Multiple women have accused an extremely prominent London haredi rabbi, Chaim Halpern, of sexually abusing them during their marriage counseling sessions with him.
A number of rabbinic judges in London had the courage to investigate the claims and subsequently found Halpern unfit to serve in any religious capacity. In response, Halpern stepped down from many of his religious positions.
Yet the saga continues because Halpern still maintains his position as a rabbi in his own community. In addition his father, another prominent and venerable rabbi, Chanoch Halpern, together with numerous other rabbis, have dismissed the allegations and maintain that Chaim Halpern is a righteous man who has been caught up in a conspiracy.
The proverb says that “there is no man on the earth who is (completely) righteous, who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). We are all human and, thus, none of us are perfect. Yet the abuses allegedly committed by Halpern are in a different league – they are especially heinous.
There is the famous story, found in the Book of Samuel, where sons of Eli the High Priest used their priestly positions to gain sexual favors from women who came to the Temple to offer sacrifices. The venerable Eli the High Priest confronted his sons telling them, “No, my sons, for the rumor which I hear the Lord's people spreading is not good.”
Eli the High Priest did not need hard evidence in order to confront his sons. He relied upon and believed the rumors that were spreading. Eli then tried to convince his sons to repent. But, they didn’t listen to their father, nor does it say that they admitted their sins. The surprise, however, is the last part of this narrative, which explains that the sons of Eli would not repent because God wanted to kill them (Samuel 1, Chapter 2:22-25).
This is taken to mean that God hardened their heart to repentances and they were therefore killed. All the commentators are puzzled. Did God really want them to die as sinners rather than remaining alive and returning to a path of righteousness?
The answer is clear: There are some sins one cannot be rehabilitated from. One who abuses one's religious office in order to gain sexual favors cannot repent and then continue to serve. Such people need to be permanently and completely removed from ever serving in a religious capacity. In corrupting their positions as spiritual leaders they are in essence making a mockery out of God.
In terms of the sins allegedly committed, the case of Halpern is not dissimilar to that of the sons of Eli the High Priest. In how it was dealt with, however, the two cases differ considerably. In the Book of Samuel, Eli took the rumors seriously and confronted his sons. In the case of Halpern, his father, the venerable Chanoch Halpern, has dismissed the allegations and insists that his son is a Tzadik (righteous).
With regard to the sons of Eli, the entire Jewish community was united in their outrage. With Halpern, there are multiple religious leaders in the London Jewish community who have signed a letter defending him and his continued right to serve in a religious capacity.
The story of the sons of Eli teaches us that religious leaders are held to higher standards and must be completely and permanently removed from their religious positions based on rumors of sexual abuse alone.
It is clear that the allegations against Halpern are more than rumors, even if they have not been proven in a court of law. The fact that Halpern is still serving as a rabbi, and that his father and other rabbis are still defending him, is not only a disgrace to the community, it is a disgrace to the Torah and a huge desecration of God’s name.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is co-founder and executive director of Youth Directions
, a non-profit organization that helps youth find and succeed at their unique positive purpose in life