Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The British “Weberman”

Guest Post by "Brought up in Golders Green"

Golders Green Clock Tower
Although the focus here of late has been on events surrounding the trial of Rabbi Nechemya  Weberman there is a British version of this fellow in London by the name of Chaim Halpern. We should not lose sight of what’s happening there while we await a verdict on what’s going on here. The trial here continues. The victim has testified and according to my contacts attending the trial she has presented a very credible version of events. Put simply she said she was raped and in other ways sexually molested and abused  by Weberman for a period of 4 years starting at age 12. And described it in excruciating detail.

Rabbi Weberman has yet to testify. It will be very interesting to see his version of events. We will see whose testimony will be more credible.

Rabbi Halpern has not been put on trial yet. Whether he ever will - remains to be seen. It is still early in the process. He is under investigation by authorities to see if he broke any laws.

Although these accusations have been floating around for a while Rabbis in England have finally risen to the occasion. They have not waited for a trial. They forced Halpern to resign from the many positions of religious leadership he held. They believe the allegations of the over 30 women who have come forward. Allegations similar to those made against Weberman.

Rabbi Halpern’s role as a marriage counselor was a bit different than Weberman’s role. Weberman catered to young people at risk. Nonetheless the accusations sexual abuse against Halpern are of the same caliber as those against Weberman. Whether he broke any laws is almost immaterial for a man of his religious stature.

Being sexually involved with married women is strictly forbidden by Halacha and is a capital crime for any Jew. A religious leader so involved not only violates serious Halacha, he destroys the confidence his community has placed in him. The more beloved and respected a religious leader is (which seems to be the case with this man) the greater the devastation to those who put their faith in him. Disbelief turns into disappointment and anger as the accusations are made public. The full story of this man is yet to be told as events unfold.

In order to better understand how this community operates and how it is affected by all this, I thought it would be helpful to know more about the town structure and all the “players’. In that vein, I have asked someone who was raised in the Jewish community of Golder’s Green in London to write a guest post. Even though he has a very busy schedule, he graciously accepted and submitted a brief and enlightening description of the London Jewish community.

He has included brief sketches of the people and the descriptions of the events surrounding this controversy as seen through his eyes. Although the author is a prominent and active member of the Orthodox Jewish world (and I would love to identify him by name) he has asked me to post his submission under a pseudonym. I have agreed. His words follow.

A very short glossary of the London labyrinth for non-Brits regarding ‘Laffaire Chaim Halpern’:
  • Stamford Hill is Hasidish; Golders Green is ‘modern’.  A SH-type rav who has a shul in GG is embroiled in controversy.  SH is perceived as having ‘closed ranks’ behind its GG representative; a group of non-Hasidish, Haredi dayyanim in Golders Green/Hendon have forced the issue into the open, with the blogosphere and press playing a crucial role.   Now read on!
Stamford Hill (SH) – area in North London, center of London’s Haredi (esp hasidish) community, and HQ of all Haredi organisarions and institutions.

Golders Green (GG) – middle-class area in North-west London.  Developed in last 20-30 years into a growing frum area, now with many shtieblech; but more modern than SH.  Seen as less ‘authentic’ than SH.

‘Reb Chuna’ – universal name for the nonagenarian Reb Elchanan Halpern, the single dominant Haredi Rebbe in GG, and the only one with ‘status’ in SH.

Reb Chaim Halpern – one of R’ Chuna’s sons, and a leader in his own right.  Has his own shul in GG; rather affluent kehilla. He is the centre of allegations of impropriety made, apparently, by ladies and young women who went to him for shaalos and counseling.

‘The Union’ – the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, UOHC – SH-based organization of Haredi kehillos.   Tends to regard GG with suspicion.  Founded by Yekkes, now predominantly Hasidish.

Kedassia – the haredi Kashrus organization, linked to the Union. (See also: LBD, below)

R’Efraim Padwa – the Av Bes Din of the Union. (Irreverently, and disrespectfully, referred to in the blog discussions as ‘Paddy’).  A relatively little-known figure.  Inherited his post from his father, the late R’Chanoch Dov Padwa.

The ‘Federation’, the ‘United’ and the London Beth Din (‘LBD’) – The UK United Synagogue (Chief Rabbi: Lord Sacks) is the major UK synagogue organization.  It is an Orthodox organization (founded 1880) of overwhelmingly less-observant, or non-observant, members.  ‘The United’ is shorthand in UK Haredi-speak for everything that is wrong, compromised, ‘wishy-washy’ etc in Anglo-Jewry, and no Haredi would ‘eat the Beth Din hechsher’. 

The United Synagogue’s London Beth Din (‘LBD’) has, since the days of R’Yechezkel Abramsky in the 1930’s, been a court of Haredi rabbanim presiding over a non-Haredi community, and the LBD kashrus is regarded as a highly-organised and reliable system. There has always been a grudging respect for the LBD among Haredim, perhaps privately rather than publicly expressed.  The Federation of Synagogues is a much smaller, less formal version of the US.  It has its own Beth Din.  These two organisations have power bases in Golders Green / Hendon.  

The now-retired former senior Dayan of the LBD, Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, and the current head of the Federation Beth Din, Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, have taken the lead in GG in forcing action in the light of the allegations against GG-based R’Chaim Halpern.  This has gained them HUGE respect in the local (Haredi) community; they are perceived as having had the courage and the moral courage to act and speak out while the ‘Union’ rabbis (including the few Union rabbanim in NW London) were silent in the face of pressure. 

Winners and losers: 
  1. Winner:  The blogs and newspapers (especially )
  2. Winner (maybe): R’Chaim Halpern
  3. Loser (maybe): R’Chaim Halpern
  4. Winners: The non-‘Union’ dayyanim of NW London – especially Dayan Ehrentreu and Dayan Lichtenstein
  5. Losers:  Haredi SH ‘establishment’ and the credibility/authority of its rabbinic and non-rabbinic leadership.  Seen as fatally flawed.
  6. Losers:  the alleged victims of an alleged serious sexual predator
  7. Winners:  force of public opinion – absolutely unprecedented in religious-Jewish London.
Current situation:  After two months of public pressure, the Union has announced that it is setting up a three-person Bet Din of Dayyanim from overseas (apparently – names as yet unknown) to investigate the allegations.  R’Chaim Halpern has resigned from some public positions he held, but is still the Rav of his synagogue.