RC Day 4: “I did not know there was any such obligation”

Australia Jewish News
February 6, 2015

Today (Thursday) was a stunning day at the Royal Commission when Rabbi Pinchus Feldman from Yeshiva in Sydney gave testimony.

Documents tendered to the Royal Commission showed that Rabbi Baruch Lesches, who ran the Yeshiva Gedola Rabbinical College in Sydney in the 1980s, knew of several claims of child sexual abuse by Daniel ‘Gug’ Hayman.

A group of boys went to Rabbi Lesches’ home in the 1980s and told them that they had been touched by Hayman.

Some time later after Hayman was married, a 12-year old girl from Brisbane who was studying at Yeshiva was placed in Hayman’s house by the rabbi. Soon after she moved in she told Rabbi Lesches that Hayman joined her in bed while he was naked and started touching her.

When she alerted Rabbi Lesches, he told her parents that he thought she had imagined it or dreamt it.

After the revelations the counsel asked Rabbi Feldman several questions.

    Do you accept the complaints are about sexual abuse of Daniel Hayman? Yes
    Do you accept that Rabbi Lesches had information of child sexual abuse? Yes
    Do you think he should have informed you? Yes
    Did he inform you? Not to the best of my recollection
    Do you accept those matters should have been made available to the police? Yes
    Do you accept that some students complained about being inappropriately touched, then a short time late the same rabbi placed a 12-year-old girl in his home? Extraordinary.
    As the principal, I would expect they are matters of great concern to you? I agree
    The institution had a responsibility to students? It definitely did.

It then came to light that in 2002, when a case of child abuse was brought to the attention of Rabbi Feldman, that he knew the alleged perpetrator was planning to leave the country.

On July 24 in 2002 Rabbi Feldman and other senior leaders at Yeshiva informed AVL, who’s identity has been withheld from the public, that a child claim he was sexually assaulted by AVL.

On the afternoon of July 24, the same day that Yeshivah contacted the Department of Community Services, AVL then told Rabbi Feldman that he planned to leave the country.

Rabbi Feldman did not tell the police and by July 25 AVL had already left the country.

After the revelation the counsel asked Rabbi Feldman the following questions.

    Counsel: What do you say to the suggestion that you might not have told anyone about the information from AVL so that you could allow him to take that course to leave the country.
    Rabbi Feldman: I did not know there was any such obligation. I was not taught of any protocol. If there would have been such a protocol this is something i would have done.
    Counsel: From a moral position – what do you think about the fact that a person against who an allegation had been made. The process is about to unfold whereby the authorities will be notified and that person said they would leave the country and you don’t tell anyone.
    Rabbi Feldman: I did not know there was a protocol or responsibilty.
    Counsel: What about morally? It was an allegation of sexual abuse of a child.
    Rabbi Feldman: I thought if it would be established police would be able to extradite him.
    Counsel: It caused you no moral concern that you didn’t act to notify someone that a potential perpetrator was about to leave the country?
    Rabbi Feldman: The point you are making has validity.

After a shocking day of testimony, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman said: “I reiterate to the victims that we are deeply sorry that you have suffered abuse and that the Yeshiva Centre in NSW have failed in protecting you. We vow to do everything in our power both to protect the children in our care and to support those who have suffered.”

He also made a public statement that would be the official position of Chabad in NSW.

“The reporting of cases of abuse to the authorities is not just permitted, but an obligation, a holy obligation that will keep our children safer and our communities healthier.

Rabbi Lesches currently lives in America and has not responded to requests to speak to the Royal Commission.