Natanel (not his real name), 24, from Jerusalem, decided one day that he wouldn’t put up with it anymore. In one impulsive moment, he picked up the telephone and confronted his greatest fear – the Rabbi who he claims sexually assaulted him in his youth. “My dear, you essentially touched me, it all started from you, my dear, not me” claimed Rabbi Felg, in the first sentence of the charged conversation between them. He went on to apologize and even offered Netanel financial compensation to pay for psychological counselling.
Rabbi Moshe Felg is a respected personality in the Haredi street in Jerusalem. He’s the head of “Shirat Yerushalayim”, a Midrasha for Baalot Teshuva; many of his shiurim are available on YouTube, and the Midrasha’s website says he founds and runs projects around the country and the world: workshops, study days and seminars for strengthening Jewish identity for youths. He also runs non-profits like the “Roots centre” in Jerusalem.
Netanel was 13 years old when he started to immerse in a mikveh before shabbat, as is common in the Haredi community. This is Netanel’s story as he told Yediot Aharonot.
“I always went to my local mikveh before shabbat, and Rabbi Moshe Felg who lived near my parents would sit in the warm water,” he explained. “At first he’d stretch out his feet and stroke my legs with them. That happened a lot. Once we were alone, he put his feet on me and I froze. When another bather came in, Felg left and told me to follow him. I followed him without knowing where we were going. He took me into the bathroom of a local synagogue and sexually abused me. I remember at least three times in the bathroom. I would follow him without understanding. He’d smile and wink at me, and I felt like he cared about me and that he chose me when he could have chosen any other kid. On the other hand, I felt paralyzed.”
“Every time he took me to the bathroom I told myself I wouldn’t go in, but I still went in, and after it happened I felt broken. I wasn’t in control, it was a mess in my head. Felg would ask me to touch him, convince me that I’d enjoy it, but I felt frozen. One time it happened he suggested using shampoo, because ‘it will help’. He would rub our parts together and I’d stare into a corner of the bathroom, frozen. I don’t know how long it lasted. As a child, I blamed only myself for what happened, and for ‘failing’ the Rabbi”
Netanel, a good boy with strong grades, left the Yeshiva to hang out on the streets.
“I just got up and left”, he says. “Nobody managed to help me. They didn’t know what was happening and I was so caught up in guilt, especially because he was a neighbour I saw all the time. It affected me for all of my adolescence. I remember when I received my IDF beret I felt like such a man. I came home proud of myself for what I achieved, but then he passed me and waved hello, and I was paralyzed again… only after I got married did I understand that a child couldn’t consent, and that I wasn’t guilty.”
Netanel decided to call Rabbi Felg after reading an article about a pedophile. The whole conversation was recorded in which Rabbi Felg seems to accept Netanel’s story and apologizes to him, while also insisting that he thought he was older than 13.
Rabbi Felg denies the story and attempted to get a court order banning its publication. Netanel was forced to appear in court, and the Jerusalem court accepted that his story should be heard.