One of Australia’s Orthodox Jewish leaders has told the royal commission into child sexual abuse he did not believe he had an obligation to stop an accused paedophile leaving the country.
The commission heard the student at Sydney’s Yeshivah Centre left Australia less than 48 hours after a complaint was made against him in 2002.
Rabbi Pinchus Feldman said he did not tell authorities he thought the accused might go to America.
“I did not believe that I have that obligation,” Rabbi Feldman said.
“I did not act, I did not notify the police that he said that he may be going.
“We are not in a position to hold him back.”
Asked if he understood the man could neither be interviewed nor charged if the child went to the police, Rabbi Feldman said: “He can be extradited.
“My thought process was, that if it would be established that he actually committed a crime, the police would be able to extradite him.”
Rabbi Feldman conceded he might have made an error of judgment.
“I did not believe and I do not believe at the moment that within the framework of my role, it is to be able to have to call the police to say that this student may leave,” he said.
“I did not know that there was such a protocol or responsibility to do so.
“Now if this is something I should have done, then this was an error of judgment.”
Rabbi Feldman also denied shielding the former Yeshivah director Daniel Hayman, who was later convicted of molesting a student.
He told the commission no one complained to him about Hayman.
The commission heard Rabbi Feldman’s son contacted Hayman last September, asking for details of a conversation his father allegedly had with him about staying away from young boys at the Yeshivah Centre in the 1980s.
He asked Hayman to confirm whether the conversation included a confession.
Rabbi Feldman said he had no recollection of any such conversation with Hayman.
“He has a vague recollection that there was a discussion with me, without speaking about any details. I do not remember any such conversation, at all,” he said.
Asked if he asked his son to contact Hayman on his behalf, Rabbi Feldman said: “You can say so … to refresh my memory if there was something that I didn’t recall.
“I thought it would be worthwhile to have my memory refreshed, if indeed I did have a discussion, because it is extremely important that one is completely truthful.
“I wanted to make sure that what I was going to be saying was not incompatible with the truth.”
Rabbi Feldman tells victims: ‘We are sorry that you suffered’
Rabbi Feldman used his appearance at the commission to apologise to victims of child sexual abuse.
“It breaks my heart to hear of the suffering that victims of abuse and their families have endured,” he said.
“No-one should have to suffer in any way, shape or form, particularly children, the most treasured members of our society, and the ones who need our protection most.
“As the head of Chabad in New South Wales and on behalf of the entire movement, I would like to say to the victims, we are sorry that you suffered.
“It breaks my heart personally, and it breaks all of our hearts.”
Rabbi Feldman told the commission the religious concept of mesirah, which prohibits Jews from informing on other Jews to secular authorities, did not apply to child sexual abuse.
“In democratic Australia where Jews have never been subject to state-sponsored anti-Semitism, when it comes to protecting our children against abuse, mesirah prohibitions do not apply,” he said.