe that this was the case. Are you saying then that even if nobody is prepared to come forth, and the RCV have knowledge of an allegation, that they should refer the matter to the police?
      I know that in the matter that I was involved with, a confidential deal involving lawyers was cut between the alleged victim and an alleged perpetrator.
      I take your point. I believe Rabbi Glasman will be speaking on this topic next week. It might be an idea to ask that question of him.

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  5. In the case you were involved with, what assurances are there that there are NO other victims?

    Surely, no one wants to be the first to go on the record, so once one comes forward there is a chance others will follow suit. Was this an opportunity lost to address an issue that plagues our community?

    I again refer to the article http://www.vosizneias.com/15420/2008/04/29/melbourne-australia-whistleblowers-come/ In that artcile Meir Shlomo said 15 people had come forward…yet again there was NO action…all seems a little convienant.

    I do not accept that the RCV or Community Leadership are genuine. They have never demonstrated a single case where they were instramental in having the matter referred to authorities and the perpetrator prosecuted.

    In the words of Bruce Cooke above ‘I would be more alarmed & suspicious of an institution that claimed to have a 100% clean slate ie “no offence ever occured” than one that actively publicized & prosecuted when an offence occured’

    Many in our community could list 6 or more alleged repeat offenders, yet we have never actively publicized and prosecuted a single one of them….

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    1. I received the following from Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant:


      “The reality is that unless a victim is prepared to go on the record – the abuser will remain untouchable. It makes me sick to my stomach but that is the way it is.

      I have been and continue to be involved with many many abuse cases – not even once have any of the victims been prepared to go on the record. I have been in touch with top lawyers and learned rabbis – all of whom have supported the notion and agreed that we must stand up to abusers and report them to the police – however if the victim is not prepared to go through the process then there is little we can do to support them.

      We also are unable to properly investigate without being given permission and opportunity. We cannot act upon rumour.

      Bring me one case where a victim or eye witness is ready to go the full mile and I will lead the way to the police or any other appropriate venue to address the matter”

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  6. I also have some knowledge on these sordid matters . The sad reality is that by law, it is necesary that the alleged victims be prepared to come and sign statutory declarations and if need be ,come forward and testify at proceedings should they get to that stage. The tragedy is that victims are extremely scared to do so. Take the hypothetical case of a victim of spousal abuse approaches a counselor who in turn abuses her. Who can she turn too-her husband who was the cause of her initial complaint. Predators select their victims carefully.

    Based on my expereince, I have no doubt that were the victims willing to come forward and sign stat decs, that the RCV would have acted appropriately.

    On a separate level,I have personally wondered where the principle of Lifnei Iver applies-ie-say we know there is a Predator in our community-but according to the Criminal law, we can’t prosecute the offender-what does halacha say.

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  7. Isaac, I am sorry to say, the statements from Meir Shlomo Kluwgant and Romy Leibler are self serving. They previously stated publicly they had 15 people come forward with allegations that were willing to go on the public record – refer http://www.vosizneias.com/15420/2008/04/29/melbourne-australia-whistleblowers-come/

    The reality is, that in cases concerning such misconduct in Melbourne, that it was the Rabbonim themselves that threatened the victims, and told them they must NOT report the matters to police. This is known, whether the perpetrator was a teacher/principal at Adass; a teacher at yeshivah; or a provider of security services to the community. Each of these alleged offenders had multiple alleged victims. In each case the Rabbis of the respective community were approached by victims. In each case there was discussion by the victims about going the police. In each case, the respective Rabbi said the victims and their families are prohibited from doing so.

    The relaity is, Meir Shlomo said he has 15 victims who have “come forward indicating they want to give testimony about allegations of inappropriate behaviour by a trusted official” http://www.vosizneias.com/15420/2008/04/29/melbourne-australia-whistleblowers-come/. If the victims reported to RCV, surely they wanted action. Why nothing?

    The RCV have made grand statements before and not delivered.

    The reason, well I refer you an artcile penned by Meir Shlomo in August 2010 http://www.rcv.org.au/images/docs/100820%20-%20ajn%20-%20merging%20secular%20law%20with%20halachah.pdf It states there are “two fundamental principles: that matters between Jews should be resolved through Halacha; and that disputes within the Jewish Community should remain within our community”

    As to the assertion by Romy Leibler, that they would take action, I would like to remind him that he was appointed, along with Meir Shlomo, as a director of Melbourne Beth Din in July 2007. One of the key undertakings was to set up beth din to do deal with “Commercial and Private disputes”. This has NOT happened. Much like Meir Shlomo’s promise in August 2008 to act on the 15 complaints of sexual misconduct.

    Action speak greater than words….or in this case repeated inaction proves words are hollow.

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    1. I am aware of the alleged case of a provider of security services. My knowledge of this case indicates that it was not simply a case of Rabbis preventing a victim coming forward. I know of one victim who simply didn’t want to come forward because it would open up his life. There had been big efforts to get him (and another to do so). In addition, a confidential settlement between a different victim’s lawyer and the provider of security services was entered into, back then. I do not know if Rabbis were involved in that settlement. I can attempt to find out, though.

      That being said, I’m aware of another alleged case, where there is a think dossier held by a psychologist, and Rabbis were made aware, but for some reason I cannot understand, still allow this person to perform various roles.

      It’s exceedingly sad.

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    2. I received the following response from Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant:

      This is unfortunate – firstly not even 1 of the 15 people who made
      disclosures to me was willing to go on public record. I certainly never
      said that they were, and I was never directly quoted as such. The RCV
      cannot be held accountable for what certain individual rabbis may or may
      not have done – certainly where there is only rumour and innuendo and no
      evidence or people with names who are willing to come forward on the
      record to support these allegations. I took the file with all details of
      the 15 complaints to eminent lawyers and communal leaders (religious and
      secular) – all agreed that there was nothing the RCV could do without
      having even one person willing to go on the record.

      The RCV has always delivered on our statements – we have been working
      tirelessly to set up a Beis Din for commercial and civil disputes. We and
      numerous others have invested heavily (time, effort and funds) in this
      project and we are entirely committed to make it happen. However it will
      take time to do properly. I too am growing impatient, but I cant let my
      personal feelings get in the way of what needs to be done in order to
      ensure that the Beis Din will be a credible institution; one in which our
      community will take pride.

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  8. [Slightly edited by me (Isaac)]

    Isaac, why are you Meir Shlomo’s puppet…let him make the statements himself.

    I again refer to the article. http://www.vosizneias.com/15420/2008/04/29/melbourne-australia-whistleblowers-come/ It is explicit. The AJN was advised by the RCV and Meir Shlomo “Fifteen people from the Orthodox Jewish community have come forward indicating they want to give testimony about allegations of inappropriate behaviour by a trusted official.”

    It is does not get any clearer than this.

    Further, you stated earlier, “I know that in the matter that I was involved with, a confidential deal involving lawyers was cut between the alleged victim and an alleged perpetrator”

    A civil settlement where a criminal act has transpirred, is I believe problematic, particularly where the Rabbis were involved in that settlement as a compromise to a criminal action/complaint being lodged.

    Further, you yourself have also referred to various other matters and the Rabbis knowledge, yet non-reporting to the authorities.

    I refer to your above statement “That being said, I’m aware of another alleged case, where there is a think dossier held by a psychologist, and Rabbis were made aware, but for some reason I cannot understand, still allow this person to perform various roles.”

    It appears Meir Shlomo has learnt how to be ‘clever with words’, and about non-reporting (refer below). Why can’t we have honest leaders in our community, instead of those who constantly speak with a ‘forked tongue’, particularly when we are dealing with henious crimes.

    P.S. Rabbi Glick was the principal at Yeshivah College, when the alleged crimes were allegedly committed by then teacher David Kraemer, and the Yeshivah Centre chose not to report him to the authorities. David Kramer subsequently went on to reoffend. David Kraemer is currently serving time in a US prision for some of these subsequent offences. http://www.vosizneias.com/21480/2008/10/18/melbourne-australia-fleeing-yeshiva-teacher-jailed-in-us-for-inappropriate-behaviour-with-students/

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    1. K.
      You exaggerate if you describe me as a “puppet” simply because I posted an email I received. Notwithstanding that, I will ask Meir Shlomo to post his comments directly.

      I don’t know whether the civil settlement involving the person who performs community security involved Rabonim. I said I would try and find out. Do you know that it did?

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  9. Meir Shlomo evidently has an imperfect understanding of criminal law in the State of Victoria. If he suspects that a criminal offence has taken place in the State of Victoria, then he is duty bound under the common law to pass on his suspicions to the Victorian Police. His argument that the alleged victims must be willing to go on the record is specious. If his argument were correct, then it would follow that no suspected murder could ever be reported to the police because the alleged victim would be unable to come forward! Again, if his argument were correct, then no sexual or physical abuse of young children could be reported, simply because it could be insisted that the young children were in no position to come forward, go on the record and report the alleged offence to the authorities.

    Indeed, one does not have to be an expert in the criminal law of Victoria to think of hundreds of breaches of the criminal law where there is no specific victim willing to go on the record: health and safety breaches in the workplace for example; hygiene breaches in cafes, restaurants and hospitals. Illegal acts of cruelty against non-human animals. Acts of vandalism or destruction of property observed by passers by. Frankly, the list is almost endless.

    To me, an outsider, the situation here is quite simple and morally unambiguous. Fifteen people have come forward to the Rabbinic Council in Victoria and alleged that one or more criminal offences have taken place against the criminal law of Victoria. The RCV is now duty bound to pass on this information to the Victorian Police. If they fail to do this then at best the RCV becomes morally complicit. At worst, each and every member of the board of the RCV themselves could be charged by the Victorian Police under the criminal law of Victoria with being an accessory after the fact. Therefore, the members of the board of the RCV need to stop prevaricating and procrastinating and ACT.

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    1. Thommo.
      The following constitutes the law and therefore your aforementioned view/conjecture would appear to be in error. I submitted your comment.

      In regard to your query, there is no legal obligation for RCV to inform police of such crime.
       
      In Victoria, the only mandatory reporting obligation in relation to child abuse relates to teachers, doctors and nurses and some other child care professionals.  Even then, the obligation to inform authorities only arises where they hold concerns that the child is in immediate danger or that the abuse is likely to re-occur.

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  10. Thommo, I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about the law. Some people have a duty to report suspicions of some breaches of the law, but there’s no overall duty that applies to all people and all laws.

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  11. I agree with Thommo and would go further. If 15 people make allegations against a teacher or religious figure about being molested as children at a religious institution, the persons in charge of the institution involved have a moral obligation, not just a legal obligation to report it to the police for investigation, even if those persons do not wish to be identified. Are these religious authorities saying that their legal obligations override their moral obligations? If so, they should leave the religious life. I wouldn’t want them teaching my children.

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