Few people in British Jewry will be unaware of the recent corruption scandal to feature in the news.
We all recognise that criminal behaviour is something that happens in all walks of life and sadly the Jewish community is no different. What is striking though, is the response from our religious leaders.
According to the Jewish News “…it emerged in David’s court case on Monday that Borehamwood’s own Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz had given character testimony on behalf of David, who swindled 55 victims out of £14.5 million.”
“In addition, on the Shabbat before his appearance at Southwark Crown Court, Freddy David, who was given a six-year jail term, was called up at one of Borehamwood’s “boutique” services, its Limmud minyan.”
(To put this into context, both the Shul and the Rabbi have since issued apology letters which have been included at the bottom of this page in their entirety. We will probably never know what knowledge Rabbi Kanterovitz had about the case at the time when he gave his testimony, or how his apology will be received by his victims, some of whom are pensioners who have lost their life savings.)
It is interesting to note that back in November 2016, Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz, of Borehamwood and Elstree synagogue, said that that leading members of partnership minyans – traditional services where women take some prayers – should be excluded from some activities in his synagogue.
The same pattern has been seen countless times in abuse cases throughout our communities, particularly when perpetrators are well respected or donate large sums to Jewish causes. Rabbis and religious leaders appear to be more than willing to issue character references in court, or try to minimise the severity of the crimes or even try to persuade judges not to issue jail terms to convicted child sex abusers. At no point are the feelings of innocent victims ever even a consideration. The unimaginable hurt at watching a community led by its Rabbis in ensuring the status of the perpetrator remains intact appears to be an irrelevance. It is shameful that an apology is rarely issued once the truth is laid bare. In fairness to Rabbi Kanterovitz, he has taken responsibility for his actions, but how many apologies from other Rabbis are still long overdue?
It is only right that everyone is entitled to a defense in court, this is provided by professional lawyers. Everyone is also entitled to pastoral support regardless of their crimes, which is why prisons have chaplains. What is not right, is when support is given to a perpetrator or alleged perpetrator, which is at the expense of the victims or even at the expense of justice itself.
A fair judicial process is so fundamental that it is one of the seven Noachite laws and should be respected by all. It is our view that no acting Rabbi should voluntarily involve themselves in a judicial investigation in order to lend support. The scope for creating more hurt to innocent people is enormous and often brings our Jewish community further into disrepute.
We now await the letters of apology from the numerous Rabbis in the UK and elsewhere who have sided with child abusers in court who have since been found guilty. We call upon the Jewish community to encourage such Rabbis to do what is right, before they are afforded the respect that their title entails.
[Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are written by an external party and not necessarily shared by Migdal Emunah]
Letters included below:
To my dear beloved community,
Like many of you I read with shock the accounts of the victims of Freddy David – to hear how their lives have been shattered and the way they were deceived is heart-breaking. In the hours since then I have done much reflecting and soul searching and whilst I passionately believe my role as your Rabbi is supporting members who are facing personal challenges and never passing judgement, in this case, and with the benefit of hindsight, I would have acted differently.
Like so many of us, I too did not know all the facts. I truly and sincerely hope that I have not added additional hurt to any of the victims, and if I did I seek their mechila (forgiveness).
I have only ever sought to demonstrate compassion and support to all who need it of me. As I have said many times from the pulpit, our community at BES and our Torah is one of peace and kindness. I will continue to aspire to this as the principal ethos of our community.
I would like to offer my personal support to anyone who has been affected by this terrible crime – I am always here to talk to confidentially. To all the victims, we want you to know that the community is here to help you and shelter you through these troubled times in love and without judgement.
As we approach Ellul, a time for self-reflection, let us ensure that we are not only true before G-d, but also, just as importantly, with our fellow man.
With a heavy heart and tears in my eyes
All my love
By now you will have no doubt have read the news about Freddy David’s sentencing. I felt as Chairman that I wanted to write to the community at this time and also lend my support to the letter from Rabbi Kanterovitz below.
Like you I am appalled and aghast reading the victim statements in the press, some of whom I know are our members. I want to offer them our community’s full support and if anyone would like to be in touch with us in the strictest of confidence to discuss how we can help, please know that I am available.
I will also be reaching out to Mr David’s family who are innocent victims of these crimes and I know that our whole community will join me in offering them whatever support we can at this difficult time.
I want to clarify that neither BES, the HOs or the United Synagogue have issued any letters of support or character for Freddy David and that any issued by our members or employees were done so in a personal capacity without knowledge or consultation with the HOs who would have guided against it.
Over the past couple of days, I have rightly fielded a number of calls and emails from members concerned around the perceived position of the community with regard to calling up Mr David on Shabbat in the Limmud Minyan. Mr David should not have been called up. Although there was guidance in place by the Honorary Officers this perhaps should have been clearer. There was absolutely no malicious intent on the part of those involved and this call up does not reflect BES policy. Indeed, I will be reviewing protocol to ensure we learn from this and take all necessary steps to ensure communications are clear enough to avoid any misunderstanding in the future.
Finally, and most importantly, I know that the victims of this crime will live with the ramifications for many years. Let me reiterate to those victims in our community and of course to Mr David’s family that we are here to offer you comfort and, where possible, support through this terrible time.
I feel as a community we are tarnished somewhat by the actions of our members and so would ask us all to redouble our efforts in what BES is famous for, caring for each other in good times and bad and being rigorous in our pursuit of innovation and communal harmony.