Torah offered by sex offender to London Chabad house sparks controversy

The Chabad house says it was unaware of the donor's troubling background and will not use the Torah scroll he donated.

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January 7, 2018 16:10
3 minute read.
torah scroll

A torah scroll. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Leaders of a Chabad community in London on Sunday said the hassidic group will not use a new Torah scroll loaned to it by a convicted child sex offender that it had been due to house temporarily.

The completion of the scroll and its contribution by Menachem Mendel Levy was celebrated in an event in Golders Green last Monday.

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Levy was recently released from prison after completing a three-year sentence for two counts of sexual assault against a teenage girl.

On Monday, a post that was later removed from the Crownheights.info website, announced the “joyous celebration” to welcome the new Sefer Torah [Torah scroll] sponsored by Levy and his wife. The scroll was set to be housed in a new Chabad House in Golders Green. But following the event, that plan was changed.

“Toward evening the seuda [meal] was held at the Levy home, where Rabbi Moshe Levy and his brothers spoke with admiration and respect about their parents, and in whose names the new Torah was dedicated,” the post said.

Levy was convicted of abusing Yehudis Goldsobel when she was 14 years old. Goldsobel grew up in the Orthodox community in London.

“What about Mendel’s courageous victim, Yehudis Goldsobel?” wrote Manny Waks, an activist and CEO of Kol v’Oz, an Israel-based organization that works to prevent childhood sexual abuse in Jewish communities worldwide. “Yehudis endured years of abuse, first by Mendel, and then by the local Chabad community in which she was raised. How about standing with her, rather than with her abuser? Why should Yehudis be exposed to more pain and suffering by the same leaders and community who have already hurt her so much? Also, what message does this send to other victims and survivors of child sexual abuse within the Chabad community?”

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“This is just disgraceful on so many levels,” Waks added.

In 2013, Goldsobel told The Jewish Chronicle that after reporting the crimes to the police, rabbis refused to acknowledge her suffering, her family were driven from their synagogue and that kosher shops refused to serve them.

Waks is himself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who grew up in an ultra-Orthodox community in Melbourne, Australia. He broke his silence by reporting that he had been abused in the city’s Chabad Yeshiva Center.

He noted that the Australian Royal Commission recently said Chabad Australia’s inadequate response to allegations of childhood sexual abuse “relates to the beliefs and practices of insular Chabad-Lubavitch communities, including the absence of sex education or awareness about child sexual abuse, the importance of maintaining standing in the community, the application of Jewish law concepts such as lashon hora [gossip and damaging statements] and mesirah [a prohibition upon a Jew informing upon another Jew to a secular authority] to communication about and reporting of child sexual abuse, and the practice of shunning.”

“THIS IMMORAL behavior must stop immediately,” Waks said.

In a statement released Sunday, Rabbi Yossi Simon of Lubavitch Golders Green distanced himself from the event, saying: “An individual approached us about a sefer Torah he was completing and asked us if we would house it as loan for our use when we move into our premises. He then chose to turn the completion of the sefer Torah into a public event, organizing all the details, down to the production of the flyers and post-event publicity. It’s worth noting that the people who came out to celebrate at the event were there to celebrate the Torah... not an individual.”

The statement continued: “That being said, we are reviewing what happened, seeing what we need to do differently in the future to always ensure that our community is safe, and set the highest standards possible for ourselves. In light of the public nature of this celebration, and how it has come to be perceived as a celebration of this individual, we have decided not to house this sefer Torah when we move into our premises. We have also asked news outlets that published the donor’s article to remove it from their sites. We can only imagine the further anguish this matter has caused the victim, and our hearts go out to her and her family.”

Shimon Cohen, a spokesman for Chabad Lubavitch UK, stressed that there are dozens of Chabad Houses in the UK that operate independently and that Chabad Lubavitch UK knew nothing of the event until it happened.

“Chabad Lubavitch UK has very strict and robust guidelines regarding safeguarding, and had this matter come to us, it would not have been welcomed.

He also noted that while Levy refers to himself as a rabbi, there is no record that he was ever ordained.

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