Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The other side of the story: Halachic Advisory Board responds to Sima Yarmush's accusation that they cover up abuse

Crown Heights Info    A scathing indictment of the ‘Halachic Advisory Board’ during a speech by Mrs. Sima Yarmush, a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of a Rabbi in her family’s Chabad House, has lead the board to release a statement explaining their policy regarding abuse.

This statement comes after a speech given by Mrs. Sima Yarmush before a crowd in Los Angeles, California in which she spoke about the abuse she suffered at the hands of a Rabbi in her family’s S. Monica Chabad House.

In her speech she accused the Halachic advisory board of what amounts to a “cover-up” which “allowed this predator to reestablish himself in another neighborhood and potentially prey on other victims.”

The board is made up of four rabbis including; Rabbi Avrohom Union, Dayan and Menahel of the Beth Din of the Rabbinical Council of California, Rabbi Gershon Bess, Rov of Congregation Kehilas Yaakov in Los Angeles, Rabbi Yosef Shusterman, Rov of Chabad of Beverly Hills, California, and Rabbi Berish Goldenberg, Chairman of Family Commission at Rabbinical Council of California and Principal at Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Academy in Los Angeles.

The following is their statement:
We have reflected in recent days on the story of a brave and valiant young woman who has shared her story with the public.
What happened to her happens all too often. Sadly it will happen again. During the course of the dialogue surrounding her message, many questions have been raised. Because of legal restrictions and a code of conduct on disclosure practiced by the professionals involved in this area, we cannot discuss the particulars of this situation.
Nevertheless, as a community that cares deeply about taking action against sexual abuse and providing assistance and comfort to their victims, we believe it is useful to provide to the public an outline of our protocols and procedures that are now and have long been in place regarding this subject. We are in constant contact with local authorities and experts in the field and upgrade our protocols when necessary. A review of the attached flowchart will enlighten the public to the model we’ve developed and hopefully promote a thoughtful dialogue to improve the public’s awareness and assistance in tragic matters such as these.

Who is the Halachic Advisory Board?
In 2001, in response to three horrific instances of sexual abuse in our community, the Halachic Advisory Board (HAB), a group consisting of Rabbinic leaders representing the broader Orthodox Jewish community, made a groundbreaking decision. Since their inception, they have sensitively provided support, security and resources to victims of abuse. They have undergone numerous training sessions from experts in the field and have trained groups around the country. In situations where victims of abuse were unable to be protected by law enforcement, HAB continued its work to find ways to protect victims, families and communities.
HAB would quite literally go beyond the letter of the law, to protect victims, families and communities.

Why would a victim not be protected by law enforcement?
In many circumstances including where mandated by law, cases brought to the HAB are directed to legal authorities as appropriate and/or required by law. In order for authorities to protect a victim or prosecute an offender – charges must be filed.
If a family chooses not to file a police report, there is nothing law enforcement can do to help them.
If an act is not legally deemed criminal, there is nothing law enforcement can do to keep someone from causing more harm.

Is anything done to protect a victim who cannot or will not make a report?
HAB offers assistance and support in situations to people when law enforcement cannot. In these situations:
  • The Offender must agree to engage in a comprehensive sex offender evaluation from a credentialed agency.
  • The Offender must sign a release so sex offender evaluation and treatment recommendations of the experts are provided to the HAB Team.
  • Any recommendations provided by the experts involved are facilitated by HAB so that there is compliance and follow up with all treatment and other recommendations.
What are the legal issues involved?
In a nutshell, these cases involve various legal principles, some of which conflict:

Most States, and especially California, have detailed laws surrounding a privilege of confidentiality that arises out of the physician-patient, psychotherapist-patient, and rabbi-congregant relationship. In some situations, HIPAA rules apply. In addition, licensing Boards are very protective of patients. Interestingly, these protections not only obviously apply to abuse victims; they may also serve to protect abusers. Abusers may also insist on confidentiality as a condition to submitting to analysis and treatment.

In circumstances where the victim insists, for understandable reasons, on secrecy and identity protection, the Federal and State constitutions provide protection to Offenders (called the right of confrontation). This right effectively prevents the Police, Rabbonim and all others from accusing the alleged Offender. The Offender must have the right to face his/her accuser and the right to challenge the allegations.
  • State slander and libel laws make an accuser liable for compensatory claims if they cannot prove the truth of the accusation. Such proof of truth becomes impossible where the identity of the abused must be protected and not be disclosed or where the accuser does not know the identity of the abused.
HAB has achieved extraordinary success over the decades in combating abuse. Those of us who are and have been involved everyday with these significant, heart wrenching issues have devoted our lives to helping people rebuild after abuse occurs. Working together with authorities and experts of all segments of the community, as well as using our contacts nationally and internationally, we can prevent abuse and create a safer environment for all of us.

Testimonial from Police
“As the supervisor in charge of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Operation West Bureau Sexual Assault Detail, I have interacted with the rabbinical council on a number of occasions regarding allegations of sexual abuse brought to their attention by those they serve. I always found them to be anxious to seek proper guidance and willing to follow through on a discussed and suggested course of action. They were always open and concerned with doing the right thing, never holding back information or shying away from difficult situations, even if moving beyond their comfort zone in order to provide the best resolution to a situation. It is rare to find this kind of ongoing relationship of mutual trust and respect between law enforcement and a religious hierarchy. I was both personally honored and professionally privileged to work with these fine individuals.”
Paul Bishop, Supervisor (currently retired) LAPD West Bureau Sexual Assault Detail

[signed] Halachic Advisory Board


  1. ....and what is their excuse in Australia for their treatment of Manny Waks despite his abusers being found guilty and in prison. Are they still worried about libel or will they have to come up with more creative reasoning? How do they justify using the community to persecute the Waks family?

    If the Rabbis mentioned above have had regular contact with the police in dealing with cases of sexual abuse, please can they say how many people in the Jewish community have been found guilty? I suspect that answer would be zero. In which case, this "system" has clearly failed despite the supporting statement of Mr Paul Bishop!

  2. and what is their excuse in Australia for their treatment of Manny Waks...

    This advisory board is from Los Angeles. They have no connection to the Chabad school halfway across the globe, in Melbourne, Australia. The situation in Melbourne in incomparable to Los Angeles.

  3. RDE: This article from today's Newsweek may be of interest to you:

  4. Whilst the LA board may have no connection with the Australian one, it is surprisingly coincidental in that the reporting of abuse to the Rabbinate yields the same results. That being silence at best, or at worst, persecution of victims from the rest of the community.

    The same policy of shifting accused Shluchim to other regions "which have no connection" to themselves seems to be a regular theme.

    Coincidence? I don't think so, this is just the Chabad way!

  5. thanks. Not sure that it adds anything

  6. fedupwithcorruptrabbisApril 9, 2015 at 5:42 AM

    I agree with Ozzie. If the HAB was "doing their job" then HOW DOES THIS SUSPECTED ABUSER END UP WORKING AT ANOTHER CHABAD HOUSE IN SHERMAN OAKS? Why werent they warned?

  7. nope! It would be helpful if you were concerned with the truth

  8. We have seen very mixed messages from Chabad Rabbis (in fairness, Chabad are not the only ones guilty of this) about whether victims should go to the police or not. If it is the case, that these Rabbis encouraged her NOT to go to the police, then what measures did they take to protect this young girl and protect against other potential victims? According to all accounts, it appears this did not happen (he was simply relocated to a Chabad institution elsewhere). If on the other hand, the Rabbis on this board felt that the police and secular courts were the best place to address the situation, what steps did they take to assure Sima that the Rabbis and the larger community would support her during this process? By supporting a fair investigation into this abuse, there would be no accusation that they were taking sides, but rather supporting the search for truth. Once these Rabbis were made aware of the allegations, it seems highly reckless to carry on as if nothing happened, particularly when other potential victims could be at risk.

    In fact, the truth was the last thing these Rabbis were looking for, as they made no attempt to investigate the allegations nor encourage any neural body to investigate either.

    Would they be prepared to face questioning from the American equivalent of the Australian Royal Commission? Would you still support them if they were found to be lying and actively covering up abuse?

    How can we have any confidence in these Rabbis, particularly after this insulting statement? They should all stand down from all their Rabbinic positions and be given no authority or responsibility whatsoever.

  9. "Soton" is a very clever manipulator - when we are in its grip, we think we are doing a "mitzvah".
    When David haMelech was in its grip, he counted israel - which was one of his sins, for which he repented and was forgiven.
    Not wise to accuse, therefore, someone of being under Satan, before checking all the various details of the case.

  10. The way they dealt with her feelings not considering what she had to say because she is a female witness has to change.....

  11. Putting the blame on a Rabbinical Board when the girl plus family would NOT contact/report/involve the police is ridiculous!

    Similiar to blaming the fire department for a house burning down when no call was made to 911.

  12. Why did the Chabad rabbi at the hearing try to stop her from saying the guy's name?

  13. Here's what you posted last time around, schumsky:

    Unbelievable how almost each commenter either blames the victim or her
    parents for their lack of surveillance...... It's the RABBI MOLESTER who
    is the problem, cause & blame, no one else!!

    And here you are now blaming the victim and her parents.

  14. The gist of the response Halachic Advisory Board seems to be that unless the victim wishes to follow through with all legal requirements, which include filing of charges, cooperating with the ensuing police investigation, being subjected to invasive interrogation, and various other unpleasantness, the victim cannot expect any help from law enforcement.

    The HAD further asserts that absent such actions on the part of the victim, their hands are tied as well. Currently the law protects the rights of those alleged offenders who have not been accused in the appropriate venue. Had the HAD openly accused a miscreant of improper behavior without proof of such, they would have been exposing themselves to slander and/or libel actions.

    It is implied that in the case of Mrs. Sima Yarmush, the HAD found themselves faced with just such a dilemma, and that the recourse available to them was thus limited. In effect, The HAD is therefore granting themselves absolution and washing their hands of any blame by suggesting that the ball ought to be in the secular court as it were.

    This is all good and well, and I can't say that had I been one of the four Rabbis to whom Mrs. Yarmush unburdened herself, that I would have acted any differently, with one exception.

    Mrs. Yarmush contends that not once since the time that she spoke to those Rabbis, had any of them contacted her to inquire after her well-being and ask if there was anything they could offer to relieve her anguish. Although I am not a legal authority, I know not of any law, State or Federal, that would bar a cleric from offering private consolation and comfort to a congregant. It seems to me that, at least in this, the Rabbis of the HAD failed to live up to their obligations.

    Although this seemingly futile act on the part of the Rabbis would have fallen woefully short of the the outcome desired by Mrs. Yarmush, nonetheless it would have gone a long way to assuage the feeling of abandonment experienced by herself.

    I would be disappointed in the HAD if they do not come forth with a denial or at least with a plausible explanation as to why they failed to be more demonstrative in displaying their compassion to Mrs. Yarmush. Barring that, the Rabbis ought to acknowledge their error, and commit to act more effectively in the future should the need arise, G-d forbid.

  15. It is shameful that you post a headline stating "The other side of the story," as if Sima Yarmush's account of events is somehow untrue or ambiguous, or worse, as if Sima herself is not the victim but shares somehow in the responsibility for what happened to her. There is no other side of the story, and you have presented none in your article. Sima was molested, Sima came to you for help, and Sima was and has been ignored to this day. Headlines and rhetoric aside, you do not deny any of this.

    Sima notes in her speech that Rabbis Union, Bess, Shusterman and Goldenberg have not so much as called her to ask how she is doing, and you do not deny this. (The "legal restrictions" to which you refer would not prevent you from affirming or denying this claim, so I can only assume that it is true.)

    Your statement that "State slander and libel laws make an accuser liable for compensatory claims if they cannot prove the truth of the accusation" seems suspicious and misleading on its face, to say the least. It appears to be designed to intimidate abuse victims from voicing their accusations -- precisely the type of behavior that you are claiming the HAB does not encourage.

    Shame on you.

  16. @Avi - you obviously have no understanding of slander and libel laws. It is easy to be brave for other when you are risking nothing

  17. Good question!
    This was after she had described the abuse. By that point, it's reasonable to assume that the Chabad Rabbi would have already figured out who the disgusting perp was - especially, considering that he was the rabbi of her family and would have known the significant employees of their Chabad house. Still, why would he not want the other members of the board to know who he was?

  18. Did the HAD contact her parents to inquire about her well-being? If so, were her parents welcoming to this or did they brush them off? I would think that we would need these questions answered before we can understand why the Rabbis didn't contact the victim - who had been traumatized by a "rabbi" - herself.

  19. The following is a post from Meyer Seewald from his Facebook page

    Here is an email that was sent to rabbi Shusterman, that was sent to me.

    I say the following words as respectfully as I can and with the
    understanding that I very much respect your rabbinical role and
    appreciate both you and your family as people. Having said that, I am
    doing away with curtesy and will speak as a colleague, instead of as a

    Its come to my attention that you are contesting Sima's
    contentions regarding this case, claiming that you indeed did tell Sima
    to go to the police.

    1) There is a difference between active
    encouragement (you should/must report, we will stand by you and protect
    you) and passive encouragement (you can go to the police, however, be
    prepared for the consequences, including loss of anonymity, being
    dragged through the system, perhaps not being believed, etc). I do not
    believe that you did the former, rather you did the latter.

    Sima addressed why she didn't go to the police in her speech - she was
    worried about that loss of anonymity. She had hopes that the Rabbis
    would do something and protect her. Not only did you fail at that, but
    currently, by the actions you and your fellow conspirators are taking,

    3) Much of the thrust of
    Sima's point seems to be lost upon you (and perhaps due to an oversized
    ego that is refusing to acknowledge any potential mishandling and
    instead is simply focused on yourself, instead of the true victim in all
    of this - the little girl that got abused by a Chabad Shliach). She was
    victimized by YOU and your fellow Rabbonim's abject silence in the face
    of her family's condemnation by the SM community, and the Levitansky
    family. They were ostracized, and you remained silent.

    4) Lost
    in all this, is that you are implicitly agreeing that Shalom Ber is a
    child-molester. Sadly, you failed to notify any community of this
    potential threat, causing you to be responsible in the event he molested
    another kid. Moreover, by having the stance that it appears you have,
    you are agreeing that Sima should go to the police.

    5) In the
    event Sima does go to the police, I hope that you will stand by her,
    encouraging her and supporting her AND testifying on her behalf that
    indeed you knew of the story and indeed you knew that Shalom Ber
    committed the crime. Instead, its more likely that you will continue
    to remain silent, in order to protect your own Kavod.

    abject refusal to recognize wrongdoing is shameful. Your desire to
    revictimize the actual victim is this case is absolutely unconscionable.
    Your complacency in Aguch's message that Sima was manipulated into
    telling her story is completely despicable. Shame this message....and if
    you continue on this path, the war of words will continue.

    Instead, a true leader (and truly and honestly what the Rebbe would
    want) is to say that: there was a girl that was harmed, deeply and
    truly. And, that perhaps the case was mishandled in the past, but in the
    future you will do everything you can to protect victims of abuse. And
    that at the time, you did what you thought was best, but perhaps it
    wasn't good enough.


  20. I really wish we would know who wrote this letter. There is so much confusion out here as to what really happened. The letter has a ring of authenticity to it, but the anonymity is what damms it.

  21. Great commentary - Incidentally , you are looking for a VA 21-2680 , my colleagues saw a blank version here

  22. In light of the admission of guilt / guilty plea last year by the molestor in this case, and his shameful sentence of Zero prison time, if the HAB rabbis are serious about their alleged mission, one would expect some statement of contrition for their complicity, and maybe a public condemnation of the judge who sentenced the predator to 'have a nice day'.

  23. “The other side of the story: Halachic Advisory Board responds to Sima Yarmush's accusation that they cover up abuse” Sima Yarmush is incensed at the rabbis for not shaming the perpetrator. My instinct---I’m on her side. I quote daf hayomi:

    Sanhedrin 21:
    “Then Amnon felt a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing for her was greater than the passion he had felt for her. And Amnon said to her, Get out!” (2 Samuel 13:15) For what reason? R. Isaac answered: A hair becoming entangled, mutilated him privily. If this happened of itself, what was her part in it? But we might rather say that she entangled it and caused, mutilation. But is this so? Did not Raba expound: What is meant by the verse: “Your beauty won you fame among the nations, for it was perfected through the splendor which I set upon you—declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 16:14). It is that the daughters of Israel had neither under-arm nor pubic hair? It was otherwise with Tamar, for she was the daughter of a yefath to'ar. “Tamar put dust on her head and rent the ornamented tunic she was wearing; she put her hands on her head, and walked away, screaming loudly as she went (2 Samuel 13:19). It was taught in the name of R. Joshua b. Korha. In that hour Tamar set up a great fence [about chastity]. They said: If this could happen to kings’ daughters, how much more to the daughters of ordinary men; if this could happen to the chaste, how much more to the wanton? Rab Judah said in Rab's name: On that occasion, they made a decree against yihud with [a married] or unmarried woman. But surely the prohibition of yihud with a married woman is a Biblical law! For R. Johanan said on the authority of R. Simeon b. Jehozadak: Where is [the prohibition of] yihud alluded to in the Biblical text? It is written: “If your brother, your own mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your closest friend entices you in secret, saying, Come let us worship other gods—whom neither you nor your fathers have experienced” (Deuteronomy 13:7). Is it then only the son of a mother that can entice, and not the son of a father? But it is to teach that only a son may be alone with his mother; but no other man may be alone with women Biblically interdicted on account of incest! Say rather that they enacted a decree against yihud with unmarried women.”

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