Australian rabbi apologizes for saying sex abuse victims may have consented

Rabbinical Council of Victoria says comments by former Sydney Chabad leader were appalling.

June 24, 2013 12:54
2 minute read.
Australian police officer [file]

Australian police officer [file]. (photo credit: Reuters)

A former senior Chabad leader in Sydney in Monsey, NY, has issued an apology for making comments suggesting that some of the Jewish victims of alleged child sex abuse in Australia may have consented, Australian media reported Monday.

In a legally recorded telephone conversation obtained by Fairfax media and posted on YouTube, Rabbi Boruch Lesches - who now heads the Lubavitch community in Monsey, NY - admitted to knowing about the alleged abuse of a boy but not going to the police with the information. Instead, according to Fairfax Media, the rabbi told the alleged perpetrator that if the abuse did not stop, both he and the boy would be dismissed from the community.

The phone conversations were provided to NSW police investigating child sex allegations against a man associated with Sydney’s Chabad community in the 1980s.

"We are speaking about very young boys... everybody says about the other one that 'he agreed to this,'" Lesches said in the phone conversation. When queried about young boys consenting, he said, “You would be surprised.”

Reporting alleged abusers to police so many years after incidents occurred would "destroy them and their children" and cause pain for victims, he warned, according to Australian news outlet Brisbane Times.

Lesches dismissed the reopening of the case now as a “can of worms." “When it is such a long time ago, everybody suffers,” he said. “If you start to do something about it, it will not be productive.”

The Brisbane Times reported that on Monday, Rabbi Lesches issued a statement, saying that he regretted making the comments in the recent telephone conversation. Lesches is quoted as saying, "I would like to apologize for statements made in a private telephone conversation that caused pain to the greater public... I would like to make my position absolutely clear: Without any reservation, I endorse the rabbinical rulings encouraging victims of abuse to report to the police." According to Fairfax Media, the alleged abuser, currently being investigated by police for sexually abusing at least four boys in the Sydney Yeshiva community, has admitted that Rabbi Lesches spoke to him regarding his activities with a younger boy.

The Rabbinical Council of Victoria issued a statement Sunday saying it was “appalled” by the comments. “It is deeply regrettable and shocking that there still do exist some individuals out there on the fringe in the religious leadership world who take positions contrary to the clear-cut contemporary halachic approach on the matter of child sexual abuse,” said Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, president of the council.

Manny Waks, a spokesman for Jewish child sex abuse victims, also said the comments were “absolutely shocking.”

“Unfortunately this attitude and some of the views are fairly prevalent within the fervently Orthodox community,” he said. “After so many exposes, surely this is now undeniable.”

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