Safed’s Chief Rabbi: The Coverups are a Chilul Hashem

Conference in Response to the Scheinberg Affair- Rabbanim Demand Resolution of a Code of Ethics

The conference, the first of its kind, was held last night (Sunday) with the participation of various factions of the National Religious and Ultra-Orthodox community, in response to the Ezra Scheinberg affair.

The conference aimed to prevent future cases and to help rescue victims through strengthening ties with the Israeli police and social welfare offices.

At the conference the rabbis were given the tools to address and deal with potential future cases.

Chief Sefardic Rabbi, Rav Yitzchak Yosef (Rishon LeTzion) and Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi David Lau, as well as Rav Aryeh Stern, spoke at the conference about the importance of setting boundaries, particularly for rabbanim answering halachic questions of a personal nature, and how to respond immediately if someone crosses those boundaries.

Some of the prominent guests at the convention included Rav Chaim Raby, head of the Mosdot Ateret Chaim in Holon; the rabbi of Yeruchem, Rav Yitzchak Shalev; Harav Yehoshua Shapira; Rav Menachen Burstyn, head of the Puah Institute; and Rav Yosef Peretz, head of Mosdot Torah in Kiryat Arba.

The individual behind this initiative is the CEO of Irgun Rabbanei Kehillot, Eliyahu Amichai, which brought together most of the National Religious organizations. “We want to work together with the Chief Rabbinate, not against it,” he said.

At the closing of the conference, the rabbis requested that the Chief Rabbinate create a code of ethics for rabbanim on what is permitted and forbidden with regard to a rabbi’s relationship with female constituents. They also decided to send a special request to the police to establish an optimized process for addressing allegations in the religious and ultra-orthodox sectors.

Rav Lau said that we must ensure that these issues become subject of broader communal discussion. “If you hear, God forbid, that someone crossed the line from halachic subjects to personal subjects, you must immediately create a significant wall of separation. If you hear that someone has stepped into an area of questions that he shouldn’t be involved with, you must alert someone. Let’s be careful so that there won’t be any more need to build additional shelters for abused women, that we don’t have to raise another generation of child victims.”

“It is very important that complaints are coming through rabbis” said Rav Yosef, HaRishon LeTzion “because the rav has the responsibility to care for families and the community. He must direct the steps to ensure that the assault has the minimum impact possible on the public.” He added that rabbis should be role models for the public and urged rabbis to avoid using non-kosher phones.

Safed’s Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who exposed the Scheinberg affair, said that after the story was publicized, one of the women who reported it to the authorities told him that she had no concern with going to the police, other than the fear that she would not be supported by the community.

“The real chillul Hashem here is the incidence of such abuse itself and the failure to expose it and allowing innocent people to continue to be hurt in additional crimes.”

Rav Eliyahu noted that the Torah is full of verses that demonstrate where the exposure to the public strengthened the victim and served as a deterrent for others.

As far as how to deal with cases of this nature within the limits of what is accepted in the religious and ultra-orthodox communities, Harav Eliyahu offered a number of suggestions of requirements that should be expected from the legal authorities, as was done during the Scheinberg affair.

The rabbi also added that the interest of the authorities in prosecuting the case is not always in line with the interest of protecting the family, the husbands, and the children. “It is therefore very important that the community rabbanim be involved throughout the course of the process”.

Superintendent Asher Melamed, rav of the police, who is behind the trainings of orthodox police officers and responsible for the relationship between the police and the Religious and ultra-orthodox public, spoke about ways to effectively work with the police. “I urge you to contact your local police chief today,” he said, “Trust is not built during a crisis.”

“We dealt with an individual who had molested over one hundred children, and the day before the arrest we sat with the rav of the kehilla and discussed the whole matter, from within a relationship of total confidence and with zero concern of leaks. This is because of our clear understanding that the single only person who can support the community during this stage is the leader of the community (the rav). When you trust the police, they cooperate with you.”

Superintendent Melamed added that the police are not interested in running to publicize these stories. “Each commander could tell you a hundred stories, if he wanted to. But they understand that if any information ever gets out to the public, they won’t receive any more reports. They know how to work with the religious and ultra-orthodox communities, and are interested in doing so.”

Melamed also discussed how to address parents’ and families’ concerns about exposure in cases where their children were victimized. There is now an exemption committee that can issue a gag order and “the system does want to cooperate with the community.”

Head of Puah Institute, Rav Menachem Burstein, wanted to add that although it is difficult to gather statistics as to the prevalence of these issues in the religious community, the situation today is much better in this community than in others.

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