The Sydney Morning Herald has discovered a riveting piece of audiotape by Rabbi Baruch Lesches, who served as Rosh Yeshiva for the Sydney Chabad school for 19 years. During this period, an incident in which a teacher allegedly raped a boy was brought to his attention. Instead of reporting the incident to the police, which would’ve violated an Orthodox principle, m’sirah, which forbids reporting Jews to non-Jewish civil authorities, he counseled the alleged abuser to stop his behavior. Naturally, the man didn’t stop, raping three other boys over the years.
Rabbi Lesches excuses his role in the subsequent rapes by claiming he was no longer supervising the accused and others were responsible for him. In 2006, Rabbi Lesches left Australia to take up a prestigious position as a Rosh Yeshiva in the Monsey, NY Chabad community. There it can be presumed he will continue turning a blind eye to all manner of similar conduct. And lest anyone doubt such conduct takes place in the New York Haredi community, read this searing NY Times account of the Orthodox whistleblower who reported his son’s teacher to the Brooklyn DA for sexual abuse, only to have the latter turn around and prosecute the accuser (don’t forget how many Orthodox votes the Brooklyn Jewish community offers borough politicians).
The Age story also reveals that a Los Angeles social agency is providing shelter to the accused in this case.
UPDATE: I’ve just learned that the agency in question is Jewish Family Service, which is the federation-funded social service agency for the greater Los Angeles Jewish community. I consulted with a source who has played a leadership role in the past at JFS and he wrote to me that JFS staff said it did not shelter the accused. Though the integrity of my source is impeccable, I don’t know whether the information he was given was accurate.
The separate source who informed me that JFS took the individual in, says the agency also performed psychological and polygraph tests to determine whether he would be allowed to teach children.
Frankly, I find this news, if true, horrifying. I don’t know what JFS knew about this man when they did these things on his behalf. But if they knew anything at all about the substance of the claims against him, they played an entirely inappropriate role.
The videotape above offers a stunning recapitulation of the worst, most medieval and repulsive views of some leaders of the Orthodox community. Here’s a sampling from the Age article, which omits some disturbing portions:
In the conversation, Rabbi Lesches suggested one of the man’s victims, who was aged about 11 at the time of the abuse, may have been a consensual partner. ”Everyone was telling different stories and trying to put the blame on someone else,” he said.
”We are speaking about very young boys … everybody says about the other one that ‘he agreed to this’.”
When challenged on his position that young boys could give consent, Rabbi Lesches replied ”you would be surprised” and added that some non-Jewish boys, who he termed ”goyims”, began acting or thinking sexually ”from the age of five”.
He said teenagers from poor backgrounds had ”nothing else to do in life, only thinking 24 hours about sex” with each other, members of their own families and even ”dogs”.
It must be heard. I say this not as someone who wants to spotlight the Orthodox community for its share of shame. But rather because I spotlight such behavior in my community whether it’s Israel or Australia, whether it’s Orthodox Jews and Jewish atheists. The issue for me is morality and justice and not whether you daven three times a day and lay tefillin.
I first learned about this tragic story from a Twitter follower who commented on a different story about an Orthodox rabbi. In this case, an Israeli rabbi publicly claimed the Bar Noar murders proved that gay people are more prone to violence and that the crime should cause “soul-searching” among the LGBT community.
It’s clear that many in the Haredi community are oblivious, and often proudly so, to contemporary mores like child and sex abuse. While in the minds of some in that milieu this may be a strong suit of the belief system (i.e. divorcing oneself from secular culture), it is also its Achilles heel. A religious movement that is so out of touch with elemental tenets of modern society runs the risk of being judged corrupt and debased by outsiders. That can’t bode well for believers, no matter how little they care what others think of them.
The more Rabbi Lesches argues that he did nothing wrong and that those who draw attention to the incident are stirring up a hornet’s nest unnecessarily, the more likely and the more intensively civil authorities will feel the urge to pry into practices of the Haredi world in Sydney, Monsey or elsewhere.
After listening to the tape, now read what Rabbi Lesches’ PR says about the dynamic role he’s played in his new position in Monsey:
Prior to Rosh Hashana of 2006 Rabbi and Rebbetzin Lesches moved to Monsey, New York to assume the position of Rabbi of K’hal Tzemach Tzedek Lubavitch of Monsey, a number of years following the untimely passing of the Shul’s founding Rabbi, Rabbi Dovid Wichnin A”H.
Under the dynamic leadership of Rabbi Lesches the community has enjoyed tremendous growth in both quality and quantity. This is evidenced by the many well attended minyanim and shiurim that take place daily at the Shul. Rabbi Lesches, whose inspiring farbrengens have become legendary, gives shiurim to men and women on a wide range of topics including, Gemara, Chassidus and Halacha.
In addition to his work at K’hal Tzemach Tzedek Rabbi Lesches has proven to be a dynamic force for Chabad activities in the region. He has launched a Smicha Program, lectures at Heichal Menachem, provides Chosson classes to groups of Chossonim, and provides Hashgacha for meat at the Rockland Kosher Supermarket. Rabbi Lesches also serves as Av Beis Din for the Lubavitch community…
This is a man you want sitting on a beit din as a judge, determining the moral and legal failings of others??
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.