A sefer Torah paid for and completed by a convicted child sex abuse offender, Menachem Mendy Levy, has been rejected by the Chabad community of Golders Green.
Last week there were celebrations in Golders Green after the completion of the sefer Torah. According to a press release published — and then removed — from the crownheights.info website, “well over 1,000 men, women and children” joined in with “joyous dancing and celebration which was heard several streets away. The new Torah made its way slowly to the local Lubavitch shul, Hechal Menachem, where it was greeted by the other existing Torah scrolls.”
After the ceremony there was further celebration at Menachem Levy’s home, where, again according to the press release, “Rabbi Yossi Simon presented Mr Levy with a thank you from Chabad of Golders Green”.
But on Sunday an anguished Rabbi Simon issued a statement in which he said that “an individual” — Mendy Levy — had “chosen to turn the completion of the sefer Torah into a public event, organising all the details, down to the production of the flyers and post-event publicity”.
Rabbi Simon said that Levy had approached Golders Green Chabad to offer a sefer Torah which he was completing to be housed, on loan, when Chabad moved into premises in the area.
However, he said: “In light of the public nature of this celebration, and how it has come to be perceived as a celebration of this individual, we have decided not to house this sefer Torah when we move into our premises. We have also asked news outlets that publicised the donor’s article to remove it from their sites.
“We can only imagine the further anguish this matter has caused the victim, and our hearts go out to her and her family.”
Mendy Levy was jailed for three years in June 2014 for sexual assault against Yehudis Goldsobel, who waived her right to anonymity after his conviction, in order to encourage others to speak out against sexual abuse. On her Facebook page this week, she wrote: “A sefer Torah dedication is a lovely thing, but how can a community of people ignore the fact that the person donating it is a convicted sex offender? Does this not somehow tarnish this mitzvah? I would think so”. She said she had not even known about the dedication until she was approached by a reporter, and noted that she continued to be shunned by members of the Chabad community in which she had grown up.
Rabbi Simon said: “It’s worth noting that the people who came out to celebrate at the event were there to celebrate the Torah (as is the Halachic requirement), not an individual, including the person who gave the Torah. That being said, we are reviewing what happened, seeing what we need to do differently in the future to always ensure that our community is safe and set the highest standards possible for ourselves”.
Board of Deputies Vice President Marie van der Zyl said Chabad were correct to not accept the scroll, saying: “Sexual offences are extremely serious and, while we should give people the opportunity to express remorse and change their behaviour, care should be taken not to honour people who have committed these sorts of terrible crimes. I am therefore reassured to note that Chabad has decided not to accept the scroll. No one in the Jewish community must ever give the impression that sexual abuse perpetrators are to be accepted until it is clear they have genuinely repented.”
A spokesperson for the Jewish Leadership Council said: “We can only imagine the further pain that this event has caused Ms Goldsobel and her family and were encouraged to read of the strong action Rabbi Simon has taken. We continue to encourage our member organisations to have robust policies in place regarding safeguarding and work to ensure that victims of abuse are protected and respected.”
Manny Waks, a high-profile victim of child sex abuse in Australia who now campaigns on behalf of other victims, particularly within the Orthodox community, said the celebration of the sefer Torah was “outrageous”.
He told the Jewish News: “Everyone deserves a second chance, but at what cost? If he were genuinely remorseful, then as a member of the Chabad community he should adhere to teshuva (repentance) and forgiveness. But there was no acknowledgment of that, and no approach to the victim and her family. And as for Chabad, do they really need to hold him (Levy) up for praise and not talk about the safety and well-being of the victim?
“We should have silence no more. We need to be on the front foot about this issue. And we should be aware that there are many other victims who are not pursuing cases against their abusers because they are concerned about the backlash.There is significant denial and the leaders of the Jewish community need to stand up and decide whether they are part of the solution, or part of the problem. The Jewish world is watching to see how Anglo-Jewry responds”.
Mr Waks, who gave evidence to the Australian Royal Commission about child sex abuse within the Chabad community, has written to the Board of Deputies, the JLC, and the Office of the Chief Rabbi, asking for comment on the sefer Torah celebration.