After weeks of silence, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations has announced that it will convene a special rabbinic court to hear claims against one of its rabbis of inappropriate behaviour with women.
Rabbi Chaim Halpern resigned as a Union dayan and from other communal roles two weeks ago, after complaints about his counselling sessions for women, but continues to lead the synagogue he runs in his Golders Green home.
The Union — which has been under mounting criticism over its handling over the episode — issued a public notice on Tuesday.
It stated that the head of its rabbinate, Dayan Ephraim Padwa, was “in the process of setting up an independent Beis Din, consisting of prominent and renowned dayonim, to thoroughly investigate the allegations affecting one of our rabbonim”.
The Beth Din — which is likely to consist of three rabbis from Israel — will “hear testimony and examine evidence”, according to the notice. Its ruling would be binding on the Union’s rabbinate.
Until it delivered its verdict, Rabbi Padwa expressed the wish that “no further action nor declaration be made”.
But one north-west London rabbi, who is aware of the complaints, questioned the credibility of the Beth Din and whether any of the women involved would be willing to attend. “It is worth nothing,” he said. “It is going to be one-sided because no one will come to give evidence.”
Rabbis who have previously urged the Union to act “would not co-operate”, he predicted, because “they feel it is just a plan to whitewash”.
Rabbi Halpern relinquished his communal roles after attending a meeting at the home of former London Beth Din head Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, when a group of six rabbis questioned him over the complaints and heard testimony directly from one young woman.
An associate of Rabbi Halpern — who is the son of Union president Rabbi Elchonon Halpern — has said that the rabbi denied the allegations.
Amid increasing strain between the Stamford Hill-based Union and some of its Golders Green members, it is understood that a wider group of north-west Londonrabbis is considering making public their concerns about Rabbi Halpern. So far they have held back pending efforts to get the backing of some Union rabbis.
But one rabbi has spoken out. Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, head of the Federation of Synagogues Beth Din, said that Rabbi Halpern had “crossed the red lines of accepted rabbinic behaviour” and was “unfit to serve as a rabbi”.
In a bizarre twist, Union leaders this week received an email purporting to come from an American psychologist, “Ahron Hersh Fried”, which cast doubt on the allegations against Rabbi Halpern and suggested that he would probably be cleared .
A senior Union figure suggested that the email be circulated to “relevant parties… maybe even to whoever can get it into the JC”.
But it appears that the email may be a hoax. Rabbi Aharon Hersh Fried is the name of a psychologist at Yeshiva University in New York and he has made it clear that he is not the author of the email sent to the Union.