LONDON — Approximately 30 London rabbis are preparing a statement calling on a colleague accused of sexual misconduct to step down from his synagogue, The Times of Israel has learned.
The declaration will say that Rabbi Chaim Halpern is not fit to serve as a rabbi “due to his violation of Jewish law and the laws of modesty,” and that he should be removed from his shul, according to Yisroel Lichtenstein, the head of the rabbinical court of the Federation of Synagogues in London.
Two weeks ago, Halpern, who is considered one of the top Haredi rabbis in London, resigned from his role as a religious judge in Kedassia, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations. He also ended his relationship with Beis Yaacov Primary School, the Hatzolah emergency medical service and Chana, an infertility charity where he was a religious advisor.
He has been accused by about 30 women of “inappropriate” contact. Earlier this month, six rabbis and religious judges gave him a choice between withdrawing from his positions or facing a public statement against him. They could not remove him, however, from his synagogue, Beis Hamedrash Divrei Chaim in the neighborhood of Golders Green, which is run from a building he owns.
The exact nature of the accusations has not been publicly revealed.
‘Because he is still rabbi of his community, he is still operating at full speed’
According to Lichtenstein, the rabbis originally assumed that Halpern’s community would abandon him once it was clear he had lost his colleagues’ support. But last Shabbat, his synagogue was full.
The level of community support for Halpern “took them by surprise,” he said.
About 30 rabbis attended a post-Shabbat meeting on Nov. 24 in which those familiar with the alleged evidence against Halpern revealed what they knew.
“For the first time, most rabbonim heard the details and were shocked,” said Lichtenstein. “There was unanimous approval of a condemnation.”
Although those in attendance initially planned to issue a statement immediately, about 10 were members of Kedassia, and said they needed authorization. According to Lichtenstein, permission was not forthcoming, and this is the reason the statement has not yet been issued. He hoped it would be released within days, although other rabbis involved said they are unclear on when it will come out.
Other signatories, said Lichtenstein, will include several London Beth Din religious judges, a member of the Sephardic religious court and a number of community rabbis from the Jewish heartland of North West London.
“The rabbis feel betrayed by Rabbi Halpern,” he said.
‘In all my years of rabbinic life, I’ve never had to be involved in anything like this. It is completely unprecedented in the UK rabbinical world’
Two other rabbis who said they were going to sign the statement spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity.
One said that “there were rumors spreading that Rabbi Halpern was only [resigning] temporarily, and that he will bring himself back into his positions within a few months. We need to consolidate our position.”
The other rabbi said that while Halpern had resigned from Kedassia and other organizations where he was a rabbinic advisor, “his main position in the community is as rabbi of his shul. That’s his main position of power. The fact that he’s not rabbi of Beis Yaacov anymore is almost trivial. No one sought his advice because he was the rabbi of Hatzolah. But because he is still rabbi of his community, he is still operating at full speed … Nothing’s changed — it’s business as usual.”
The community “relies on us, their rabbis, to do the right thing,” he said. “If we fail to do the right thing, we will have failed our congregants.”
Those questioning why the rabbis have not already spoken out are “not wrong,” he said.
Originally, when accusations against Halpern started spreading, “everyone, including myself, found it too incredible to be taken seriously,” he said.
Now he believes the allegations.
“This is a very sad story,” he added. “No one is willing to talk about it because it is such a sad, difficult issue. In all my years of rabbinic life, I’ve never had to be involved in anything like this. It is completely unprecedented in the UK rabbinical world.”