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Rabbi brothers suspected of sex abuse at their Jerusalem yeshiva

Rabbinical court rules students should no longer enroll in schools run by Yitzhak and Moshe Tufik, advises victims to file complaints with police

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Students study at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, September 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Students study at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, September 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An ultra-Orthodox rabbinical court has found that two brothers who head a Jerusalem yeshiva have for years allegedly sexually assaulted their high school and post-high school students.

In a Friday ruling, the panel of five prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis said that brothers Yitzhak and Moshe Tufik present a “serious threat” to students and advised that no students should enroll at their Be’er Yehuda yeshiva, located in the Sanhedria neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Yitzhak is dean of the upper yeshiva and Moshe is dean of the high school yeshiva, which is well-known in the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox community.

The religious panel, which has no criminal jurisdiction, urged any students or former students who were assaulted by the brothers to file a complaint with the police.

“Over several years, dozens of youths were severely harmed by serious things that we cannot put in writing, and even right now the serious acts continue,” the rabbinical court said in a statement of its findings.

Several formal complaints have been filed in recent days and Yitzhak Tufik was questioned by police on Sunday, the Haaretz daily reported.

Around 10 former students testified before the rabbinical court, which did not summon the Tufik brothers themselves. Most of the complaints were against the elder of the brothers, Yitzhak, who is accused of more serious offenses.

A source familiar with the allegations told Haaretz the panel had evidence supporting the claims, including letters and recordings.

Moshe Tufik rejected the accusations and the ruling.

“The court did not summon us and did not speak with us and we heard about the ruling by reading of it on the internet,” he told Haaretz.

He called the ruling “a death sentence on innocent people” and said the claims against him and his brother were being made by former students seeking revenge.

“Not a single one has come before us and said that we did something to him. Everyone knows that our yeshiva is the most God-fearing,” he said.

The brothers have faced previous accusations of abuse and following an earlier rabbinical court hearing had committed to abide by restrictions intended to prevent the alleged assaults. The court said that it was making its ruling public because they had violated those terms, without elaborating.

According to the report, some senior rabbis in the ultra-Orthodox community who were supposed to sign the court ruling ultimately declined to do so.

One of those who did sign was Rabbi Zion Boaron, who is a candidate to become the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel. Three years ago, Boaron was on a similar court panel that had warned the brothers over allegations against them, though that ruling was not widely publicized.

At the time, Yitzhak Tufik signed a commitment to not be alone with his students under any circumstances. He also committed to not enter the dormitories or participate in any trips with the students.

In addition, the rabbi pledged to not give lessons to prospective grooms, a common practice in the chaste ultra-Orthodox community. Former students have claimed it was during such lessons that some of the assaults were carried out, Haaretz said.

However, Tufik later claimed that he only agreed to make those commitments to “calm the waters,” according to Haaretz.

In the wake of those developments, the brothers appealed to another private rabbinical court to investigate the claims. That court heard the testimony of former students and also heard the brothers’ version. In a ruling published two years ago, that rabbinical court found that “there is no suspicion or nothing untoward, and everything there [at the yeshiva] is conducted in the best way,” Haaretz reported.

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