Members of Australia’s Orthodox Jewish community who assist police investigating alleged child sexual abuse have been pressured to stay silent, secret tape recordings and emails obtained by Fairfax Media reveal.
The details of the pressure being exerted on victims have emerged as the Royal Commission into child sex abuse prepares to hold public hearings next week to examine the responses of Melbourne and Sydney’s yeshivah centres to alleged offences dating back to the 1980s.
In one secret, legally recorded 2011 telephone conversation, prominent Melbourne criminal lawyer Alex Lewenberg tells a victim of St Kilda Yeshivah centre sex offender David Cyprys he should not have co-operated with police.
“I am not exactly delighted that another Yid [Jew] would assist police against an accused no matter whatever he is accused of and that is the reason why I was very disappointed,” Mr Lewenberg, who was defending Cyprys at the time of the conversation, told the victim.
“Because there is a tradition, if not a religious requirement that you do not assist against Abraham and I was concerned about that … moserprinciple. Moseris well known.”
Mr Lewenberg was referring to the Jewish tradition of mesirah under which a Jew does not inform secular authorities about another Jew. Members of ultra-orthodox communities who assist police are often ostracised and given the derogatory label of “moser” or informer.
Fairfax Media emailed Mr Lewenberg questions about the conversation with the victim on Tuesday. He replied that “the factual allegations as set out in your communications are not correct”.
Mr Lewenberg was telephoned by the victim in October 2011 after the victim had heard talk in the Jewish community about the barrister’s alleged displeasure at him assisting police with Cyprys’ prosecution.
On the recording, Mr Lewenberg initially said he should not be speaking to the victim as the matter was before court. But he then went on to express his thoughts on the victim’s assistance to police and his dislike of a Jew informing secular authorities on another Jew.
Victoria’s Legal Services Commissioner, Michael McGarvie, said while he could not comment on the specific conversation between Mr Lewenberg and the victim, there was a general principle that made it impermissible for a lawyer to tell a witness they could not inform police about a matter because of a religious or community rule.
Fairfax Media has also obtained a series of emails which show how three influential members of St Kilda’s Yeshivah community asserted that the victim’s assistance to police in the Cyprys case had “crossed red lines” and had the “potential to undermine the [Yeshivah] centre.”
They warned that if the victim continued “to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong”, a new article about the victim would be posted on an “anonymous blog”.
In comments posted online in 2013, the same victim was described by Yeshivah members as a “sick man” and a “coward” who should be “thrown out” of the community.
The victim’s employer was also contacted by prominent members of Melbourne’s Orthodox Jewish community and told about the assistance he had given to police.
Two men previously employed by the St Kilda Yeshivah school, security guard Cyprus and teacher David Kramer*, are serving custodial sentences after last year being found guilty of serious child sex offences dating back to the early 1990s.
In Kramer’s case, the school offered to pay for him to go to Israel after it received complaints about him from parents. He then went to the United States, where he raped a 12-year-old boy and served a lengthy jail sentence.
A third man, Aron Kestecher, was last year to face court on child sex abuse charges allegedly committed at St Kilda’s Yeshivah centre in the 2000s. But he took his own life before he went to trial.
Leading figures associated with the St Kilda Yeshivah are expected to face allegations in the royal commission hearings that they failed to report suspected abusers to police and sought to cover up crimes.
In Cyprys’ committal in 2012, Victorian magistrate Luisa Bazzani said it was “unfathomable” that the former principal of the Yeshivah College in St Kilda, Rabbi Abraham Glick, did not know of the sexual abuse that was occurring there during the 1980s.
In Sydney, a former prominent member of Bondi’s Yeshiva Centre, Daniel Hayman, last year pleaded guilty to indecent assault of a minor and received a 19-month suspended sentence. A bizarre legal oddity allowed him to escape conviction for the alleged assault of a 12-year-old girl.
The NSW Ombudsman is investigating senior leaders of the Sydney Yeshiva centre over whether they failed to comply with laws that required them to report Hayman’s abuse during the 1980s to the Ombudsman.
One of those senior leaders under scrutiny is Rabbi Boruch Lesches, a senior figure at the Bondi Yeshiva Centre in the 1980s, who was aware of complaints about Hayman but never reported him to authorities.
In an audio recording broadcast by Fairfax Media in 2013, Rabbi Lesches claimed some of Hayman’s alleged victims may have consented.
In the conversation between Rabbi Lesches and one of Hayman’s victims, the rabbi cautioned against involving the police, stating that do so would ensure “everybody gets dirty, everybody suffers”.
After Fairfax Media released the recordings of Rabbi Lesches, he released a statement apologising for his comments. But in that statement the New York-based rabbi also claimed he was “never informed of any allegations involving minors prior to this call.”
However, comments made by Rabbi Lesches during the taped conversation contradict his denial. He is recorded as saying how he warned Hayman during the 1980s to stay away from a boy who was 10 years his junior.
“Absolutely, that’s right, absolutely. I told him to stay away and I told him if this will not stop both of them will have to go away. Absolutely emes [truth], you got it right,” he is recorded as saying.