Australian Jewish organizations have come out swinging after a local rabbi told a government tribunal that leniency should be shown to pedophiles who have repented.
In his second day of testimony before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Monday, Rabbi Yosef Feldman of Sydney’s Yeshiva Center, said that special account should be taken if accusations come out after a span of years during which an abuser did not commit any subsequent crimes.
“There should be a lot more leniency on people who have shown that they haven’t offended in the last 20 years or decades, and they’ve had psychological analyses ...and if they have done repentance,” Feldman was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
“Even for victims, knowing repentance is a big thing, they would understand how repentance is the main point. They should respect that specifically – if they have repented and if they have tendencies, and don’t act on that.”
According to The Herald Sun, Feldman said that, while he is concerned for victims, he expressed concerns about “punish[ing] someone for what they did 40 years ago, even though they’ve changed totally.”
Such people are “not a threat to society” and while one should not violate laws mandating reporting, “I’m certainly not happy about it,” he said.
During the inquiry it emerged that rabbis affiliated with the Yeshiva Center had been aware of inappropriate behavior by people affiliated with their institution, but failed to report any incidents to law enforcement.
Last week, Feldman admitted that, despite being informed by a student that he had been massaged by a suspect identified as AVL, he chose not to follow it up.
Feldman’s father, Pinchus, told the commission that he had neglected to inform the police after AVL told him that he was planning on fleeing to the United States.
Feldman also expressed concern that too much “publicity would bring about fake victims,” The Australian reported.
“Too much hype causes miscarriages of justice,” he said of two statements by Australian rabbinical organizations issued in 2011 calling for reporting abuse cases. “I didn’t think it was the time and place for the rabbis to come out in the media with public statements.”
During Monday’s session, it came out that Feldman had called victim’s advocate Manny Waks, who was himself subject to sexual molestation as a young yeshiva student, a “phony victim.”
In response, Waks announced on Facebook that his attorney is initiating a defamation suit against the rabbi.
“I am shocked, dismayed and deeply offended by Rabbi Feldman’s evidence today. In fact, I get a sense that the entire community is in complete shock. He must resign immediately from any leadership position that he holds,” Waks told The Jerusalem Post in an email.
“Rabbi Feldman’s remarks are disgraceful. His views are not representative of and have no place in Jewish community,” Vic Alhadeff, CEO of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies posted on Twitter.
Feldman’s statements are “repugnant to Jewish values,” he added in a second tweet.
“Yossi Feldman’s statements are repugnant to Jewish values and to Judaism, which is centered on the sanctity and dignity of individual life, especially the life of a child,” the Executive Council of Australian Jewry said in a statement.
“We believe his position as a religious leader has become untenable. As painful as the Royal Commission is for us, it has performed an essential service in exposing deeply troubling and misguided thinking by certain religious figures and raises questions about their education and training.”
One former student of the Melbourne Yeshiva Center, which is not affiliated with its counterpart in Sydney, told the commission that after informing the school’s rabbinic leadership that he was molested by pedophile David Cyprys, he lost his scholarship.
“They did not offer to help me or provide me with counseling,” AJN quoted the student, identified as AVR, as saying.
“It is vital for us as rabbis to reiterate that child sexual abuse is a criminal act and therefore the first recourse for victims and their families is the police. This is not stated as a populist position but as an halachic imperative, as stated in the preciously published Ruling of the Sydney Beth Din,” the Rabbinical Council of NSW stated Monday.
“It is highly regrettable that some individual rabbis have been guilty in the past of (a) misjudging the seriousness of allegations of victims and (b) ignorance of proper procedures to be followed in the event of such allegations being made.”