In Australian child abuse commission, rabbis plead ignorance

“It could potentially be something that was highly inappropriate. I did not know what a crime was. In Japan, I heard they allow child pornography,” Rabbi says.

Rabbi Yosef Feldman (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Yosef Feldman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Australian rabbis continued to plead ignorance regarding the proper procedures for handling suspected cases of molestation on Friday, during testimony before a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Yeshiva Center’s Rabbi Yosef Feldman – appearing before the commission a day after his father, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, admitted he had neglected to inform the police a suspected pedophile was about to flee the country – said he was aware that the same suspect, identified as AVL, had massaged an underage boy. Feldman is reported to be related to AVL.
While Yosef Feldman acknowledged the behavior was “highly improper” from a “Jewish perspective,” he told the commission he had not reported the incident to law enforcement and he “wasn’t looking from a legal criminal perspective,” according to news reports.
“It could potentially be something that was highly inappropriate.
I did not know what a crime was. In Japan, I heard they allow child pornography,” he replied when asked if he knew that such touching was illegal, the Australian Jewish News reported.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Feldman accused AJN of defamation for reporting that he said he did not know it was against the law to handle a child’s genitalia.
Feldman said the child in question had not initially portrayed the contact as sexual in nature, and that he only found out additional details later, adding that “it wasn’t my role to do reporting and things of this nature anyway.”
“So I knew it certainly wasn’t a proper thing but at the same time it wasn’t as though I personally was thinking about [if] its something that’s a crime,” Feldman said. “I’m not talking about touching, I’m talking about massaging his back... I didn’t exactly know what the laws were about such a thing at the time.”
In a written statement to the commission, Feldman said he was “deeply sorry for the suffering” abuse victims have suffered and for the pain they “have experienced as a result of the vilification and abuse from the community for having reported of publicized that abuse.” He added that “I agree without qualification that it is obligatory to immediately report all allegations of sexual abuse to the police.”
On Sunday, Rabbi James Kennard, a former member of the executive of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV), lambasted the Australian Rabbinate, writing on Facebook that “the Orthodox community is being engulfed in the terrible hillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) that is revealed each day at the Royal Commission; as the media coverage has made ‘rabbi’ a mark of shame and ‘Orthodox Jew’ a byword for the cover-up of child abuse.”
Kennard said he resigned from the RCV over the failure of the rabbinical body to “issue a statement calling the leadership of the Yeshiva community to account.”