A FORMER rabbi from Sydney’s Yeshiva community has apologised for comments he made to an alleged victim of child abuse during a recorded phone conversation.
Fairfax newspapers published excerpts of the recording on Sunday in which Rabbi Baruch Dov Lesches was portrayed as saying at least one victim of child sexual abuse within the community may have given consent.
“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 to explain his comment, Rabbi Lesches, who now heads up the Lubavitch community in Monsey, New York, responded: “You would be surprised … when you speak about the goyim [non-Jews], they are doing it from the age of five.”
He also spoke about teenagers from poorer backgrounds: “There’s nothing else to do in life, only thinking 24 hours about sex. And they did everything they wanted willingly.”
According to the article, Rabbi Lesches failed to report an abuser to the police in the 1980s, instead threatening him and his victim with expulsion from the community. It is claimed the man went on to abuse three more boys.
Rabbi Lesches also questioned the benefit of reporting child abuse cases from 25 years ago to the police, arguing it would only hurt victims and “open up a can of worms”.
But in a statement released this week, Rabbi Lesches distanced himself from the controversial statements.
“I deeply regret the incident,” Rabbi Lesches said.
“I would like to make my position absolutely clear. Without any reservation, I endorse the rabbinical rulings encouraging victims of abuse to report to the police.”
He said the recording was edited and that he told the caller during a subsequent conversation that he had no knowledge of any child abuse during his time at Yeshiva.
The Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia’s executive slammed the “abhorrent comments attributed to Rabbi Lesches”.
“They are not representative of the Australian rabbinate, nor do they purport to be,” the statement read.
“We reiterate the long stated rabbinic policy that cases of child sexual abuse always be reported to the police and child protection authorities”
The Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) also issued a strong statement expressing its disgust at Rabbi Lesches’ comments.
“The RCV is appalled by, and unequivocally distances itself from, comments attributed to Rabbi Baruch Lesches,” RCV president Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant said.
“As stated on numerous occasions, the RCV encourages the reporting of all incidents of child sexual abuse to the police.
“It is deeply regrettable and shocking that there still do exist some individuals out there on the fringe in the religious leadership world who take positions contrary to the clearcut contemporary halachic [Jewish law] approach on the matter of child sexual abuse.”
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry also condemned the comments and encouraged all victims to come forward to the police.
“Any suggestion that young children are in a position to consent to sexual abuse is utterly misconceived and to be deplored,” the statement said.
The Rabbinical Council of NSW reiterated its stance that child abuse was abhorrent, should always be reported to the police, and that any rabbi who expressed views to the contrary did not represent the position of the council.
However, it didn’t explicity condemn Rabbi Lesches’ statements, referring instead to “recent reported misleading comments in the press which have subsequently been repudiated and retracted”.
The AJN contacted the alleged child abuse perpetrator this week, however he declined to comment.
Rabbi Baruch Dov Lesches.