Channel 4 Dispatches
January 30, 2013
An undercover investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches reveals that some rabbis in the Strictly Orthodox Jewish community forbid or discourage alleged victims of child abuse from going to the police.
There is no suggestion that child sex abuse is any worse in this religious community. However, the film exposes how the Strictly Orthodox, or Charedi, community's approach to child protection can leave children at risk and shield abusers from justice.
The programme, airing on Wednesday 30th January on Channel 4, includes:
- Secret filming showing Rabbi Ephraim Padwa - who leads the Charedi community in London's Stamford Hill - instructing an alleged victim of child sexual abuse not to go to the police describing it as ‘mesira’, which means it's forbidden to report a Jew to non-Jewish authority.
- Hears about a family that reported an alleged child abuser to the police and was then harassed and driven out of the community - as one Rabbi says: "they would be cursed and spat at in the street and called informer”.
- Interviews members of a group of young Charedi men who became so disillusioned with the failure of rabbis to deal with complaints of abuse they have taken the law into their own hands by threatening and attacking alleged perpetrators.
On the eve of the broadcast - two leading British rabbinical authorities representing a wider spectrum of the Jewish community, have issued statements and guidance to their communities on how to report child sexual abuse – emphasising the importance of reporting such allegations to the police.
Background to the investigation
There are around 40,000 Charedim in Britain, around a sixth of the Jewish population, living by a strict interpretation of their faith, as decided by their Rabbis.
And with their long history of persecution, some Charedi Rabbis declare that reporting a fellow Jew to non- Jewish authorities is forbidden. This even applies to allegations of child abuse in Britain today.
The people who spoke out in the making of this film, told us their first port of call for advice was always the rabbis. But going to the police could have devastating consequences.
They spoke of their fears of facing being cast out of their community – the only way of life they had known. And this fear keeps many victims from seeking justice.
The investigation started a year ago when Channel 4 Dispatches heard about parents who were concerned about an alleged paedophile who’d got a job in a Charedi school. They felt powerless to do anything about it.
During our investigation we uncovered 19 different alleged cases of child sex abuse across England- yet not one was reported to the police because alleged victims feared reprisals from within the community.
That same fear made it difficult for people to speak to us. But of those who did, many said the community wants to deal with any problems internally, even when it comes to something as serious as alleged child sex abuse.
Within the community people often turn to the Rabbis for advice and help. Our investigation discovered that 'advice' sometimes amounts to an outright ban on reporting alleged child abuse to the authorities.
Rabbi instructing an alleged victim not to go to the police
Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations in Stamford Hill in London , was recorded by a former community member using a hidden camera as part of a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation into child sex abuse within the community.
The footage shows the community member telling Rabbi Padwa: “Someone that did bad things to me when I was younger. Someone who you may know of, who abused me, sexually abused me when I was younger, when I was a child and I’m looking for your advice, to be honest, what to do. I think it’s someone you might have dealt with in the past. I think it’s someone you might dealt with in the past.,”
In response Rabbi Padwa says: “I imagine that I know whom you are talking. And if I’m correct, we are dealing with this. We are dealing with this.”
The community member then asks: “Would do you think maybe, is it a good idea to speak to the police about it?”
“Oh no,” Padwa answers, explaining that doing so would constitute “mesira,” means it's forbidden to report a Jew to a non-Jewish authorities.
Here is a section of transcript from conversation:
Community Member (CM): “Do you think maybe, is it a good idea to speak to the police about it?”
Rabbi Padwa (RP): “Oh, No.”
CM: “No? Why?”
RP: “It’s mesira.”
CM: “But this is a very serious issue.”
RP: “Yes, but not police.”
CM: “Not the police?”
RP: “Men Tur Nisht [People must not tell tales]”.
CM: “Even if you think it may be happening to other people?”
RP. “No. not police.”
CM: “Not the police. And um, How, how _ I mean, how can you reassure yourself that this man is not doing it to others?”
RP: “Look, the police also cannot assure. The police is not the solution.”
CM: “Under no circumstances?”
CM: “Now I’ve got a question – if, if the police found out about it and they called me in, what would, what would you say to me?”
RP: “HaShem (Heaven Forbid), let’s hope it wouldn’t happen. You shouldn’t do anything that can lead to the police. “
CM: “But if - if someone else went to the police on him and I was called what, what do I do then? “
RP: “Let’s hope it wouldn’t happen. “
Rabbi Ephraim Padwa leads London's Strictly Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill home to more than a hundred synagogues and religious institutions.
He is known internationally as an expert in Jewish religious law. When such a senior Rabbi speaks – he is listened to, even if that advice could seriously jeopardise any police investigation.
In the programme, Channel 4 Dispatches is told by another Charedi Rabbi that Rabbi Ephraim Padwa recently forbade a father, who had told the police that his son had been sexually abused, from pursuing the case.
Prior to going undercover, we’d also heard of other concerns about how Rabbi Padwa handles reports of child abuse, and wanted to find out for ourselves what he’d say to someone who came for advice.
Dispatches heard from a man that grew up in the community, who says he was sexually abused as a child by a fellow Charedi. We asked him to help us investigate the claims against Rabbi Padwa by training him to secretly film a meeting with this Rabbi.
The man has now left community but he could still meet the Rabbi without raising suspicions.
Fear of being cast out of their community
A Charedi Rabbi - who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, takes the extraordinary step in this programme of breaking rank and speaking out against Rabbi Padwa.
He is outraged at how a young family was targeted and driven out of their community after reporting to the authorities that their child had been sexual abused in a Synagogue.
Interviewer: “When the child's telling his mum and dad all this [about the sexual abuse], I mean what thoughts did the father say was going through his head?
Rabbi: “The young man didn’t know what to do, and out of desperation, he made the decision to call the police.
Interviewer: To people outside [the community] they’ll be saying, he believes his son was abused, of course go to the police?.
Rabbi: “There are tremendous ramifications for the victim’s family because in certain segments of the Orthodox community, being labelled as an informer is one of the most terrible things that can happen.”
“The police felt there was enough evidence to take out the perpetrator from the middle of the Stamford Hill community in handcuffs. And this is disgraceful, a scandal… most of the community knew about it that night, and whoever didn't knew about it in synagogue the next morning.”
“Then he went to the senior Rabbi of the Stamford Hill community, whose name is Rabbi Padwa. His whole total concern was to berate the father, “How dare you go and be an informer? He said, "You ruined his life, he was ashamed enough by the arrest and what happened, and therefore leave it go. It's forbidden for you to pursue the case. Rabbi Padwa never expressed sympathy not for the child and not for the parents…
“Six hours later, a person banged on the door. The first thing that man said, “Do you know that the whole London community has not slept the whole night because of what you did? And I myself will go and get social services to take away your children.” The harassment escalated into cars that would gun their motors and zoom up next to the family if they were out on the street. The synagogues told them, ‘You're not welcome here anymore,’ they would be cursed and spat at in the street and called informer. So it becomes hopeless to them and ultimately they leave the country.”
“There is no question here that we do not have the ability to police and deal with perverts, deviants, child molesters. We can’t – it’s above the pay grade of the Rabbis.”
The programme also hears from members of a group of young Chardi men who are disillusioned with the failure of rabbis to deal with complaints of abuse. They don’t feel they can go to the police, but at the same time they clearly don’t believe the rabbis are capable of dealing with this situation properly. Instead these men tell Dispatches they started taken the law into their own hands by attacking alleged perpetrators.
Rabbi Padwa Response
At the beginning of our investigation we secretly filmed Rabbi Padwa – the leader of the Charedi Community in Stamford Hill –forbidding a victim of child sex abuse from going to the police.
We asked Rabbi Padwa to explain why he forbad a victim of child sex abuse from going to the police, and the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations – the organization he heads, sent us this letter…
“The Jewish Community considers the safety and protection of our children as paramount.”
It says we have established “Robust structures to deal with child abuse”.
And that: “We work and will continue to work with police and social services...to build trust and to create a system which does address and resolve allegations of abuse within our community”.
The letter doesn’t answer any of our questions, and nor does it explain the actions of Rabbi Padwa - a man whose very role is to lead and counsel members of his community to do what's right.
The programme prompts public statements by several British rabbinical authorities – including Rabbi Padwa's organisation
On the eve the airing of the programme the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) – the organization Rabbi Padwa heads – issued a statement which appears to be announcing the formation of a new child protection committee composed of people who have had child protection training, rabbis and educators. But the statement makes it clear that the ultimate decision on whether a family in the Charedi community tells the police about a claim of sexual abuse by a fellow Charedi, ultimately rests with this committee.
“The Orthodox Hebrew Congregations have a special Committee to deal with incidences of attacks of this kind on the children of our congregations. The members of the Committee consist of rabbis, educators and members of the community, among whom there are those who have been trained in the right way to tackle this. The rabbinate recognises five particular instances in which it is right and necessary to contact the Social Services and/or the Police. The Committee will consult with the rabbinate about the right way to deal with each incidence…
In any instance that is brought before any of the rabbis, educators or the directors of institutions where there is a fear for a child’s safety you are asked to bring the matter to the knowledge of the Committee which will deal with it according to the advice of the Rabbinical Court and according to the law of the land.”
But two other leading British rabbinical authorities have made public statements emphasising the importance of reporting allegations of child sexual abuse directly to the police.
Rabbi Yehuda Brodie, registrar of the Manchester Beth Din (which represents a broader spectrum of Orthodox Jewry) made the following comment to the Jewish Chronicle:
“We offer our strongest support for any victim of any criminal act to report matters to the authorities, including the police, as and where appropriate.”
The London Beth Din which represents just modern Orthodox Jews says:
“It is therefore essential that when abuse has occurred, the police must be informed without delay. Local communities should not attempt to deal with the situation internally. Delays in reporting abuse can cause vital evidence to be lost, allowing the abusers to continue violating our children. We must all ensure that the children of our communities will be protected by reporting abuse to the authorities wherever it takes place.”
Britain’s Hidden Child Abuse – Channel 4 Dispatches Special – Wednesday 30th January at 10.30pm