Friday, July 19, 2013

Menachem Levy given 3 year jail term for abusing teenager

 Update: July 21 2013 Rabbi Rapoport explains his views

The following represents a very difficult case from the point of halacha. On the one hand it is a seduction of a typically sheltered Orthodox girl from the ages of 14 to 21 - by a married family friend who is 14 years older. She clearly was an adult according to halacha. On the other hand it is obvious that someone who doesn't know what sex is - can hardly be accountable for what happened. Also problematic is that Rabbi Rappaport testified that the married man was the “embodiment of repentance”, for what he did over a period of years. This is truly bizarre since the man pleaded not guilty and is appealing the conviction. Does the seducer deserve 3 years in jail?

See older J.C. article for background information on this case

 For perspective on general issue: Would you react differently if the seducer was an Arab?
Jonathan Rosenblum: Jewish teenagers seduced by Arabs

The problem is whether there is a concept of statutory rape for teenagers in halacha? Statutory rape assumes that a party below a certain age can not consent. Penalties vary widely between states and are not universally regarded as desirable even in secular society.

In short, the crime of statutory rape may have originated from repressive and misogynist conceptions of sexuality. Nonetheless, it has (and may always have had) redeeming characteristics, even from an enlightened perspective that takes into account the realities of prosecuting rape and of women's equality. It makes it easier, for example, to prosecute and thus to deter real rapists who count on jury skepticism about acquaintance rape allegations.
Still, reducing burdens of proof relies a great deal on trust – in victims and in prosecutors – that the omitted element will truly be present when cases come to trial. If and when that trust is misplaced, as may or may not have happened to Marcus Dwayne Dixon, a grave injustice can result.
Most states do not refer specifically to statutory rape; instead they use designations such as sexual assault and sexual abuse to identify prohibited activity. Regardless of the designation, these crimes are based on the premise that until a person reaches a certain age, he is legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse. Thus, instead of including force as a criminal element, theses crimes make it illegal for anyone to engage in sexual intercourse with anyone below a certain age, other than his spouse. The age of consent varies by state, with most states, including Connecticut, setting it at age 16. The age of consent in other states ranges from ages 14 to 18. 
Jewish Chronicle  A young Orthodox woman who was sexually abused as a child has broken her silence to talk about the despair of being betrayed by her own community. 

After years of suffering at the hands of a long-time family friend, Yehudis Goldsobel finally reached out for help. But after reporting the crimes to the police, rabbis refused to acknowledge her suffering, her family were driven from their synagogue, and kosher shops refused to serve them.

Now, as father-of-six Menachem Mendel Levy, 41, begins a three-year jail term for two counts of sexual assault, his victim, now 27, has waived her legal right to anonymity to speak out in a bid to encourage other victims to come forward.

“Since the sentencing the reaction from the community has been really upsetting. I’ve had people closing doors, I’ve had people stop talking to me.[...]

The first trial ended in deadlock when the jury could not reach a decision, but Levy was convicted at the retrial of sexual assault, although he was acquitted of rape.

Levy argued that their sexual contact was a consenting extra-marital affair which began when she was over 16. The jury were shown a birthday card she had written to him after she had said the abuse began. [...]

Rabbi Chaim Rapoport, who until last year held the medical ethics portfolio on the Chief Rabbi’s cabinet, gave evidence as a character witness for Levy, calling him the “embodiment of repentance”, despite the fact that Levy pleaded not guilty and is appealing against both his jail sentence and his conviction.[...]


  1. From the story in the JC, it is not clear if this was a case of rape - against her will - or statutory rape - where she is adjudicated by the court to be a minor and therefore having no ability to consent.
    In the former case, I don't see much difference between an 11 year old and a 14 year old (as far as the Halachic consequences go). In the latter case, she would have to be considered a mefutah.
    Since the Torah's laws regarding both oness and mefutah involve knassim, these laws are not applicable.
    So what are you going to do?
    And it's not an issue of accountability on the girl's part - if it's rape - she's not accountable.
    As to the issue of her lack of understanding that certain acts were sexual in nature, maybe we should see this as a lacking in the education we give our children!

    1. Torah law doesn't apply as is clearly stated in Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 1 and 2). the question is whether there decrees made by rabbis covering this case or whether someone wants to create new decrees for the future.

      This issue was discussed regarding compensation for child abuse. Since the time of the gaonim the general psak is that one who damages or harms another needs to placate the victim with words and money. This is not the Torah law

  2. In English law it is rape of a minor, and abuse of trust.
    Why is this case different to any other of sexual abuse? they also are criminal acts in secular law. In Halacha, a lot of the abuse cases might be "patur".

    1. In halacha if she is below the age of 12 - except for the Rambam - it would always be considered rape.

      There is no such thing as knas today and therefore the Torah law is not the guiding principle. All these issue are judged by various decrees as to what is good for society. The question is in the halachic literature is the seduction or statuatory rape of teen agers punishable?

      If the perpetator seduced a number of girls - it would clearly be included in Rambam 8:11 of one who troubles the society and there would be no problem calling the police and sending him to jail - unless it can be established that he repented and no longer presents a problem.

      However in this case there is a single victim - so the issue is whether there are community decrees which acknowledge the problem of statuatory rape for teenagers - or some rabbi wants to create such laws for our society .

    2. So the problem is in halacha, there is not yet a system to deal with this kind of issue. The perpetrator was not judged in a BD, but in a secular court of law, where they do have such systems t deal with this issue. The concept of prison, again, is not a halachic punishment, but a secular one.
      Dina malchuta dina.

    3. Sorry but you can't simply mumble dina d'malchusa dina over the problem and pronounce it solved.

      Prison is mentioned in halacha - starting with the gemora. Prison is acceptable in halacha for various crimes.

      There are various halachic views 1) What type of secular goverment - only for monarchy? 2) Needs to be applied to equally to all citizens 3) Some limit to those things which involve the king's interest - and thus exclude private matters. 4) Some exclude those laws which govern non-Jewish ways.5) Some apply principle only to those areas not explicitly stated in halacha. 5) taxes are included but not confiscations or arbitrary payments.

      Thus statuatory rape laws are not inherently included.

    4. Perhaps you can argue that it is not Dina malchuta. In which case, why is the post talking abour the age of consent in Delaware and other places that have no Jews, but ignore the law in UK, where this entire episode took place?

    5. If memory serves, there were two court systems in Israel back in the day: there was the Sanhedrin system which was set up to get everybody off due to the strictness around rules of evidence and testimony and then there was the King's court system which was set up to actually convict criminals on a lower standard of evidence and testimony.
      As well, I recall some vignettes in the Gemara where the Chazal specifically referred criminal cases to the local non-Jewish courts or even acted as their law enforcers in cases where Jewish courts couldn't convict the accused. How would that apply in this case?

    6. Not only were there two court systems - but there also two sets of laws. The Torah and Rabbinic - see Chosen Mishpat 2.

      this is exactly my question. Given that we have no basis in Torah law to punish Levy - is there a basis in either rabbinic law or non-judicial law such as rodef or Rambam 8:11 concerning a public threat. Regarding child abuse the answer is strongly yes. Regarding this case I am simply unaware of clear halachic guidelines and am asking for relavant sources.

  3. First of all:
    Given the recent Kolko case, haven't we heard enough about Rabbis testifying on behalf of criminals and assurance us of their goodness?
    At any rate, where does Dina d'Malchusa Dina fit into all this? After all, it too is a halachic principle. If the State holds that have sex with a minor (by the state's definition) is rape, then why isn't it rape for us?

    1. don't see where dina dmalchusa dina is relevant to this case. The Torah says that this is not called rape - the fact that the government calls it rape is irrelevant.

      Mandated reporting is different and as far as I know there is no mandated reporting for statuatory rape.

      If she needed to call the police in order to protect herself or others from him - then it would be justified as rodef. Didn't see any evidence that this was necessary in this case.

  4. "Rabbi Rappaport testified that the married man was the “embodiment of repentance”, for what he did over a period of years."

    That circle is squared easily enough if you say that Levy has repented for the halachic violations involved in cheating on his wife with an unmarried Jewish woman (IIUC she was 14 when it started) who presumably was a niddah. Still, it sounds as though Rabbi Rappoport is saying that for a Jew to violate non-Jewish civil or criminal law doesn't necessarily violate halacha and thus require teshuvah.

    So is he saying that no teshuvah is necessary for violating dinei d'malchuta? Is he saying that dinei d'malchuta doesn't apply here? He must be saying one or the other, otherwise the circle of "not guilty in British law/ did teshuvah" doesn't get squared. One wonders whether he would use this reasoning if asked to provide an amicus curiae brief in one of the Muslim grooming/sex abuse rings, since they are claiming "no problem, because it's OK under Sharia."

    That aside, when I read that

    "Levy, who Yehudis’s mother described as 'like a brother', used to come to the family home in Edgware to babysit, help Yehudis do her homework and take her on drives in his car.

    It was on these trips, including a visit to Homebase and a drive to a Chanucah party, that the abuse began."

    My first thought was "a 28 year old married man babysitting for a family with a 14 year old daughter? Taking her on drives in his car?" What on earth were her parents thinking?

  5. Yoel B,
    Thanks I was just about to ask, isn't Nida a Koreis & that is each time Kedarcho Usheloi Kedarkoh. Even your own wife.
    What R"R meant by tshuvah is he has not engaged in these activities for years & has become a frum yid again.
    As to your question of why he hasn't apologized & pacified his victim. You do understand he retained lawyers to keep him out of jail, and that would be a big no-no, it is not that he isn't apologetic, think about it, he had a wife at the time. It happened more than a decade ago, & nothing has happened since. The British legal system isn't like the US, where if one pleads guilty they get no trial & five years or else they get a mega Webberman 120 years. Guilty by plea or trial get almost the same punishment, and usually not more than 5 years, even murder usually gets 20, & could get early release. A life sentence means 20 years in the UK.
    Being so, trying to stay out of jail, like any one in any situation would, how could he possibly apologize or plead guilty.
    If he loses his appeal, I bet you he will show the remorse he is hiding for legal purposes.
    Are you aware that when this affair happened he was an OTD kid, who somehow got married, she too was in the rebel mode, and problems meet problems. It seems they both went for help & shaped up to the best of their abilities, however the pain suffering & damage done to her, is still haunting her daily, with no closure.
    I am sure he too feels guilty & wishes there was an easy fix, however there isn't one.
    May HKB"H have mercy on both of them & their families & all of us his children.

    1. Are you aware you have your facts wrong? He was OTD when the victims family welcomed him into their home, several years BEFORE this abuse started. When the victim was 14 and the abuse began he was already becoming slightly frumer and got married within a matter of months. HE WAS FRUM AND ACTING LIKE A FRUMER WHEN HE WAS NEWLY WED! She was not a rebel during her teenage years at all!. Please re check your facts!

      Someone in the know.

  6. I am not sure about the question. Under civil law there is statuatory rape. Under halachah he is a menuval and can be presumed to have violated a d'oraisa of nidah.

    Under most Jewish understandings he did something disgusting and destructive.

    Under no version is there any plausible reason to believe that he repented.

    Under most versions of seichel the guy is reprehensible.

    This is a man who wants to pick and choose, so he is halachic for consent arguments.

    It is hard to believe that his defenders are acting out of straightforward core halachic values (because there is that dina dimalchusa thing). They are just trying to get a rat off the hook even at the expense of discouraging other abuse victims from pressing charges.

    1. I agree with most of what you said - the problem is when you get to the therefore. The question is what in fact do you do with somebody like this who is disgusting and destructive etc.

      In the Weberman and Kolko cases the answer is clear. I think this one is isn't.

    2. There is another issue that is important , for those who do not know the atmosphere in UK.
      In recent years, it has become a common theme for muslim men to groom, drug and rape young white girls, and then trade them into prostitution (remember the accusations made agasint Jews in previous generations).
      The terrorist threat has also been coming from the same sector. A couple of months ago, a terrorist attack in London took place, where a soldier was murdered. That effectively broke the camel's back. There are now regular incidents of attacks on mosques, bombs being planted, and some set on fire.
      We Jews have escaped this anger, because a) we have a common enemy to the British, i.e. radical Islam, and b) we generally do not rape young girls.

      If we take the Islamic/haredi attitude that effectively rape is hefker, because you cant find a specific halacha forbidding it, then we are putting the whole community in danger. It is a very dangerous time, and we must show that we do not have the same values as Islam.

    3. Rabbi Eidensohn. Does your thinking change if in fact he had more than one victim (or if you prefer, more than one seduced child)?

      Rabbi Eidensohn, what happens to your thinking if his claim to teshuvah is a sham and he doesn't really regret anything except the fact that he was caught, and would do this again at the drop of a hat?

      His claims of teshuvah, and his rabbi assurances the court should not be factored into this discussion unless we are stipulating that this is hypothesized fact on par with gamal haporeach b'avir. I regret to say, that rabbinical claims of teshuvah are so commonplace, that all such claims should be treated as close to meaningless, absent extraordinary evidence to the contrary. I am not sure why so many otherwise capable rabbonim keep getting this wrong. Maybe ignorance, maybe negius, maybe a non-halachic set of communal norms that obliviate halachah. But facts are facts.

    4. How is this case different from Weberman? Weberman's victim was also over halachic age of consent. There is no proof of outcry or the use of physical overpowering. Both involved grooming?
      Rabbi Eidensohn, would your position on Weberman have changed if the age difference made a consensual sex defense plausible for Weberman. Would it have changed if R. Zalman leib Teitelbaum or even R Chaim Flohr went on the stand to say he did teshuvah? Would it have changed if we were not convinced that weberman had many other other victims.?

    5. This case is different for me than the Weberman case 1) There were multiple accusers 2) I had testimony from people I know and trust regarding the crediblitiy of the victim 3) Weberman was clearly an ongoing threat i.e., rodef.

      My question is in the realm of halacha - there is absolutely no question that what Levy did was disgusting, harmful, against the Torah etc. The question is given the guidelines of halacha what is the appropriate response?

      In the case of a pedophile - it can definitely be assumed that he is a lifetime threat i.e., rodef - no matter what he says or whether rabbis claim he has repented. As you move into sexual activity with a teenager the halacha becomes much less certain. If there is a single victim and there is no evidence or rumor that he was involved with anyone else - the presumption of rodef disappears.

      The jury apparently did not accept her assertion that she had been raped and I have no indepdent sources validating her claims. It could be that she was threatened or manipulated and then I would have no problem with having him arrested and sent to jail. Assuming that the case is one of sexual relations with a naive teenager - that continued for 7 years - it can't be automatically assumed according to the halacha that he should be viewed as a rapist.

      This is the point. There is a concept in halacha of statuatory rape for a child. However she was not a child according to halacha. My question is whether there is any halachic literature which indicates that he should be punished or the police called after the relations had clearly ended? In child abuse I can show you many sources that require calling the police. I can show you sources where someone is a sexual predator that one can call the police.

      However I don't have any sources regarding calling the police for a sexual relationship with a teenager - especially one that lasted for 7 years - and that bears any resemblance to this case.

  7. "The problem is whether there is a concept of statuatory rape for teenagers in halacha?"

    The problem is seeing Judaism in strictly legal categories and not as a moral system. So it is not rape and perhaps not even dina d'malchusa dina. Is it yosher to seduce a 14 year old girl? Is it yosher to violate secular law to the point of earning a jail sentence and shaming oneself and klal yisrael?

    I am not dumping on Levy, for whom I give the benefit of the doubt that he has truly repented (though hard to square with a plea of innocence). I am dumping on pan-halachism. Rav Kook is correct that halacha supplements, not replaces, our natural moral sense.

    I suppose Rabbi Eidensohn would say he was not offering a comprehensive moral reaction to the incident but simply posing a specific question. That is okay, but the presentation can lead to a myopic view of Judaism.

    -ben dov

  8. Adult according to Halacha - regardlessJuly 19, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    Even if " Rambam 8:11 of one who troubles the society and there would be no problem calling the police and sending him to jail" can be applied today and to secular courts (which it does not - the Rambam set the rule for Bais Din - not for secular anything) who says he should go to jail for 3 years? Maybe longer? Maybe less?
    There are many people who are 'trouble to a society' yet no one would think of calling police.
    Just because it involved sex? Under 21? Under 18? maybe it should be 15? Niddah? who cares about that? Is a private issue (bein Adam LaMakom)?

    1. Rambam doesn't mention beis din. It doesn't matter whether **you** would call the police - the fact is that the option is there and the Rambam doesn't mention beis din. If somone is raping or even just exposing himself to little girls - this Rambam provides justification for calling the police. Sounds like you wouldn't call the police because it only involves a knas which can't be collected today anyway - right?

      רמב"ם הלכות חובל ומזיק פרק ח הלכה יא

      עשה המוסר אשר זמם ומסר יראה לי שאסור להרגו אלא אם כן הוחזק למסור הרי זה יהרג שמא ימסור ל אחרים, ומעשים בכל זמן בערי המערב להרוג המוסרים שהוחזקו למסור ממון ישראל ולמסור את המוסרים ביד הגוים להרגם ולהכותם ולאסרם כפי רשעם. וכן כל המיצר לציבור ומצער אותן מותר למסרו ביד גוים להכותו ולאסרו ולקנסו, אבל מפני צער יחיד אסור למסרו, ואסור לאבד ממונו של מסור ואף על פי שמותר לאבד גופו שהרי ממונו ראוי מ ליורשיו.

      See Chasam Sofer Gittin 7a which extends to cases involving an individual as protection

  9. You seem to be conflating the ideas of seduction and grooming. If she had no idea what sex was, it couldn't have been seduction.

    The action of seducing someone.
    A tempting or attractive thing.
    temptation - enticement - allurement - lure - attraction

    There was nothing enticing, alluring, or attractive about the arrangement. He groomed her for the purpose.

    Grooming, as defined by Webster: 4. To prepare, as for a specific position or purpose

    Now that seems more like it. There couldn't have been consent because she wouldn't have had any reference at all to what she was consenting for. As you should know, given your experience and area of expertise, once it starts, victims are often confused, or ashamed about what is happening to them and therefore never report. I don't see how you could possibly treat this as a simple case of statutory rape, equivalent to a case of a high school girl having an affair with her teacher. (You didn't give that specific example, but I think that fits with your position on this case.)

    1. you are raising an important issue - but I have not seen any literature that makes such a distinction.

      I am not sure whether or how such a distinction would be proven in court - especially in a relationship that lasted 7 years.

      I am not disagreeing - just saying I would like to see sources both secular and halacha which make such a distinction.

    2. Would the effects the "relationship" (I'm loathe to use that word in this context) constitute any kind of threat? For example, if the victim became suicidal or started self harming? He would be the direct cause of it and should therefore be considered a rodef, regardless of what halacha says age of consent is.

  10. There's obviously a legal distinction if the charges on which he was convicted were not statutory rape charges. As far as halacha goes, perhaps understanding of psychology had not progressed far enough to understand the difference at the time.

  11. It appears that according to the Torah statutory rape is the equivalent of rape. Just as it is considered rape if a man overpowers a woman physically, so too it is considered rape if a man overpowers a woman emotionally and psychologically. What difference does it make if the man was able to rape the woman by beating her physically or beating her emotionally. If an older powerful man demands that a girl 14 years old submit to him, the assumption should be that she was intimidated emotionally or psychologically to have relations with him, otherwise, in the vast majority of cases she would never do such a thing. The burden of proof should be on him to prove that he didn't intimidate her. An example to the fact that the Torah takes into consideration emotional and psychological intimidation, would be in the case of money, I am certain if an older powerful man demanded that a 14 year old boy give him his watch, then the Bais Din would revoke the sale even if the intimidation was only emotional and psychological. And the burden of proof should be on the man to prove that he didn't intimidate the boy, because otherwise why would he give him his watch.

    Chaim Yankel

    1. You are avoiding the fact that the age of statutory rape of the Torah - except for the Rambam who denies the concept - is less than the 14 years claimed in this case.

      What if an older and powerful man that the boy looked up to indicated it would give him great kavod to receive his watch. After the boy gave it he had regrets - and asked for the watch back. The boy evenutally gave the watch back because it upset him to see his hero upset. If this went on for 7 years until the boy was 21 when he decided he really wanted his watch back. How would you pasken?

      The point is we are not talking about a single act at the age of 14. We are talking about an on going relationship with the claim that the older person manipulated the younger for 7 years. That is not an easy thing to prove. At what point would you say that the younger one's decision should be viewed as that of free-will?

      If you say never - then realistically there is no such thing as free will since you can show a chain of events which made the decision to be inevitable.

      Thus the problem is - what are the circumstances and age where a person is regarded as being responsible for the decision and its consequences?


    Rabbi Chaim Rapoport responds to Jewish Chronicle article

    Posted on July 22, 2013 by Tzedek

  13. "Rabbi Chaim Rapoport, who until last year held the medical ethics portfolio on the Chief Rabbi’s cabinet"

    Why doesn't he hold it anymore?

    This is the fellow that teaches at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the left wing MO seminary in NY.. He has been the darling of the MO community, particularly LWMO, since releasing his Judaism and Homosexuality book some years back, due to his 'progressive' attitude to the topic. I wonder what they think about the case.

    The question here is that since R. Rapoport is a Lubavitcher, as is Levy, is he treating him more favorably than he would otherwise? It is known that Lubavitchers advocate for alternatives to incarceration.


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