Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Feldman is suing the publisher of the Australian Jewish News for defamation, over three articles printed during a Royal Commission investigation of “Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported Friday. The articles depicted Feldman as testifying that he did not know it was illegal for a man to touch a child’s genitals.
Feldman holds that that the AJN reports depicted him as “reprehensibly ignorant” in reference to his testimony explaining why, back in 2002, as director of Sydney Yeshiva’s Rabbinical College he had not intervened to prevent his student who was suspected of sexual abuse of a fellow student from fleeing Australia.
When the commission inquired if he knew then that it was a crime to touch a child’s genitals, Feldman said: “I didn’t know that as a fact.” The AJN reported the exchange in 2015 under the headline, “Rabbi Feldman urged leniency for abusers.”
According to the Herald, Feldman said the article made him feel “terrible.”
“They wanted to sensationalize and exaggerate to the point of lying – borderline lying,” he stressed.
According to Feldman, the AJN did not bother to note that after the question was re-phrased, he confirmed that he had known it was a crime to touch a child’s genitals with sexual intent.
In other words, according to Feldman, he was tripped on the distinction between helping a child who may experience discomfort and sexually abusing the same child.
The AJN Deputy National Editor Joshua Levi told the Supreme Court on Thursday, “We were at the royal commission … and he was specifically being asked questions about what the Yeshiva Center did in response to child sex allegations and what the Yeshiva leadership did when it found out a teacher had been allegedly massaging a boy, so when he was asked about touching the genitals it seemed obvious what the question was.”
Rabbi Fldman, who has been removed from the international registry of Chabad-Lubavitch shluchim, did apologize “to anyone in the rabbinate, the Jewish community and the wider Australian community who may have been embarrassed or ashamed by my views, words, understandings, recordings or emails about child sexual abuse or any other matter.”