Rabbi questioned on way he dealt with details on rabbinical student accused of sexual abuse
The head of Sydney’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community did not tell police that a rabbinical student accused of child sexual abuse was planning to leave Australia because he did not think it was necessary.
Appearing before the royal commission into child sexual abuse on Thursday, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, the former head of Yeshiva College Bondi, was questioned on the way he dealt with abuse claims against the student, known as AVL.
About July 2002, a parent complained that AVL – then a teacher’s aide at ultra-orthodox Jewish Yeshiva Centre – had abused their child at a local synagogue’s youth camp, the commission heard. Within two days, he had left Australia.
AVL met Rabbi Pinchus Feldman and his son a day after the complaint was made. AVL maintained his innocence and told them he might go back to America.
He had already been told not to return to work until further notice.
Rabbi Feldman said he told AVL that they had notified the police of the allegations against him, and that if he left Sydney, he could not become a rabbi, even if the charges were later found to be false.
“This is exactly what I said to him at the time. We are not in a position to hold him back but his ordination is something that we will therefore not be able to give him if he does leave Sydney,” he said.
AVL left Australia that afternoon, missing another meeting he had been due to attend with Rabbi Feldman.
Counsel assisting the commission Maria Gerace asked Rabbi Feldman whether he immediately told the police AVL might flee Australia. “I did not believe that I had that obligation,” he replied.
Asked whether he knew that AVL could not be interviewed or charged if his alleged victim wanted to go to the police, once he left Australia, he said: “If the charges are found to be correct, he can be extradited.”
Rabbi Feldman said that after AVL left Sydney he had given the victim’s family the contact details for AVL’s family and overseas contacts if they thought it “necessary to pursue it”.
The Rabbi also:
★ Apologised to victims – “We are deeply sorry that you have suffered abuse and that the Yeshiva Centre in NSW failed to protect you.”
★ Ruled on behalf of NSW’s ultra orthodox Chabad community that it was a Jewish obligation to report child sexual abuse to police.
★ Promised to circulate his statement to all the members of the Chabad community in NSW.
★ He also promised to to circulate documents setting out the criteria against which future orthodox leaders can be judged regarding their response to abuse.
Earlier on Thursday, Rabbi Feldman also denied warning convicted sex offender Daniel Hayman to stay away from younger boys at Yeshiva Bondi.
Hayman was a chaperone at a camp run by Yeshivah Melbourne and Yeshiva Bondi in Sydney. He was given a suspended, 19-month prison sentence and put on a good behaviour bond for the same period for indecent assault against AVB at the camp. Hayman was 24 and AVB was 14 at the time.
While the Rabbi had had several conversations with Hayman about his “misbehaviour” in other areas and “asked him to calm down”, he said: “I categorically deny that I ever spoke to him about this topic.”
This appeared to contradict Hayman’s own evidence to police before he was sentenced for indecent assault in 2011.
Hayman told police that he remembered senior Rabbi Boruch Lesches telling him to “stay away” from younger boys, and had a “vague recollection” that Rabbi Feldman had also spoken to him about this, the commission heard.
When police asked in what context the conversation with Rabbi Feldman took place, Hayman said: “A similar thing to what Rabbi Lesches spoke about, to keep away (from younger boys).”
Rabbi Feldman rejected this: “He himself says that he does not remember, and as a result of him being asked more questions, he said maybe it was a similar thing. I do not recall any such conversation at all.”
He said he had heard rumours at one stage that Hayman had “homosexual tendencies” which he acted on, but said: “Nobody has ever complained to me about their being a victim of Daniel Hayman.”
Rabbi Feldman’s son, Eli, last year contacted Hayman – who lives in the United States – about the alleged conversation, asking him to clarify its nature and “whether it was a confession and what details you recall giving”.
Asked why he had done this, Rabbi Feldman said: “It was simply to … refresh my memory if there was something that I didn’t recall.”
Hayman went on to abuse AVB after the conversations with the senior rabbis, AVB told the commission on Wednesday.
He also admitted to AVB that he had offended against three other boys at Yeshiva, AVB said.
Two other victims have told the royal commission in statements they reported being abused by Hayman to Rabbi Lesches, who lives in the US, when they were students of Yeshiva College, which has a boys and girls school, in the 1980s.
The first victim said he had gone to Rabbi Lesches’ house about 1987 with a group of other victims: “The rabbi said words to the effect of ‘Oh, we have a problem with him and I will deal with it’.”
Yet the second victim said Rabbi Lesches sent her to stay with Hayman for a month when she was a boarder of the school years later. She said Rabbi Lesches told her: “I do not believe you, why would you invent such a story?” – a sentiment her parent said he later relayed to them.
Rabbi Feldman said he would consider reporting these claims to the Chabad headquarters in New York.
The hearing continues.