EXCLUSIVE: World’s foremost Charedi leader brands Halpern a ‘gangster’

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EXCLUSIVE: World’s foremost Charedi leader brands Halpern a ‘gangster’

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch in Jerusalem called Rabbi Chaim Halpern, mired in sexual abuse claims, a “gangster” who should be removed from post.

Rabbi-Moshe-Sternbuch Pic__Ezra-Landau
Rabbi-Moshe-Sternbuch Pic__Ezra-Landau

The world’s most senior Charedi leader has blasted a Golders Green rabbi at the centre of yet more child safeguarding investigations in a halachic ruling that has sent shockwaves through London’s strictly- Orthodox community.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch in Jerusalem called Rabbi Chaim Halpern of Divrei Chaim synagogue in north London a “gangster” who should be removed from post.

The stunning remarks, from which Halpern’s credibility will struggle to recover, came after the intervention of a United Synagogue rabbi.

Golders Green Rabbi Chaim Halpern

Halpern’s Divrei Chaim is affiliated to the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), which appears to be backing him despite growing anger that he has not been removed from his position pending the outcome of the investigations.

Sternbuch, 97, who grew up in London, is widely seen as the foremost rabbi of his generation. He is vice-president of the Rabbinical Council and head of the Edah HaChareidis, the most senior Charedi Beth Din [Jewish religious court] in Israel.

The revered Charedi leader was asked for a message to take back to rabbis in England by Rabbi Nicky Liss of Highgate Synagogue and in comments that were recorded and circulated, Sternbuch calls Halpern “a gangster” who should be removed, a call being made by many of his own congregation.

Asked what Liss should tell the rabbis back in England, Sternbuch says: “They shouldn’t be afraid. They should say clearly and openly that all groups of people have gangsters. By us also there’s a gangster.

“They should throw him out and [be] finished. The best is emes [truth]. But they won’t do that.” Sternbuch adds: “Throw him out… he can’t hold himself.”

Despite rabbinical and council inquiries into sexual assault claims against him, Halpern was the guest of honour at a Purim celebration at Beis Shmuel synagogue, run by his brother.

Halpern, a trustee of local school charities who comes from a well-connected family, is known for providing counselling to women in London’s Charedi community.

Last year, a 21-year-old woman told an Israeli TV news channel that Halpern had used his position to groom and sexually assault her when she went to him for spiritual guidance, providing audio recordings. Police investigated, but quickly closed the probe, after failing to contact the accuser.

In 2012, he stepped down from the presiding UOHC rabbinate after more allegations of inappropriate conduct in counselling sessions, before being cleared after a nine-month investigation. He denied the allegations.

Further investigations were recently launched by the UOHC and Hackney Council, which issued a letter to community youth leaders and schools “strongly advising” them to keep children in their care away from the rabbi.

In a letter being widely circulated on social media, Jewish residents of north-west London wrote “in anguish and desperation” to the influential Hasmonean Rabbi Yisroel Meir Greenberg, who also heads ‘MUNK’s’ Synagogue in Golders Green.

Referring to Sternbuch’s comment that local religious authorities will not kick Halpern out, the residents said: “These remarks can only bring shame to every Charedi resident of north-west London.”

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