A senior Charedi leader has told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that Jewish sexual abuse victims are not ostracised, directly contradicting the statements from Jewish victims and victim support groups.
Rabbi Jehuda Baumgarten, 72, heads the education committee the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, and said that around 20,000 Charedi children came under the Union’s auspices.
He said he “did not recognise” claims by organisations such as Migdal Emunah that victims who report their abuse are ostracised, saying: “The Union has never been involved in ostracising… Victims are definitely not ostracised. On the contrary, they are helped and guided in a way that they should not be damaged for life.”
Baumgarten also flatly denied the accusation levelled by child sexual abuse victim Yehudis Goldsobel that rabbis put the needs of the community ahead of the needs of victims, saying: “I do not recognise that, and cannot see that that is the case.”
Baumgarten is among the most senior Charedi figures and responsible for child safety on several levels, as director of Interlink Foundation, which provides child protection training; of the Belz Foundation, which provides educational support services; of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools and Organisations, which works in secondary education; and of Moreshet Hatorah, which runs child day care.
Baumgarten resigned as a director of the Union in November last year but remains a director of the Union’s Foundation. He described himself as “second-in-command” to the late Rabbi Avrohom Pinter when it came to safeguarding.
He said the community had set up a safeguarding hotline in the aftermath of a TV documentary which revealed that the Union’s most senior figure, Rabbi Padwa, repeatedly warned a victim of child sexual abuse against going to the police.
Asked about internal Union correspondence after the programme which said that a child safeguarding policy would “please God silence the critics,” Baumgarten admitted that such a policy still did not exist – “not in written form”.
Asked about a hotline instituted after the programme, he said callers are put through to the phone of Rabbi Pinter, who died in April. He said he was considering pulling the service because community members were not using it.
Baumgarten said there was no compulsion for the Union’s rabbis to be trained in child protection and that rabbis do not need to have criminal records checks “because they don’t have direct dealings with children as such”.
Pushed by prosecutor Fiona Scolding as to whether rabbis having DBS checks might be a good idea, he said: “I wouldn’t have a problem with it, nor do I think the rabbinate would have a problem, nor any of the synagogues… The community has no objection to having these checks done.”
He also addressed mesirah, the action of one Jew reporting another Jew to secular authorities, forbidden under rabbinic law, and how doing so makes the reporter a moser, which is widely acknowledged as a highly derogatory term.
He said he wanted to be clear that someone who alerted secular authorities about their abuse within the community would not be considered a moser, saying repeatedly that “things have moved on”.