Orthdox Jews
Haredi crisis over sex abuse claims

Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and London are reeling from a series of sex scandals that have exposed a close-knit world which has sought to silence the victims.

In New York, Brooklyn Jewish leader Nechemya Weberman is due to be sent to prison after being found guilty on 60 charges of child sex abuse, for molesting a girl he was counselling over a three-year span beginning when the girl was 12.

Weberman is a member of the fiercely private Satmar Hasidic sect, one of the largest and most powerful within the Charedi (ultra Orthodox) world. In the run up to his trial in December 2012, four Satmar members were arrested for allegedly trying to bribe the victim.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes praised the unidentified victim for going against her own family and her own Hasidic values - and betraying her community by some people's accounts - in reporting the rabbi to police.

"I can't understate just how we've come to regard her as a woman of courage to come forward at a very, very difficult time," Hynes said.

Hynes said the case could be a watershed moment for the Satmar community, giving victims of all kinds of crimes the power to break tradition and go straight to the NYPD for help.

"It will give people more courage to come forward," Hynes said.

However, there have been several violent attempts to intimidate victims and witnesses. As Weberman was being convicted, long-time Hasidic activist Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg had bleach thrown in his face by a relative of convicted sex offender Baruch Lebovits, whose conviction was overturned back in April.

Several high-ranking Hasidic leaders are blaming Rabbi Rosenberg for numerous arrests and convictions of sexual predators living within the Satmar community.

This was not the first time that Rabbi Rosenberg was assaulted. Back in 2008 he was stopped on the street several times at knife point while being warned to shut down a hotline in which he provides information in Yiddish regarding how to protect children from sexual predators. It was around this same time he was shot in the head after not obeying the warnings.

Meanwhile, the more mainstream Yeshiva University and Yeshiva High School for Boys in Manhattan has been accused by former students of decades of abuse.

Last month, the Jewish Daily Forward revealed how Yeshiva University for years ignored students who claimed that they were sexually abused by two former staff members at the feeder school. Two dozen former students made allegations relating to incidents that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.

The allegations centred on Rabbi George Finkelstein, a long-time teacher who rose to become principal, before leaving  Y.U. in 1995 and becoming dean of a Jewish day school in Florida. He was accused by numerous students of inappropriate wrestling, kissing and simulated sex. He was hired by the Jerusalem Great Synagogue in 2001 after being assured by Y.U. officials that the rumours of sexual abuse were false.  Finkelstein resigned his synagogue post after the initial Forward article.

Another former student of the same school has made allegations again Finkelstein's fellow religious teacher, Rabbi Macy Gordon, who left the school in 1985. The alleged victim claims he lodged an official complaint to the school in 1980, after Gordon sodomized him, but nothing was done.

In light of the fresh allegations, Gordon has been placed on indefinite leave from his teaching position in Israel.

London Jews at war over sex abuse claims

Allegations of inappropriate behaviour with women by a senior strictly Orthodox rabbi have led to a schism within London's Charedi community.

The community has been convulsed for months following complaints made by women about marriage counselling sessions run by Rabbi Chaim Halpern of the Divrei Chaim Synagogue in Golders Green.

One group believes that Rabbi Halpern has been maligned, while another is angry at what it argues is a failure by an umbrella body, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations - whose president is Rabbi Halpern's father - to investigate his behaviour.

Feelings are so highly charged that police are investigating complaints of harassment lodged by one of the rabbis who has opposed Rabbi Halpern.

A police spokesman told the Jewish Chronicle that they were investigating allegations that "a man in his mid-60s" had received more than 50 phone calls which included "profanities in Hebrew".

A split has emerged between the more professional and prosperous followers living in Golders Green, in northwest London, who believe a cover-up is afoot, and a less affluent but more traditional faction from Stamford Hill, in the borough of Hackney.