Rabbi Yosef Feldman tells royal commission he didn’t know it’s illegal for adults to touch children’s genitals

By Shannon Deery (Herald Sun)
February 6, 2015

A high-profile Jewish leader says he didn’t know it was illegal for adults to touch the genitals of children.

Giving evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Rabbi Yosef Feldman said he was unfamiliar with child abuse laws.

He said even while director of the Yeshivah Gedola Rabbinical College he didn’t bother familiarising himself with the laws.

“Obviously I knew I had certain obligations. I didn’t know what they were. I relied on my father,” he said.

Rabbi Feldman’s father, Pinchus Feldman, has been Sydney’s top Rabbi since 1968.

Counsel assisting the commission Maria Gerace asked directly: “Did you understand that it was against the law for an adult to touch the genitals of another child?”

“I didn’t know that as a fact,” he said.

Rabbi Feldman said he was a director of the Yeshivah corporation, that ran a school, from the age of about 25.

But he said he didn’t consider child sexual abuse to be a common problem.

“There are many issues of life and child sexual abuse I didn’t believe was very common. Even now I don’t think its common. It happens,” he said.

“I haven’t seen the statistics, but I would believe it (the prevalence of child sexual abuse) is about five to 10 per cent.

“Based on things I’ve read about it,” he said.

Feldman shocked victims of sexual abuse in 2011 when he urged rabbis to deal with allegations themselves rather than report it to police.

He sparked widespread outrage after emailing other rabbis to say it should be up to them to decide whether a paedophile should be reported.

The rabbi also said that, where possible, allegations of abuse should be dealt with outside the legal system.

Rabbi Feldman admitted allegations should be reported to police, but only if there were no doubt over their truth.

He said if a child disclosed abuse but you doubted the truth of it, you should go to a rabbi first.

Rabbis could “threaten” the child abuser with publicity instead of reporting them.

“I really don’t understand why as soon as something of serious lashon hara (evil talk) is heard about someone of even child molestation should we immediately go to the secular authorities (sic),” Rabbi Feldman wrote.

“One must go to a Rov (rabbi) who should firstly investigate the veracity of the complaint and if thought to be serious, warn the culprit etc and act in a way that could scare him by threatening him with publicity by internet to the whole community.

“I feel that if we as a Jewish leadership can’t deal with this and other issues bifnim (internally) we are showing ourselves to be impotent.”

The hearing continues.