By Jessica Elgot (Huffington Post)
January 30, 2013
A senior Charedi rabbi has been secretly filmed warning an alleged victim of child sex abuse not to go to the police.
Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), which is the organising body of the UK's strictly Orthodox community, was filmed claiming that to go to the police is an act of "mesira" - a Jewish law forbidding reporting a Jew to a non-Jewish authority.
Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations in Stamford Hill in London, was recorded by a former community member, in footage that is being broadcast by Channel 4 Dispatches.
He tells 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."
He repeats his insistance the police must not be contacted, before saying in Yiddish "You should not spread rumours".
The alleged victims asks: "I mean, how can you reassure yourself that this man is not doing it to others?”
Rabbi Padwa: “Look,. The police also cannot assure. The police is not the solution.”
"You shouldn’t do anything that can lead to the police."
A Channel 4 reporter was also told of a family who reported an alleged child abuser to the police and was allegedly harassed and driven out of the community. One Rabbi said: "They would be cursed and spat at in the street and called informer".
The documentary, to be aired on Wednesday night, has sent shockwaves through the strictly Orthodox community.
Young Charedi men told filmmakers that they became so bitterly angry at the failures of senior rabbis and community leaders, that they have taken it upon themselves to attack and threaten alleged abusers.
There are around 40,000 Charedim in Britain, around a sixth of the Jewish population - many living in north east London's Stamford Hill, Manchester and Gateshead.
Channel 4 said the investigation was launched after strictly Orthodox parents spoke of concerns about an alleged paedophile who’d got a job in a Charedi school.
The documentary uncovers 19 different alleged cases of child sex abuse across England- not one reported to the police.
The man, who has left Stamford Hill's strictly Orthodox community, was trained to secretly film the encounter with Rabbi Padwa.
A Charedi Rabbi - who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said he had been driven to speak out against Rabbi Padwa, after finding out about a family driven from the community after speaking out about the abuse: "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."
In a statement, Rabbi Padwa told Channel 4: "The Jewish Community considers the safety and protection of our children as paramount."
He said there were "robust structures to deal with child abuse" and the community would “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”.
Another statement from the UOHC, published in Hebrew on some Chassidic blog sites, says the organisation is to set up a Committee to deal with sex attacks and child predators.
“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.
"There has unfortunately been produced a programme that is about to be broadcast on TV on the subject of abuse in our community where they allege that even after the actions of abusers have been known they are still able to carry out with their deeds, God forbid.
"The committee for the protection of children and instituting an appropriate policy for the protection of children in our community will, please God, assist to silence the critics who complain that the UOHC does not fulfil its duties in this matter."
One anonymous Chassidic blogger, the influential If You Tickle Us, called Rabbi Padwa's letter "lipservice" and accused the UOHC of showing "blatant disregard for anything but the safeguarding of its own precarious existence."
"Rabbi Padwa, if it is indeed so important to you that our children are protected from harm, where on God’s earth have you been hitherto? Why have you to date cared so little for the pain and suffering of children and of victims of child abuse?"
The modern Orthodox London Beth Din also expressed its disgust at the findings. "It is 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.”
But modern Orthodox rabbi Yitzchak Schochet of Mill Hill synagogue said in a blogpost that there is a historic sensitivity among strictly Orthodox Jews about reporting Jews to non-Jewish authority, "based on the premise that government authorities would typically deal harshly with Jews, persecuting them, incarcerating them or worse and often without trial.
"The general notion of a prison system is frowned upon in Judaism. The idea of remaining locked up like an animal in a cage for so many years is deemed inhumane and is self-defeating.
"And while it can be rightly argued that one has to adhere to the law of the land and thus to know in advance that doing the crime means you’ll be doing the time – nonetheless, the prison system is hardly serving the purpose it was surely intended for."
"I genuinely believe that the fear of reporting is directly correlated to the perceived end result. You might get a fairer trial but you’ll end up in the same place as the Jew who endured untold suffering in some Soviet or German hellhole."
The news comes at a time of heightened sensitivity for the UK's Charedi community, as the Jewish press have been reporting an ongoing scandal concerning complaints by up to 30 women against another senior rabbi, Chaim Halpern.
The women accuse him of sexual misconduct but the police are not believed to be involved. Many north-west London rabbis have said he is unfit to serve in a rabbinical office. Rabbi Halpern has repeatedly stated his innocence.
Britain’s Hidden Child Abuse – Channel 4 Dispatches Special– Wednesday 30th January at 10.30pm