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Senior orthodox Jewish leaders face cover-up inquest over child sex abuses

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Richard Baker, Nick McKenzie

Some of Australia’s most senior orthodox Jewish leaders are under investigation for allegedly failing to report multiple instances of child sexual abuse.

The Sunday Age has obtained witness statements and tape recordings from this month’s successful prosecution of a former Bondi Yeshiva authority figure, Daniel Hayman, that indicate senior Jewish leaders failed to act on complaints of abuse and cast doubt over their public statements on the scandal.

The documents and recordings provide an insight into strongly held views within segments of Australia’s ultra-orthodox Jewish communities that child sexual abuse should not be reported to secular authorities.

New South Wales police and the NSW Ombudsman are examining whether senior Rabbis broke the law by failing to report incidents of alleged child sexual abuse at Bondi’s Yeshiva centre to authorities.

Similar investigations are taking place in Melbourne into the failure by leaders of St Kilda’s Yeshiva college to act on allegations of abuse by two former employees who were recently jailed for sexual abuse offences against students.

Under the NSW Ombudsman Act 1974, it is an offence for the leaders of a government and non-government agency to fail to report allegations of child sexual abuse to the Ombudsman. The head of an agency must also implement policies to ensure employees report alleged abuse. Institutions such as Catholic schools and the Yeshiva Centre are bound by that legislation.

A NSW police spokesman confirmed that detectives from Strike Force Bungo have been liaising with the NSW Ombudsman’s investigators “regarding whether there may have been a failure to report incidents of abuse to the Ombudsman”.

The spokesman said detectives had not identified sufficient evidence to take the matter to court but were continuing their inquiries.

Documents and tape recordings obtained by Fairfax Media reveal that three senior Sydney rabbinical figures were allegedly told of Hayman’s offending by victims during the 1980s. But none contacted police.

Instead, Hayman was sent to the United States only to return to indecently assault a 14-year-old boy and allegedly molest a 12-year-old girl.

Hayman, 50, this month received a 19-month suspended jail sentence after pleading guilty to aggravated indecent assault of a 14-year-old boy at a youth camp in the late 1980s. Hayman was 24 at the time of the offence and working at the Yeshiva-run camp.

Magistrate David Williams said he had to sentence Hayman by applying laws relevant to the time of his offending, adding that Hayman would have been jailed if he was tried under contemporary laws.

Mr Williams also had to acquit Hayman of an indecent assault offence against a 12-year-old girl because of a legal “oddity”.

Explaining the complicated matter, Mr Williams said he was bound to apply an old law that was in place at the time of the incident. Under this law, if there was any possibility that Hayman’s offence was actually more serious than the crime of indecent assault he had been charged with, he had to be acquitted.

Witness statements and court testimony reveal several children allegedly approached former senior Yeshiva figure, Rabbi Boruch Lesches, between 1986 and 1989 to report Hayman’s indecent conduct.

One of Hayman’s alleged victims testified last month how he and a group of boys went to the home of Rabbi Lesches in 1986 or 1987 to report Hayman’s abuse of them.

Another alleged victim told the court how she told Rabbi Lesches, now a senior Chabad leader in New York, in 1989 that Hayman had committed an indecent act on her.

The court testimony contradicts a public statement released by Rabbi Lesches last year in which he said: “I had no knowledge of the alleged charges claimed to have occurred some 25 years ago.”

Rabbi Lesches released the statement after Fairfax Media broadcast a legally recorded telephone conversation in which he admitted to knowing of concerns about Hayman’s behaviour and of one case of alleged abuse.

But Rabbi Lesches publicly asserted that the complainant against Hayman was about the same age, around 21 years old. The alleged victim discussed in the recorded conversation was actually almost a decade younger. 

Rabbi Lesches also added in the phone conversation his belief that some sexual abuse victims may have “consented” and cautioned against reporting Hayman to police. Rabbi Lesches later apologised for these remarks.

A witness statement to police also implicates one of Australia’s most senior Jewish leaders in covering up Hayman’s offending.

In a 2011 witness statement, a former Bondi Yeshiva rabbinical college student alleges he told the senior Jewish leader, whom Fairfax Media has chosen not to identify, of Hayman’s alleged offending against two teenage boys.

The statement says that after the senior rabbi was told of the incidents, Hayman was sent overseas. The alleged victims were given no counselling and police were not called.

A November 2011 tape recording of a conversation between Hayman and a victim contains admissions of inappropriate conduct with several children.

Hayman told the victim that Rabbi Lesches and the present spiritual head of the Bondi Yeshiva centre, Rabbi Pinchas Feldman, had both spoken to him about his conduct during the mid-to-late 1980s.

‘‘He [Rabbi Feldman] just told me it shouldn’t happen and I should take steps to avoid it,’’ Hayman said in the recorded conversation. ‘‘It was a once-off conversation in his office.’’

When reports first emerged last year that police were investigating alleged abuse at the Bondi Yeshiva centre, Rabbi Feldman said: ‘‘I do not recall anyone ever coming to me with such a problem. I am shocked to hear that anything of this nature has taken place here.”

Following Fairfax Media’s report of the conversation between Hayman and his victim, Rabbi Feldman’s lawyer threatened to sue.

The Bondi Yeshiva Centre later released a statement saying Rabbi Feldman had no recollection of anyone confessing to him their involvement in child sexual abuse.

Fairfax Media has learnt that people who have given evidence against Hayman have been intimidated and vilified within their communities.

A male victim of Hayman’s, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court last month that he had been “abandoned” and “cast out” by his adoptive family.

“The community was more intent on protecting its good name than me,” he said.

Fairfax Media emailed Rabbi Lesches’ son, who last year handled his media comments, for a response to the claims by Hayman’s alleged victims about them having told him they had been abused more than 25 years ago.

But his son has not responded.

Know more? rbaker@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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