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Prominent national religious rabbis back investigation

Police probing sexual assault allegation against prominent ultra-conservative rabbi

‘He used his power and image to carry out the abuse,’ Nehama Te’ena says in television interview several months after first publicly accusing Zvi Tau of abuse

Rabbi Zvi Tau attends a march in Jerusalem against reforms to conversion and kosher supervision, January 30, 2022 in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Rabbi Zvi Tau attends a march in Jerusalem against reforms to conversion and kosher supervision, January 30, 2022 in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Police have launched an investigation into a sexual assault complaint filed against a prominent ultra-conservative rabbi, as one of his accusers detailed the allegations in a television interview aired Thursday.

The revelation of the probe, which was reported widely by Hebrew media, came after several senior national religious figures called to investigate the allegations against Rabbi Zvi Tau, 85, who heads the influential Har Hamor yeshiva in Jerusalem and is the spiritual leader of the far-right Noam political faction.

Nehama Te’ena, a resident of the Jewish settlement in Hebron, first came forward publicly with allegations against Tau in August, when she wrote a Facebook post saying that 30 years ago, when she was 8, Tau committed “ongoing” sexual assaults against her.

At the time, Te’ena said she had gone to the police and the media, but that Tau’s associates succeeded in hushing up the story. In recent weeks, she has staged small protests outside the Knesset, accusing Tau of raping her and others and demanding to know why the Israel Police have refused to investigate.

Her accusations, however, were largely ignored by mainstream media outlets until this week, once other prominent rabbis publicly called for the claims against Tau to be probed.

Speaking with Channel 12 news, Te’ena said it was important for her to speak openly.

“After years of carrying around this very serious sexual assault within me, I decided my voice would be heard,” she said.

Nehama Te’ena speaks to Channel 12 news about allegations that Zvi Tau, a prominent ultra-conservative rabbi, sexually abused her since she was a 10-year-old girl (Screencapture/Channel 12)

According to Te’ena, Tau was frequently around her family.

“He dragged me to a place and hurt me several times — not only when I was a young girl, but even after I was married and a mother, he kept doing it,” she said.

“I tried to ask for help in different ways, but I did not know how to express myself at the time,” she said, adding that one time as a 10-year-old she tried to call the police.

Te’ena said she faced enormous pressure from those around her to keep her allegations quiet, with many dismissing her claims because Tau was such a well-known powerful rabbi.

“He used his power and image to carry out the abuse,” she charged.

She also said that it was “a victory” to be able to now speak publicly “to tell the world that this is the true person.”

The interview with Te’ena comments came a day after Rabbi David Stav, chief rabbi of Shoham and the chairman of Tzohar, called for Tau to cooperate with any investigation.

“Everyone tied to the rabbi should want the truth to come out,” he told Radio 103FM.

Stav also dismissed claims made by Tau’s associates that Te’ena is an unreliable witness because she struggles with mental health issues, noting that even if it were indeed the case, it in no way invalidates the need for the allegations to be investigated.

His son Avraham Stav, himself a prominent rabbi associated with Tzohar who also teaches at the well-regarded Har Etzion yeshiva in the West Bank, said Wednesday that he has spoken with multiple women who accused Tau of sexual assault, as did Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, director of the Center for Jewish Ethics at the Tzohar rabbinical organization.

Tau repeatedly defended prominent figures accused, and even convicted, of sexual assault and rape. In 2011, he signed a letter backing convicted rapist and former president Moshe Katsav, and last year he publicly criticized Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, for probing multiple sex abuse allegations against author Chaim Walder, claiming that the charges were “a bluff” and that no such crimes had occurred.

Rabbi Zvi Tau in 2018 (Screenshot)

The Noam faction, of which Tau is the spiritual leader, ran as part of the far-right Religious Zionism alliance in last week’s elections. Noam’s primary platform is opposition to LGBT rights and the “destruction of the family.”

Ahead of the election, Likud chair Benjamin Netanyahu personally met with Tau to convince Noam to run on a joint list with Religious Zionism, as the former prime minister feared that right-wing votes could be discarded if the party ran independently and failed to cross the electoral threshold.

Noam’s lone MK in the Religious Zionism list, Avi Maoz, recommended Netanyahu be tapped with forming the next government during the faction’s meeting with President Isaac Herzog on Thursday.

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