One of the most senior religious figures of the Jewish ultra-orthodox movement in NSW, Rabbi Yosef Feldman, allegedly engaged in a disingenuous “public relations” exercise in urging sexual abuse victims to contact police as he privately pressured his flock not to report outside the community.
In a scathing submission to the child sex abuse royal commission released yesterday, counsel assisting Maria Gerace said Rabbi Feldman refused to accept that Jewish organisations had a responsibility to report the sexual abuse of children to secular authorities, despite publicly stating the opposite.
She said his public statements in 2011 supporting calls for rabbinical organisations to encourage victims to report claims to police were merely an attempt to mitigate damage to his reputation caused by the publication of emails attacking the victims of sexual abuse.
In explosive evidence to the royal commission in February this year, Rabbi Feldman, formerly the president of the Rabbinical Council of NSW, said Jewish leaders should not publicly encourage victims to go to police because it fed media “hype” and caused “fake” victims to make up allegations.
Ms Gerace said a subsequent and supplementary submission to the commission by the rabbi in which he tried to distance himself from his evidence was not a true representation of his views but “an attempt to rehabilitate his public reputation”.
“The views expressed by Rabbi Yosef Feldman in 2011, 2013, 2014 and at the public hearing (of the royal commission) demonstrate that he often approaches the issue of child sexual abuse from the perpetrator’s perspective, rather than from the child’s perspective,” she said.
“As at July 26, 2011, Rabbi Yosef Feldman held a view that allegations of child sexual abuse should in the first instance be reported to a rabbi, who should investigate the complaint and determine whether or not to report to the authorities.
“Rabbi Yosef Feldman believed that a relevant consideration for a rabbi in deciding whether or not to report an allegation was when the abuse was committed and whether the perpetrator had repented or changed.”
The submissions were also scathing of the Yeshiva Centre in Sydney and its sister organisation in Melbourne, the Yeshivah Centre, for funding sexual abusers of children to flee Australia and hindering police investigations.
It follows this week’s scathing judgment by the Victorian Supreme Court on the actions of another ultra-orthodox community in Melbourne that helped and paid for a perpetrator to leave Australia before the police could investigate.
In that case, a victim of sexual abuse by the headmistress of the strictly devout Adass Israel School was awarded more than $1 million, with judge Jack Rush slamming the school’s board for paying for her to leave the country in the middle of the night, only hours after she had been told of the allegations.
Justice Rush criticised the school for helping the headmistress flee to Israel after the abuse allegations came to light and before police were notified, describing its actions as “deplorable”, “disgraceful”, “deliberate” and deserving of the Supreme Court’s “disapprobation and denunciation”.