Britain’s Charedi establishment, already buffeted by allegations of sexual abuse against women by one of its senior rabbis, is about to become embroiled in fresh controversy.
Channel 4’s Dispatches strand is to broadcast an investigation next Wednesday night into claims of the sexual abuse of children within the strictly Orthodox communities of the UK.
In Britain’s Hidden Child Abuse, in secretly filmed footage, Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, the rabbinical head of the Stamford Hill-based Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, tells a man who says he was abused as a child in Stamford Hill not to go to the police.
One Orthodox community worker, aware of the programme’s contents, said its effect would be “like a tsunami”.
The footage of Rabbi Padwa was shot undercover by a man raised in Stamford Hill who says that he was “sexually abused… when I was younger” and asks whether “it is a good idea to speak to the police about it”.
Rabbi Padwa says no, and is asked why. “It’s mesirah”, he responds — a term which means informing on a Jew to the non-Jewish authorities.
“But this is a very serious issue,” the interviewer says.
“Yes, but not police,” Rabbi Padwa answers.
A spokesman for Channel 4 said that the investigation had uncovered “19 different alleged cases of child sex abuse across the UK. Yet not one was reported to the police because alleged victims feared reprisals from within the community”.
Members of the community “often turn to the rabbis for advice and help. Our investigation discovered that ‘advice’ sometimes amounts to an outright ban on reporting alleged child abuse to the authorities.”
Two rabbinical authorities this week issued statements to make clear that they supported reporting cases of abuse to the police.
Rabbi Julian Shindler, executive director of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, told rabbis that it was “essential that, when abuse has occurred, the police must be informed without delay. Local communities should not attempt to deal with the situation internally. Delays in reporting abuse can cause vital evidence to be lost, allowing the abusers to continue violating our children. We must all ensure that the children of our communities will be protected by reporting abuse to the authorities wherever it takes place”.
Rabbi Shindler said that the US had “an obligation to safeguard the children of our community, and we have to accept that even within our own communities there are those who steal the innocence of our children.”
Rabbi Yehuda Brodie, registrar of the Manchester Beth Din, stated: “We offer our strongest support for any victim of any criminal act to report matters to the authorities, including the police, as and where appropriate.”