By Richard Baker & Nick McKenzie (The Age)
June 23, 2013
A senior Australian rabbi who failed to stop an alleged paedophile from sexually abusing boys at a Sydney Jewish school said some of the man's victims may have consented to sexual relations and warned that involving police now would ''open a can of worms''.
Former senior Sydney rabbi Boruch Dov Lesches, who is now one of New York's leading ultra-Orthodox figures, made his remarks in a recent conversation with a person familiar with a series of alleged child rapes and molestation carried out by one man associated with Sydney's Yeshiva community in the 1980s. Rabbi Lesches' comments are likely to increase scrutiny of Australia's senior rabbinical leaders' handling of child sex abuse cases, amid allegations of cover-ups, victim intimidation and the hiding of perpetrators overseas.
In a legally recorded telephone conversation heard by Fairfax Media and provided to NSW detectives investigating the Sydney Yeshiva cases, Rabbi Lesches admitted to counselling the alleged abuser upon learning that he had sexually abused a boy a decade his junior. Rabbi Lesches said he told the man that both he and the boy would be forced to leave the Yeshiva community if he could not control his urges.
''If not, both of them would have to leave,'' he said.
Rabbi Lesches, who never informed police of the abuse, said he did not know that the man had ignored his warning and gone on to sexually interfere with at least three other boys during the late '80s. He said other Yeshiva leaders were responsible for supervising the man.
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 ''goyim'', began acting or thinking sexually ''from the age of five''. He also 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''.
Rabbi Lesches also said reporting the alleged abusers to police so many years after incidents occurred would ''destroy them and their children'' and cause pain for victims.
''Do not talk this way … when it is such a long time ago, everybody suffers,'' he said. ''If you start to do something about it will not be productive.''
A traditional rule known as Mesirah, which prohibits a Jew from reporting another's wrongdoing to non-Jewish authorities, remains a big influence in some ultra-Orthodox communities.
Rabbi Lesches, who did not respond to questions from Fairfax Media, is the third senior rabbinical leader to be identified as having known something about the abuse of boys at the Sydney Yeshiva in the '80s.
In February, Fairfax Media reported how the alleged perpetrator, who was sent overseas, had recently admitted guilt to some of his victims and told of how the centre's spiritual leader, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, once warned him to stop what he was doing.
In response to that story, Rabbi Feldman released a statement saying he had no recollection of anyone confessing to him their involvement in child sexual abuse 25 years ago.
In early March, another senior rabbinical leader, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, admitted he did not contact police after a young boy contacted him more than 20 years ago to report sexual abuse at Bondi's Yeshiva.
Rabbi Gutnick, who heads the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, said he received an anonymous phone call and alerted senior members of the Yeshiva to the boy's claims. He said that with the benefit of hindsight ''I would have probably called the police''.
Rabbi Gutnick is understood to have told Bondi detectives recently all that he could recall about the phone call. In a statement published in the Australian Jewish News earlier this year, he said he ''felt deeply saddened that I had not recognised what I only now know was a legitimate cry for help''.
''I appeal to the entire community - to victims and their parents to community members and leaders. If you have information please come forward to the police. Don't be afraid.''
Fairfax Media can also reveal the family of the man being investigated by NSW police over the sexual incidents at the Bondi Yeshiva are big financial supporters of the New York Monsey ultra-Orthodox community led by Rabbi Lesches. There are also allegations the alleged abuser has also lent a large sum of money to at least one senior ultra-Orthodox figure in Australia.
The alleged abuser was also appointed to the board of an Australian company involved in providing educational materials for Jewish students. He has in recent years been sheltered by a leading Los Angeles Jewish welfare group, with 2011 emails between the man and one of the organisation's senior members showing he was in danger of having his past in Sydney exposed.
''I have no idea how anyone found out - but calls are coming daily from many sources. So far, we've been protecting you,'' wrote an executive director from the LA organisation in an email to the man.
NSW police were alerted to alleged sexual abuse at the Sydney Yeshiva by their Victorian counterparts who were investigating two men over sexual assaults at the Melbourne Yeshiva school in St Kilda. Former St Kilda teacher David Kramer this year pleaded guilty to sex offences on students of the school and is awaiting sentencing. He was in a US jail over child sex offences committed in St Louis when he was extradited last year.
Another former worker at the Yeshiva St Kilda school, security guard David Cyprus, will stand trial next month over alleged sexual abuse offences against a dozen Yeshiva boys.
The school's former principal, Rabbi Abraham Glick, is now under police investigation over his handling of complaints about abuse over several decades, including the decision to send Kramer overseas. Rabbi Glick's nephew is the Victoria Police chaplain, Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant.
Outspoken Melbourne Jewish sexual abuse campaigner and founder of victim support group Tzedek, Manny Waks, said Rabbi Lesches' comments ''unfortunately seem to be consistent with the approach of many senior Orthodox Jewish figures in the community who for decades have been more concerned with silencing victims and protecting perpetrators as well as their institutions, rather than with protecting innocent children''.
Mr Waks said his organisation would provide the royal commission into religious groups' handling of child sex abuse cases with full details of what has been happening for decades in Australian Jewish communities.