London synagogue quits strictly Orthodox union over Halpern

By Simon Rocker, January 2, 2013

A north-west London synagogue has quit the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations in protest at its handling of allegations against a senior rabbi of inappropriate conduct with women.

The board of the 180-member North Hendon Adath Yisroel Synagogue acted swiftly after members voted overwhelmingly at an emergency meeting on Tuesday to change the constitution to allow the congregation to sever links with the Union.

Its move to go independent reflects exasperation at the Union’s indecision over complaints made by a number of women about marriage counselling sessions run by Rabbi Chaim Halpern of the Divrei Chaim synagogue in Golders Green.

Henry Ehreich, secretary of North Hendon Adath, explained that the decision had been taken because of "the way the Union has been dealing, or not dealing, with the problem. We were faced with a situation where members of our shul were voting with their feet.

"If we didn’t do anything, it would be as if we agreed with the inaction.”

He added: “We think this may be a catalyst for other shuls to do the same.”

A week ago the Union’s religious leader Rabbi Ephraim Padwa authorised the expulsion of Divrei Chaim from the Union, only to agree to its readmission a few hours later after a meeting at the home of the Union’s president – and Rabbi Halpern 's father — Rabbi Elchonon Halpern.

Union officials confirmed that Divrei Chaim was “back in the Union” at the end of the last week.

Mr Ehreich described last week’s events as “like a Purimspiel”.

North Hendon Adath's Rabbi Dovid Cohn, in a statement issued before Tuesday's meeting, told members of his community: "The Union may not be responsible for the alleged misbehaviour of one of its dayanim. However, its lack of willingness or ability to deal with the matter in any way is perceived to be unacceptable and is a matter of great embarrassment."

Although Rabbi Chaim Halpern resigned in November as a dayan from the Union, he has maintained his innocence.

A group of north-west rabbis, however - led by former London Beth Din head Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu and comprising at least one Union rabbi - said that he was unfit to serve as a rabbi after examining some of the evidence against him.

Although the Union had last month announced plans to set up an independent Beth Din to look at the Halpern case, it has been unable to report any progress.

The episode has highlighted wider tensions between the more affluent and professional strictly Orthodox congregations in North-West London and the conservatism of Stamford Hill, where the Union has its headquarters.

Last updated: 2:45pm, January 2 2013