Members of Australia’s Orthodox Jewish community who assist police investigating alleged child sexual abuse have been pressured to stay silent, secret tape recordings and emails obtained by Fairfax Media reveal.
The details of the pressure being exerted on victims have emerged as the Royal Commission into child sex abuse prepares to hold public hearings next week to examine the responses of Melbourne and Sydney’s yeshivah centres to alleged offences dating back to the 1980s.
In one secret, legally recorded 2011 telephone conversation, prominent Melbourne criminal lawyer Alex Lewenberg tells a victim of St Kilda Yeshivah centre sex offender David Cyprys he should not have co-operated with police.
“I am not exactly delighted that another Yid [Jew] would assist police against an accused no matter whatever he is accused of and that is the reason why I was very disappointed,” Mr Lewenberg, who was defending Cyprys at the time of the conversation, told the victim.
“Because there is a tradition, if not a religious requirement that you do not assist against Abraham and I was concerned about that … moserprinciple. Moseris well known.”
Mr Lewenberg was referring to the Jewish tradition of mesirah under which a Jew does not inform secular authorities about another Jew. Members of ultra-orthodox communities who assist police are often ostracised and given the derogatory label of “moser” or informer.
Fairfax Media emailed Mr Lewenberg questions about the conversation with the victim on Tuesday. He replied that “the factual allegations as set out in your communications are not correct”.
Mr Lewenberg was telephoned by the victim in October 2011 after the victim had heard talk in the Jewish community about the barrister’s alleged displeasure at him assisting police with Cyprys’ prosecution.
On the recording, Mr Lewenberg initially said he should not be speaking to the victim as the matter was before court. But he then went on to express his thoughts on the victim’s assistance to police and his dislike of a Jew informing secular authorities on another Jew.
Victoria’s Legal Services Commissioner, Michael McGarvie, said while he could not comment on the specific conversation between Mr Lewenberg and the victim, there was a general principle that made it impermissible for a lawyer to tell a witness they could not inform police about a matter because of a religious or community rule.