(JTA) – Chabad in the United Kingdom condemned the hosting in one of their movement’s synagogues of a religious ceremony honouring the donation of a Torah scroll by a sex offender.
A Chabad UK spokesperson said the organization had issued a “wide and loud condemnation of the celebrant and the event” in a statement to The Jewish Chronicle Monday about the celebration last week at the Heichal Menachem synagogue in London.
Hundreds of congregants attended at that synagogue a celebration for the inauguration of a Torah scroll commissioned and paid for by Menachem Mendel Levy, a Londoner from the heavily Jewish neighbourhood of Golders Green in the British capital’s north who was jailed for three years in 2013 for sexual assault on a girl younger than 16. The event featured dancing and singing as the new Torah scroll was introduced into the ark.
British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis criticized Levy for trying to “seek public acclaim” by donating the scroll, which was subsequently rejected, the Jewish News reported. The criticism and the rejection came after some debate in Jewish circles in the United Kingdom featuring criticism of Heichal Menachem and its rabbi, Yossi Simon, for hosting the event in the first place.
The Chabad UK statement followed an earlier statement by Simon, in which he said that he had not been involved in planning the controversial event. Levy, Simon wrote, “chose to turn the completion of the sefer Torah into a public event, organizing all the details, down to the production of the flyers and post-event publicity.”
This debate on the event began after Levy’s victim, Yehudis Goldsobel, spoke out about the event on Facebook. “A Sefer Torah dedication is a lovely thing, but how can a community of people ignore the fact that the person donating it is a convicted sex offender? Does this not somehow tarnish this mitzvah? I would think so,” she wrote.
The United Synagogue, which is the main Jewish Orthodox group in the United Kingdom, on Monday criticized a Jewish publication, the Jewish Weekly, that had advertised the celebration without mentioning that some parties found it offensive.
“We are disappointed that the paper ran this advert,” a United Synagogue spokesperson told the Jewish Chronicle. “The United Synagogue would urge the Jewish Weekly to urgently review its advertising policy and to properly research those who contribute adverts before they are published.”