Republished from ABC
The director of the ultra-orthodox Jewish Yeshiva centre in Sydney has resigned after last week telling a royal commission hearing he did not know it was a crime for an adult to touch a child’s genitals.
Rabbi Yosef Feldman’s evidence at a Melbourne hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was widely criticised by Australia’s broader Jewish community.
In a statement, Rabbi Feldman apologised for the comments he made to the royal commission and said he would step down from all responsibilities as the director on the board of management at Yeshiva.
“I apologise to anyone in the Rabbinate, the Jewish community and the wider Australian community who may have been embarrassed or ashamed by my views, words, understandings, recordings or emails about child sexual abuse or any other matter,” he said.
“I have dedicated my life to doing whatever I can to protect and assist all people in need including those who have suffered from any form of abuse, especially children, and it pains me greatly that words that I have expressed have upset victims and their families.
“In the future I will be more careful with my words, so that they are only a source of pride to the Jewish and General community.
“I commit to undertake formal training and education on how to identify, handle and report abuse allegations.”
During the royal commission hearing, Rabbi Feldman said not all abuse cases should be referred to police and that paedophiles should be granted leniency.
“I would be asking for more leniency on people who have shown that they haven’t offended in the last 20 years or decades ago, and have psychological analyses that this is the case,” he said on Monday.
He said the approach would show “when you do the right thing, you won’t get mistreated badly and it’s not the end of the world … then you are not treated like a pariah, like a scum of the Earth.”
He also told the hearing he did not know it was a crime for an adult to touch a child’s genitals.
Rabbi Feldman also said publicity surrounding child sexual abuse “encourages even people who may not be real victims or may want to be considered heroes” to go to the police.
On Tuesday a child abuse victim said the evidence given by Rabbi Feldman showed the Yeshivah community was “rotten to the core” and called for leaders who ignored molestation to be banished from power.
Yeshiva has ‘strong commitment to protect abuse victims’
The Yeshiva Centre said it accepted his resignation in light his of recent statements and views, but thanked him for “his years of selfless dedication”.
“The Yeshiva Centre reiterates its staunch commitment to protect victims of abuse including full compliance with authorities and legal procedures,” it said in a statement.
“As part of a commitment to the highest standards of care for children, Yeshiva has comprehensive child protection policies in place, which are constantly being reviewed and updated to ensure maximum safety and protection for all children in our care.”
Earlier today, Rabbi Kim Ettlinger from Temple Beth Israel in Melbourne said Rabbi Feldman’s views were out of step with the wider community.
“I don’t believe any reasonable human being, Jewish or not, would agree with anything that he’s been saying,” he told AM.
“A lot of these Halakhic rules, these Jewish law rules, really don’t exist anymore in terms of our own safety and security.
“So for any community, whether it’s a Chabad community for example or even the progressive community, to use these laws as the basis to not speak out against child sex abuse is really erroneous to the highest degree.”
Vic Alhadeff from the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies said Rabbi Feldman was unfit to be a leader in the Jewish community.
“The remarks which have come to light are repugnant to Jewish values. They are not representative of the Jewish community,” he said.
“They have no place in the Jewish community.
“In our view Rabbi Yosef Feldman is unfit to hold any position of authority or leadership in the Jewish community.”