Ephraim Padwa, a senior Haredi rabbi in the United Kingdom, was recently caught on camera telling a presumed victim of alleged child sex abuse not to go to the police.
According to the Independent, Padwa was secretly filmed telling the victim that it was "mesira" (or forbidden) to "report a suspected Jewish sex offender to a non-Jewish authority."
The victim, who cannot be seen in the footage and is apparently filming the interaction, can be heard telling Padwa that he was sexually abused when he was younger. "Would I need to speak to the police about it?" he asks the rabbi.
In response, Padwa, who is described by The Huffington Post's U.K. edition as a leader of the extremist ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jewish sect in the U.K., is seen saying -- emphatically and repeatedly -- that while child sex abuse is a serious issue, the victim must not involve the police in the matter.
“You shouldn't do anything that can lead to the police," Padwa, the head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), said.
The covert video of the rabbi was used in a Channel 4 "Dispatches" investigative documentary series. The most recent episode, which aired on Jan. 30, focused on the issue of child sex abuse within the Haredi community.
Jackie Long, the social affairs editor for Channel 4 who has been involved in the production of the documentary series, wrote the following in a HuffPost blog post:
The veil of secrecy around the crime of child abuse [in the Haredi community] was almost overwhelming. The fear people felt in talking -- even to us, off camera and anonymously -- was palpable. They were terrified of the rabbis and others within the community finding out. They said the repercussions would be enormous…
There are around 40,000 Charedim in Britain, around a sixth of the Jewish population. They live by a strict interpretation of their faith, as decided by their rabbis. It's the rabbis they go to for advice and help on even the most challenging of problems.
Our investigation found that when people who say they've been sexually abused as children go to some rabbis, they are being explicitly forbidden from taking their case to the police.
Long added that the Channel 4 investigation revealed evidence that Haredim who report allegations of child sex abuse are often shunned by the community.
According to the Times of Israel, Britain's Haredi leadership has since "hit back" at the accusations that the community hushes cases of child sex abuse, arguing that the documentary "has done nothing to assist, and may have damaged, the chances of bringing abusers to justice."
“Our community does not need Channel 4 to remind us of our duty and responsibility to protect our children. They are our future, and we do all we can to protect them from these unspeakable crimes," a spokesman for the UOHC told the Times. “For a number of years, we have worked with the local authorities and, where appropriate, the police, and we have robust procedures in place within all our schools. Let us now hope that Channel 4′s attempt to defame us does not discourage victims from coming forward to seek the help and guidance of our Child Protection Services."
For his part, Rabbi Padwa reportedly told Channel 4 in a statement that the "Jewish community considers the safety and protection of our children as paramount" and that there were "robust structures to deal with child abuse." He added that the community would “continue to work with police and social services... to build trust and to create a system which does address and resolve allegations of abuse within our community."
Yaakov Wise, of the University of Manchester's Centre for Jewish Studies, told the Times that the Channel 4 documentary did not provide a balanced picture of the issue. Described as an expert on the British Haredi community, Wise said the show lacked "nuance" and criticized it for "not sufficiently explor[ing] reasons the community is reluctant to report cases to the police, or the evolution of its attitudes about abuse and secular law enforcement."
For more on this controversy, watch the latest Channel 4 "Dispatches" episode here.