Haredi London Sex Abuse Cover-Up Established with Tape Recording of Rabbi Padwa

Next week, Britain’s Channel 4 BBC will be running an in-depth report about sex abuse in the ultra orthodox community in Britain. Miriam Shaviv reports that BBC’s Channel 4 has actively investigated the problem. They will air a recording of Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, Head of the Haredi Union of Hebrew Orthodox Congregations  (UHOC) as he tries to discourage someone from reporting abuse to the police.

London is embroiled in a controversy about Rabbi Chaim Halpern, a Hasidic rabbi in Golders Green, a more modern neighborhood than Hasidic Stamford Hill. The rabbis of Golders Green have publicly called on Halpern to quit the rabbinate because of allegations of sexual conduct with young women he counseled from Stamford Hill. Padwa has at times protected Halpern and at other times spoken of investigations and removing Halpern from some positions. In one case he took three different positions over 24 hours.

Padwa is obviously under a lot of pressure from competing factions. Satmar seems to have lined up behind Halpern. Padwa, like most of these guys, is alleging that the complaints about abuse are without cause and are actually attempts at extortion.

When the Channel 4 BBC segment airs on the 30th, expect new damaging revelations. Everyone in London is waiting, some quite anxiously.

The Centrist London Beth Din,  anticipating the BBC broadcast, pre-emptively sent a letter to all rabbis affiliated with the Beth Din reminding them of their  policy. The letter is ambiguous. Near the end of the letter they write,

As you have previously been informed, the United Synagogue’s Child Protection Officer is David Frei. Should you encounter or be informed about any situations which raise concerns, please refer to him in the first instance for advice.

The latter sounds like the US Agudah policy of always asking a rabbi first. On the other hand, earlier in the letter they reference a  policy similar to the US Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). Another part of the Beth Din letter says,

When abuse has occurred, the police must be informed without delay. Local communities should not attempt to deal with the situation internally.

Perhaps I am missing some subtlety of British usage. The United States and Great Britain are, after all, two countries separated by a common language (GB Shaw). On the other hand we may just be witnessing a subtle difference between crude Hareidi approaches to cover-ups and the more sophisticated approaches of the more modern sectors of the community where the public position is go to the police and actual practice is diversion from the police by rabbinical “advice.” If that is the case, the earlier part of the letter is a reminder about public talking points if ambushed by the press. The letter may also reflect differences of approach between the more modern rabbis of the United Synagogue and the Haredim who have gained control of the Beth Din itself.

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8 thoughts on “Haredi London Sex Abuse Cover-Up Established with Tape Recording of Rabbi Padwa

  1. You are missing something… It is standard practice to have a Child Protection officer to whom you report any suspected abuse and then immediately inform the authorities where appropriate. This is in line with UK practice. It does sound strange but it is normal. David Frei is a lawyer; the LBD is run very professionally. I personally dealt with a case of abuse where the LBD referred it straight to the police.

    • No. Police and child welfare agencies take reports directly in UK as in US. However institutions are required to have such a person who is supposed only to listen, record accurately and immediately report as well as making other staff aware of reporting. We have similar things in the us. If all Frei does is forward all plausible comlaints straigt along, fine. But there is something strange about implying that this is a preferred first stop. In the US, in ultra orthodox circles, the first stop inside the system is almost always the last stop. I don’t know soccer terminology. But in the thing we Americans call football, we refer to those as intercepts. In Agudah circles, advise is a euphemism for intercept.

  2. The London Beth Din letter is seriously lacking in terms of UK Charity requirements, because firstly, it only mentions obligations to report to the police if “abuse has occurred”. That implies that it is not needing to be reported to the police if it has not been objectively established that it has occurred. This of course is a reason being given for why Halpern is being allowed to continue operating under the auspices of the UOHC. However, both organizations are legally charities, and the UK charity legislation obliges all charities to report even suspected abuse or improprieties affecting beneficiaries of the charity to the Charity Commission, and even suspected criminal activities to the police. They are also required to have *and enforce* a policy for dealing with vulnerable adults (for example emotionally distressed adults and/or people with addictions or mental health issues seeking counselling) by all concerned with the charity. The LBD guidance refers only to child abuse, not to suspected abuse of vulnerable adults.

    Relevant legally binding UK Charity Commission guidance:
    http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/Our_regulatory_activity/Reporting_issues/rsinotes.aspx#d

    If the Trustees and the charity fail to comply, they can be stripped of the right to act as Trustees,and the charity can be stripped of its charitable status (which will result in massive reductions in income). This has just happened to a fundamentalist Christian school in the UK which was found to have subjected pupils to cruel and unreasonable restrictions and punishments.

    Relevant, legally binding UK Charity Commission guidance:
    http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/Charity_requirements_guidance/Charity_governance/Managing_risk/vicarious.aspx

  3. CPOs are the vehicle through which organisations report child abuse. The CPO is trained in and informed about basic procedural stuff to do with reporting. The LBD is nothing like the corrupt Agudah /UOHC. Please don’t compare a charedi institution like UOHC in all that it implies to the reliable and solid LBD which those it has limitations, does not participate in systemised cover ups and the subsequent destruction of lives.

    • I raised a question to which frankly, I do not know the answer. I write as an American with limited understanding of the British scene. At least one informed Brit tells me there is a split in character and thrust between the largely modern rabbis of the United Synagogues and the haredi character of the London Beth Din. How and why it would play out in this case is not clear to me. I welcome your comment. But Addloyada offers a different read. I don’t know. But I believe it is a fair question to ask.

  4. There is indeed a significant difference between the London Beth Din– which is the nearest to a modern Orthodox (ie in the tradition of Rabbi S R Hirsch) and the UOHC which represents the range from the Aguda to the Satmar Chassidim. My point above is that both are arguably in breach of the legally binding requirements of UK Charity legislation (to which I have given llinks to their guidance on the relevant matters). The UOHC is in gross and flagrant breach, in that there is now objective evidence of coverups,attempts to deter a person who states they have suffered sexual abuse from reporting it the police, and using an interpretation of Halacha to add that it is prohibited as messiah. Furthermore, in relation to the scandal of Chaim Halpern and his alleged multiple molestations and sexual improprieties with married women who came to him for counselling, they have chosen to set up a Beth Din to look into the matter– but the President of the UOHC is Halpern’s own father and he has issued a statement declaring his son is incident and anyone who speaks against him will be damned to Gehinom. Halpern is one of their former Dayanim and his synagogue is a member of UOHC yet they have chosen to select Dayanim for this Beth Din, at least one of whom speaks no English, cannot attend a hearing and is reliant on a proxy to report the proceedings! There is no evidence that the accusers were consulted or offered any say in the matter. It is beyond ridiculous in terms of the legal obligations re charity status to treat vulnerable people making accusations of abuse by a key figure in your own organisation in this way. There is also evidence that threats and intimidation have been made against those attempting to have Halpern expelled from all rabbinical functions. A son of one of the present UOHC dayanim has been arrested and bailed to face charges of telephone threats to the family of one of rabbis leading the campaign against Halpern.

    It is inconceivable that such things would happen under the auspices of the London Beth Din. However their statement of policy remains inadequate for implementing the legal requirements of the Charity Commission.

    Several of the rabbis and Dayanim who have issued a statement saying that Halpern has committed acts which are incompatible with holding any rabbinical function hold posts with the London Beth Din, including the very highly respected Av Beth Din of the LBD, Dayan Ehrentreu.

    • ‘President of the UOHC is Halpern’s own father’ – correction the ex-President.
      ‘yet they have chosen to’ – what exactky is the implied logical connection between these two statements?
      ‘ no evidence that the accusers were consulted’ – since when is there a requirement to do so? Halachah is quite clear on the matter that the accused dictates which Beith Din will judge the matter.
      ‘very highly respected Av Beth Din of the LBD, Dayan Ehrentreu’ -regardless of the integrity of the ruling, it should be remembered that Ehrentreu has always borne a grudge against haredi rabbonim, and in this instance is one of a group interested in claiming Golders Green for the LBD. The tradition support base of the LBD is virtually non-existent, and what little is left is pulling away at the speed of light. To their credit, the present rabbonim of the LBD have congregated in Golders Green (rather than much further afield, as had previously been the practice) and as they contemplated their falling stocks, they realised that they may still have sufficient support in GG to create a new base – if it weren’t for the Halperin’s meddling in the matter (the Halperin’s have been settled in GG for well over fifty years) and trying to swing alliegences in favour of the UOHC. Getting the Halperins out of the way would clear the deck for them to achieve their ends and save the LBD. But then, why suspect those highly regarded rabbonim of anything but the purest of motives? After all they have all declared their impartiality.

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