Rabbi's Comments Spark War of Words With Jewish Paper

By Josephine Tovey (Sydney Morning Herald)
August 6, 2011

A legal battle has begun between a prominent Sydney rabbi and the country's main Jewish newspaper over a story about his alleged attitude to reporting child sexual abuse.

Legal counsel for Rabbi Yosef Feldman this week sent ''notices of concern'' to the Australian Jewish News, which published a story and editorial last week calling for his resignation and detailing comments he reportedly made in a leaked email exchange.

It reported Rabbi Feldman had argued some complaints, including child abuse, should not be reported immediately to police, where legally possible.

"I really don't understand why as soon as something of serious loshon horo [evil talk] is heard about someone of even child molestation should we immediately go to the secular authorities [sic],'' it quoted him as saying. "I personally feel that if we as a Jewish leadership can't deal with this and other issues bifnim [internally] we are showing ourselves to be impotent.''

The story prompted major controversy in the Jewish community and condemnation of Rabbi Feldman, though the Rabbinical Council of NSW, the representative body of religious leaders, has criticised the newspaper for its coverage.

Rabbi Feldman stood aside this week as president of the council, but remains on the executive, while he tries to ''clear his name''.

He has described AJN's allegations as ''false and defamatory''.

In a statement, the council and Rabbi Feldman said they unreservedly condemned ''all forms of child abuse and protection of perpetrators''. The council said the paper stooped to the level of a ''cheap tabloid''.

But other community leaders who were critical of Rabbi Feldman's reported comments have maintained that disapproval. The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president, Yair Miller, stood by his view that Rabbi Feldman's reported comments were unbefitting of a rabbi, even in an abstract discussion.

The national editor of the AJN, Zeddy Lawrence, said: ''I think it's unfortunate [the council] didn't use the same passion in condemning Rabbi Feldman's statements as they used in condemning us.''

Rabbi Eli Feldman defended his brother saying quotes had been taken out of context and some views that had been paraphrased were incorrect. ''They were conjecture, they were discussion, but they do not represent his final view.''