Jerusalem – A prominent Israeli rabbi withdrew an offer Monday to oversee house arrest conditions for a former headmistress of an ultra-Orthodox girls school who is wanted by Australian authorities to stand trial for 74 counts of sexual misconduct with students.
Rabbi Yitzhak Dovid Grossman, the chief rabbi of Migdal HaEmek and an Israel Prize laureate, offered last week to house Malka Leifer under conditions of house arrest while the courts await medical evaluation of Leifer’s mental state as part of an ongoing extradition proceeding.
Monday, however, Grossman said he had withdrawn the offer after suffering withering criticism by Leifer’s accusers and support organizations for survivors of sexual abuse who said that Grossman had thrown his support behind an abuser rather than standing with the abused. Grossman rejected the charge, saying he is “very sensitive to the pain and plight of children and adults who are abused” and adding that Migdal Ohr, a prominent charity that he founded has a long history of helping marginalised populations in Israeli society.
“It is regretful that the current turmoil has in any way called into question” the organization’s dedication to helping the underprivileged, Grossman said.
“Last night, I notified the courts that I am completely withdrawing my involvement in the case of Malka Leifer, and my recommendation that she be placed under house arrest with my supervision,” Grossman said in a statement. “For more than 50 years I have devoted myself to helping thousands of children who have been abandoned, orphaned or abused as well as those living in the forgotten margins of Israeli society. In addition, I have gone into the prisons to help those who need to be reached out to. My focus and the focus of Migdal Ohr will always be to help and heal Israeli society.
Leifer served as head of the Adass Israel girls school in Melbourne from 2001-2008 before fleeing to Israel in 2008 after learning that local authorities were planning to arrest her in connection with the allegations. Australian officials requested her extradition in 2014 but her lawyers say she is mentally unstable and unfit to stand trial.
Last month, she was arrested in Israel on suspicion of obstruction of justice after a police sting operation found she had been leading a normal life. Leifer’s attorney’s have continued to fight the extradition, saying that she is still mentally unstable, and
Reaction to Grossman’s withdrawal from support organizations was mixed, with voices that both praised Grossman’s decision to step back, but also criticism for appearing to defend Leifer in the first place.
“Rabbi Grossman’s retraction is proof that together we can create a culture that is morally accountable. We are glad he has withdrawn his support but feel the pain he caused was not recognized with an apology. Rabbi Grossman is in a position to foster significant change in Israel. We would welcome a discussion with him as to how he can further encourage and support victims who speak up,” said Dassi Erlich, one of Leifer’s accusers and a major voice demanding her return.