By Miriam Shaviv (Times of Israel)
November 20, 2012
LONDON — A leading British rabbi accused of sexual misconduct stepped down from most of his public positions Monday night, following extensive attempts to oust him, The Times of Israel has learned.
Rabbi Chaim Halpern, who is considered one of London’s most senior Haredi leaders, has left Kedassia, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, where he was a religious judge. He is still the head of his Golders Green synagogue, Beis Hamedrash Divrei Chaim, in the heart of Jewish London, but will no longer act as the rabbinic adviser to Beis Yaacov Primary School, the Hatzolah emergency medical service or Chana, an infertility charity.
Accusations that he had engaged in “inappropriate” contact with at least one woman surfaced during the high holidays, in October, when a local rabbi confronted him and tried to drive him from the neighborhood. Since then, sources say that about 30 women, most of whom had gone to Halpern for counseling, have also made allegations, and several have apparently given statements to a solicitor at Teacher Stern, a top London legal firm. The London Metropolitan Police are still assessing whether the claims warrant a criminal investigation.
Halpern could not be reached for comment, and the precise nature of his contact with the women is unclear.
In the past two weeks, The Times of Israel has learned, a group of rabbis, primarily from Halpern’s neighborhood, stepped up efforts to have him fired from Kedassia after hearing new claims from a woman in her 20s who allegedly approached a judge from the London Beth Din, or religious court, which is affiliated with the Orthodox United Synagogue and rivals Kedassia.
Late last week, according to sources close to the events, a group of local rabbis approached a senior figure from Kedassia to demand that Halpern be terminated. But this was followed by a visit from Halpern himself, together with his father, Rabbi Elchonon Halpern — who, known as Reb Chuna, is also one of London Jewry’s best-known Haredi rabbis. Tthe proposal was not adopted.
Halpern’s colleagues allegedly gave him an ultimatum: Step down or be condemned publicly
On Sunday, The Times of Israel has discovered, a group of rabbis consisting of several dayanim, or religious judges, and several Golders Green leaders met at the home of Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, a former head of the London Beth Din, together with the younger Halpern and two accusers.
The meeting did not result in Halpern’s dismissal, but the rabbis allegedly gave him an ultimatum: that he step down or the rabbis would publish a letter condemning him publicly.
He resigned late Monday afternoon, apparently proclaiming his innocence but saying that his position had become untenable because he seemed to have lost the support of his colleagues.
One source told The Times of Israel, “People are shocked. The community will take time to come to terms with this. This is going to be very traumatic for people.”
The source emphasized the belief that there remains no suggestion of criminal behavior.
Other sources said the case showed that London’s Haredi community takes allegations of sexual impropriety seriously, but that it also underscored differences between rabbis from Golders Green and Stamford Hill, a more Hassidic area of London where the majority of the women making accusations come from, and where Kedassia is based.
“In Golders Green, the rabbis are connected to the outside world, to the blogs and the papers, and don’t want to look like they’re ignoring what everyone is saying. In Stamford Hill, they couldn’t care less,” a source said.
Prayer services and classes took place as normal at Halpern’s synagogue on Monday evening.