Rabbi Lesches: more reaction

June 25, 2013 by  
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The reaction to the Fairfx article detailing a legally taped conversation with Rabbi Baruch Lasches in which he refers to young victims of sexual assault being “consenting” continues with statements to J-Wire from the Rabbinical Council of NSW and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and child abuse advocacy group Tzedek.

These statements follow comments made in yesterday’s J-Wire by the Rabbinical Council of Victoria.

The Rabbinical Council of NSW in its statement says:

Rabbi Baruch Lesches

Rabbi Baruch Lesches

“In view of recent reported misleading comments in the press which have subsequently been repudiated and retracted,
The Rabbinical Council of NSW wish
1) to reiterate once again its absolute abhorrence of all forms of child abuse as well as its firm policy of encouraging the reporting of all incidents of such abuse to the police. Statements to the contrary that have been made or may be made in the future by any individual Rabbi who may or may not have had a past association with the NSW Rabbinate  do not and will not represent the  position of the RCNSW which is as stated above and which is affirmed by all its members.
2) to state the unequivocal Jewish view enshrined in the Torah that all human beings are created in the image of G-D (Genesis 1:27) with the  potential to attain moral and ethical excellence and to overcome negative impulses (ibid 4:7). All forms of bigotry and prejudice directed against all human beings, non-Jews and Jews alike,  is categorically rejected by authentic Jewish teachings and traditions.”

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has added its voice: “The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the national peak body of the Jewish community in Australia, is appalled by, and unequivocally condemns comments attributed to Rabbi Boruch Lesches as reported in The Age (23 June 2013).

The ECAJ reaffirms its public statements of 18 July 2011 and 27 November 2012 that:

  • child sexual abuse is a crime of the utmost seriousness;
  • it is obligatory to report all allegations of sexual abuse to the relevant authorities, and all alleged victims should be encouraged to come forward and provide the police with any relevant information they may have and do everything to assist the police with their enquiries;
  • the families, friends and advisers of those with claims of abuse are encouraged to support them in every way, for the sake of helping victims to achieve justice and closure and to prevent further harm to other children; and
  • there is no place for victims to be ostracized or ‘punished’ in any way for coming forward and making a complaint;
  • and further declares that:
  • any suggestion that young children are in a position to ‘consent’ to sexual abuse is utterly misconceived and to be deplored;
  • racially discriminatory or vilificatory comments of any kind in connection with such abuse are unacceptable and not to be tolerated.

Tzedek is a Melbourne-based advocacy group dealing with the sexual abuse of children. They have responded to the Lesches affair with the following statement:

‘Tzedek strongly condemns and is appalled by the callous views and behaviour of Rabbi Baruch Lesches as reported in The Age (23 June 2013 – http://www.theage.com.au/national/rabbi-young-boys-may-have-consented-to-sex-20130622-2opkf.html).

We expect the police to thoroughly investigate all claims relating to the rape and sexual abuse of children at Yeshivah, irrespective of when this is alleged to have occurred, and to vigorously pursue any perpetrators and their enablers to the full extent of the law, including considering extradition of anyone now living overseas who is credibly accused of committing a serious criminal offence.

If Rabbi Lesches was indeed aware of the allegations that children under Yeshiva’s care had been assaulted and raped by a person known to him, his behaviour is both immoral and unfathomable. Regardless of whether mandatory reporting laws were in place, any right-thinking person would have realised that the sodomy of children was a serious crime which merited police investigation, no matter who the alleged perpetrator was. It is offensive and irresponsible to suggest that an 11-year-old child could have consented to sexual activity with someone 10 years his senior – in fact Australian law has always deemed such behaviour to be statutory rape.

The alleged callous response of Rabbi Lesches to the claims – threatening to expel the victims as well as the perpetrators out of Yeshivah – is completely incomprehensible. It suggests he was blaming the vulnerable and innocent children for the horrible crimes that had been committed against them. It also indicates that the Rabbi did not care about the safety and well-being of anyone else outside his immediate community.

While it is pleasing to see that the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) is “appalled by, and unequivocally distances itself from, comments attributed to Rabbi Boruch Lesches”, what is the response of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia?

As anticipated, the RCV and others are attempting to minimise the extent of this problem claiming that “It is deeply regrettable and shocking that there still do exist (sic) some individuals out here on the fringe in the religious leadership world who take positions contrary to the clearcut contemporary halachic (Jewish law) approach on the matter of child sexual abuse.”
It is disingenuous to suggest that Rabbi Lesches’ views are those of a fringe minority. Similar offensive comments and views have been expressed by numerous senior Orthodox Jewish figures throughout the world, not just Australia.

Waks has named names on his Facebook page but J-Wire reports the incidents only.
Rosh Yeshiva (Yeshiva Head) in London, who blamed the sudden death of student from pneumonia on those who had reported another rabbi for sexually abusing women he was supposed to be counselling;

A rabbi who told followers to ask a rabbi before reporting suspected child sexual abuse to police or child protection services and that no matter how bad the behaviour of ultra-Orthodox Jews may seem, they were better than the non-Jews.

A rabbi who ruled that, because a rabbi did not penetrate his young victims there was therefore no abuse according to Torah law.

The head of a  rabbinical school, who said he didn’t try to stop child sex abuse at the high school because he could not be sure the allegations met halachic threshold for truth;

A rabbi who claimed the innocence of another rabbi  “after conducting a thorough investigation” – despite the fact that the rabbi subsequently pleading guilty to child sexual abuse.

For this reason Tzedek stands by its original statement that Rabbi Lesches’ comments were “consistent with the approach of many senior orthodox Jewish figures in the community”. Contrary to the view of the RCV, and based on the evidence above, this statement is not “malicious in nature and incorrect”.

It is also important to note that Rabbi Lesches is a recognised leader within the global and influential Chabad movement and not a fringe figure as some are suggesting. He served as head of Yeshivah Sydney for 20 years and was Rabbi of the Australian capital for 25 years. Rabbi Lesches is now the mora d’asra (senior rabbi and community leader) of Chabad’s main synagogue in Monsey, New York, and is often called on to act as a posek (decider of halakha, Jewish law) for Chabad followers worldwide.

In response to some criticism regarding the inclusion of Rabbi Meir Kluwgant, President of the RCV, in The Age article, we note its relevance due to the various positions he holds and the real or perceived conflicts of interest that exist. Besides from his role at the RCV, Rabbi Kluwgant is a police chaplain, rabbi at Jewish Care, a member of the Board of the Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence, a senior member of the Melbourne Yeshivah community, the son of a senior member of the Melbourne Yeshivah community and a relative of Rabbi Avrohom Glick (former Yeshivah Principal whose recent evidence the Magistrate described as “unfathomable”).

In response to a part of the RCV statement: “In recent years the RCV, in conjunction with the Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence (JTAFV), has held numerous training sessions for its members and members of the Victorian Rabbinate in general; these sessions have been focussed on appropriate response to disclosures of all forms of abuse, including the reporting of child sexual abuse to the police.”, we note that the RCV repeatedly emphasises the training it has provided to its members. However, training, and for that matter any policies and procedures, are only useful if there is a willingness and intention to implement these, and there is a culture that promotes respect for all. The head rabbi of Melbourne’s Yeshivah Centre, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Telsner, has undertaken this training but continues to behave in an unconscionable manner towards those who take a stance against child sexual abuse.

We note that Rabbi Lesches has now put out a statement claiming he was not called by the reporter.  This has been denied by the journalist who said “In the days before the story was published, Fairfax Media sent emails to Rabbi Lesches’ private email address, the main email address of the US Jewish community he leads and to one of his rabbinical colleagues in New York. A text message was also sent to Rabbi Lesches asking for him to respond.”

In his apology, Rabbi Lesches has also claimed, “In my present community, where I am the Rabbi, there is no reticence to contact the police. We do not hide from or cover up criminal behaviour. In our schools this is a known fact, and one of the reasons we, may G-d protect us, have to date not been afflicted with the evil disease of child sexual abuse.”

We find it implausible that there is no child sexual abuse within Rabbi Lesches’ community. Rather, it is much more plausible that the rabbi is simply unaware of these cases – because with views like his, which community member would want to divulge such information to their rabbi?

There is credible evidence that the covering up of criminal behaviour in both the Melbourne and Sydney ultra-Orthodox communities led to additional children being sexually abused by perpetrators who were known to authority figures in the schools. It is essential that the current and past school leaders give the police every assistance in bringing perpetrators to justice, no matter when the crimes were committed, both to assist past victims and to protect others from becoming victims.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, Tzedek had no involvement in the writing of the Fairfax article or the recording of the conversation with Rabbi Lesches; Tzedek Founder and CEO Manny Waks was simply contacted by the journalist, Richard Baker, for a statement on the story.

Rabbi Lesches’ full apology: [as published on J-Wire yesterday]

I would like to apologize for statements made in a private telephone conversation that caused pain to the greater public. I deeply regret the incident.
I would like to make my position absolutely clear: Without any reservation, I endorse the rabbinical rulings encouraging victims of abuse to report to the police.
I was saddened to see an edited audio clip released by the Australian media regarding a personal phone conversation I had with an alleged victim of child abuse. I am troubled by the unprofessional conduct of the reporter who did not call me to verify the facts. Had he called me, I’m sure the information I would have provided would have produced a dramatically different article.

As I clearly told the caller in a subsequent phone conversation: I had no knowledge of the alleged charges claimed to have occurred some twenty-five years ago and discussed in the news report. In the conversation, I was discussing a separate incident where I was under the impression that both alleged parties were similar in age, twenty-one years old, a fact noted by Fairfax at the end of the audio clip. I was never informed of any allegations regarding minors prior to this call.

In retrospect I am shocked to hear of these allegations, because I often entrusted my own young children to the care of the alleged perpetrator, without hesitation. I would never have done so had I known of the allegations.

I reiterate my apology, and am firmly committed to taking every effort to eradicate child abuse in all communities. If the caller had mentioned present abuse, I would have advised him to contact the proper legal authorities.

In my present community, where I am the Rabbi, there is no reticence to contact the police. We do not hide from or cover up criminal behavior. In our schools this is a known fact, and one of the reasons we, may G-d protect us, have to date not been afflicted with the evil disease of child sexual abuse.

Comments

3 Responses to “Rabbi Lesches: more reaction”
  1. Walter says:

    Yes it is imperative, in the interest of equality, that all Jewish institutions are given much greater scrutiny and investigation about child sex abuse. The Australian Royal Commision must investigate these allegations thoroughly as we cannot tolerate this kind of behaviour in our progressive society. These rabbis must be re-educated in how they are expected to behave in the modern world. Rabbi Lesches obvious disdain for the ‘goyim’, or non-jew, also cannot be tolerated.

  2. Yisroel says:

    The following is the complete statement from Rabbi Boruch D. Lesches in response to recent media reports about him as published on his community’s website: http://www.monseychabad.com

    I would like to inform the public that statements I made in a private telephone conversation have been spliced and twisted to present opinions that are not my own and are offensive to members of the greater public.

    I would like to make my position absolutely clear: Without any reservation, I endorse the rabbinical rulings encouraging victims of abuse to report to the police.

    I was saddened to see an edited audio clip released by the Australian media regarding the personal phone conversation I had with an alleged victim of child abuse. I am troubled by the unprofessional conduct of the reporter who did not call me to verify the facts. Had he called me, I’m sure the information I would have provided would have produced a dramatically different article.

    As I clearly told the caller in a subsequent phone conversation: I had no knowledge of the alleged assault claimed to have occurred some twenty-five years ago and discussed in the news report.

    In the conversation, I was discussing a separate incident concerning inappropriate sexual conversations where I was under the impression that both alleged parties were similar in age, twenty-one years old. I was never informed of any allegations involving minors prior to this call.

    In retrospect I am shocked to hear of these allegations, because I often entrusted my own young children to the care of the alleged perpetrator, without hesitation. I would never have done so had I known of these allegations.

    I am firmly committed to doing everything necessary to eradicate child abuse in all communities. If the caller had mentioned present abuse, I would have advised him to contact the proper legal authorities.

    In my present community, where I am the Rabbi, there is no reticence to contact the police. We do not hide from or cover up criminal behavior. In our schools this is a known fact, and one of the reasons we, may G-d protect us, have to date not been afflicted with the evil disease of child sexual abuse.

    Baruch Dov Lesches
    June 23, 2013

  3. Otto Waldmann says:

    We need clarity.
    With due respect, condemning one specific person for statements attributed to the person by a source NOT directly involved with the case, a newspaper, goes beyond the objectionable.
    From information publicly available, Rabbi Lesches refered to ADULTS being involved in a certain type of relationship, both age 21. IS THIS CLEAR !!
    What is to condemn here by all those in our community !!
    The Tzedek statement, by far the longest, engages once again in extended commentary and criticism of Rabbi Lesches beyond the decent acceptance of any criticism. Tzedek ignore facts which do not relate in Rabbi Lesches publicly known utterings to anything akin to the grave issue of child abuse.
    The absurd ramifications of a farcical representation is totally unacceptable.
    Seemingly terrified by extended criticism, Rabbinical bodies, both in Victoria and NSW, excell in caution onto the side of blatant unfairness to Rabbi Lesches.
    I am yet to be given unquestionable evidence that Rabbi Lesches has committed anthing of which he is being accused by all and sundry.

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