BERLIN (JTA) – A Jewish religious court has convened to hear testimony against a Berlin rabbi who was fired following allegations that he preyed on young women, using religious arguments to lure them into sexual relationships.
The beit din, or religious court, of Germany’s Orthodox rabbinical association, the ORD, announced on Monday night that it had “heard several affected persons in the case of allegations of sexual assault by a rabbi.”
But the group, working together with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Conference of European Rabbis, said it was not prepared to make a ruling because the rabbi had presented a letter from his doctor saying he could not testify, two hours before he was scheduled to do so. He will be given another chance, on July 13, according to the beit din’s statement.
The rabbi, Reuven Yaacobov, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Tuesday that his doctors have told him to rest completely for a month because of the shock he had endured. “If we don’t end the situation, then the post-traumatic situation will follow,” he recounted via WhatsApp.
The ORD would not offer more specificity about the number of women who testified. But a source outside the ORD with knowledge of the proceedings said that at least 10 women took part, locally or remotely, in the hearings held before an international panel of rabbis convened specially to deal with this case.
The hearing came one month after the Jewish Community of Berlin fired Yaacobov and locked the doors of his synagogue, the Sephardi congregation Tiferet Israel, a day after several women testified about what they described as years of sexual and psychological abuse.
The swift actions by both the Jewish Community of Berlin and Germany’s Orthodox rabbinical association stands in contrast to past responses to allegations against Yaacobov. JTA reported last month that multiple entities had received complaints about him during the 17 years that he was employed by the official Berlin Jewish community.
Yaacobov has not commented publicly on the allegations. He told JTA that he had not been told officially why he was fired. He also said he plans to contest his termination in German court and had informed the ORD he was “ready to come to a neutral Beit Din at any time and in any place as soon as my health condition improves and the labor court has met.”
Yaacobov had been a popular spiritual leader in a subset of Berlin’s large community of Russian-speaking Jews. Born in Uzbekistan and ordained by the Midrash Sepharadi Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Yaacobov, 46 and a married father of four, also studied at the Moscow Yeshiva in Russia and the Shavei Gola Yeshiva in Jerusalem before being hired by the Jewish Community of Berlin 17 years ago, according to a biography that was removed from the organization’s website last month.
Some of Yaacobov’s former congregants have joined him in a private Berlin location for services since his firing, he told JTA. Speaking Tuesday, he also questioned why Tiferet Israel, which operates inside an apartment building owned by the Jewish Community of Berlin, remained closed, with personal belongings locked inside.
“If the community has a problem with me, then they can solve the problem with me, but why does the synagogue have to be closed because of that?” he asked, noting that the Nazis had destroyed a synagogue on that same street in 1938. “Why should the worshippers pray in another synagogue?”
A spokesperson for the Jewish Community of Berlin told JTA on Tuesday that the closure of the synagogue was essential for demonstrating to women that their concerns were being taken seriously. The spokesperson, Ilan Kiesling, said additional women had come forward with allegations against Yaacobov since the closure.
“Many of Rabbi Yaacobov’s victims did not dare to report their suffering to the community board … because they thought that Rabbi Yaacobov might be able to return to his old place of work,” Kiesling said by email Tuesday. “The closing of the synagogue on Passauer Strasse also sends a clear signal that he will never serve as rabbi there again.”
The synagogue will remain closed until both civil and religious court proceedings have been completed, he said, adding, “The ban on Rabbi Yaacobov in all institutions of the Jewish Community in Berlin remains in force.”
The ultimate ruling of a rabbinical court could deepen that estrangement. A beit din can issue pronouncements that affect a person’s role in the Jewish community locally and beyond.
Elena Eyngorn, a Berlin Jew who originally brought some of Yaacobov’s alleged victims to testify to the Jewish community’s board, told JTA on Tuesday that she had arranged for a psychologist to accompany the women at the hearings by the Jewish court this week, if they so wished. The psychologist donated her time, she said.
Eyngorn, who did not attend the hearings herself, said she understood that the ORD also had permitted each woman to bring a support person.
One of the women who testified to the beit din told JTA that she had been asked to sign a statement that she was telling the truth. With her permission, she said, the religious court recorded her testimony so the three rabbinical judges could listen to it again. She estimated that she spoke with them for about 20 minutes.
“I told them at the end of the meeting that I thought it was very important to decide something about him, because we are very responsible towards the girls who are growing up in this community,” she said in a telephone interview with JTA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A Tale of Two Narratives: English-Language & Arabic-Language Reports Differ on Palestinian-American Teen’s Death
On Friday January 19, 2024, a Palestinian-American teenager, Tawfic Abdel Jabbar, was killed in the West Bank, allegedly following an altercation with armed Israelis.
The Israeli inquiry into this matter is still ongoing.
However, an investigation by the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) has found that the narrative surrounding the circumstances of Abdel Jabbar’s death in the English-speaking media is very different from that being put forward in several Arabic-language reports.
.@NBCNews: “Abdel Jabbar dismissed the suggestion his son might have been ‘hurling rocks’ as a ‘lie.’”
Meanwhile, in Arab media:
“He used to go with boys between the ages of 15 to 17. .. to throw stones.”
“He always talked about martyrdom, but I thought he was joking.”… https://t.co/r5pJfPdiRd
— Akiva van Koningsveld (@koningsveld) January 24, 2024
In various English-language reports by such media outlets as The Washington Post, The New York Times, the BBC, Reuters, the Associated Press, and others, Tawfic Abdel Jabbar is portrayed as a quintessential American teen who moved to the West Bank in order to improve his Arabic and to gain a deeper connection to the area where his Palestinian family is from.
By all accounts, from the media reports, Abdel Jabbar was fun-loving and outdoorsy, loved basketball and cars, and was planning on going to college to study engineering (or business administration, depending on the report).
The fatal shooting of a 17-year-old Palestinian-American in the West Bank on Friday remains under investigation, as mourners gathered Saturday for the teen’s funeral. https://t.co/ZKtsZfFrN4
— ABC News (@ABC) January 20, 2024
While the circumstances surrounding his death are unclear, most reports have Tawfic Abdel Jabbar being shot to death by an Israeli settler and IDF soldier while out with friends (depending on the report, he was either having a picnic, attending a barbecue or simply driving around).
Although some reports do carry the Israeli claim that the shooting occurred within the context of a reported rock-throwing incident by Palestinians against Israeli vehicles traveling on the main highway that bisects the West Bank, most of these reports only include this information as tangential or include Abdel Jabbar’s father’s rebuff that his son was not throwing rocks and even if he was, “So what? If they were throwing rocks 150 meters to the street, what is it going to do to a tank? Or to a jeep? Or to a car full of soldiers? You’re gonna shoot the car 10 times because a guy threw a rock?”
Most of these reports about Tawfic Abdel Jabbar’s death also sought to contextualize his death with descriptions of rising tensions in the West Bank, an alleged surge in settler violence against Palestinians, and supposed Israeli heavy-handedness following the October 7 Hamas attack.
In sum, the narrative produced by the English-language media about Tawfic Abdel Jabbar’s death is that he was a typical American teenager who became another victim of continuing Israeli aggression against the West Bank’s local Palestinian population.
However, this may not be the whole story.
According to an investigation by JNS, Arabic-language media reports present quite a different picture.
In the London-based Al-Araby Al Jadeed, it’s reported that on the fateful night of Tawfic Abdel Jabbar’s death, he “was participating with boys and young men in throwing stones at the occupation vehicles…”
In that same article, Abdel Jabbar’s father is quoted as saying that “I was keen throughout their lives to consolidate the danger of the occupation in my son’s mind, and the necessity of resisting it.”
Similarly, his mother is quoted, “Since our return, Tawfic had been telling me that he loved the town and did not want to return to the United States, and he was always talking about martyrdom, but I thought he was joking with me.”
From his mother’s description further on, it appears that Tawfic regularly joined local youths in throwing rocks at passing Israeli vehicles.
The Palestinian news outlet Ultra Palestine also reported that Tawfic Abdel Jabbar was engaged in rock-throwing when he was shot and killed.
As the Israeli police continue to investigate this matter and as more details emerge, it is clear that the narrative being produced by the mainstream English-language media about this incident is incomplete and not wholly accurate.
The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.
Closing the Avenue Road bridge to protesters doesn’t protect Toronto’s Jewish community in the long run, says Canadian Civil Liberties Association head Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
The issue escalated to the point where Justin Trudeau talked to the police chief.
The post Closing the Avenue Road bridge to protesters doesn’t protect Toronto’s Jewish community in the long run, says Canadian Civil Liberties Association head Noa Mendelsohn Aviv appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.
This Israeli designer is bringing her Oct. 7-inspired shawl to Manhattan’s Vogue Knitting Live conference
(New York Jewish Week) — Among the 6,000 knitters descending on Times Square this week for a major fiber arts convention is a first-time attendee from Israel who hopes a shawl she made can counteract anti-Israel sentiment in the knitting community.
A mother of seven and a grandmother of two, Liza Rodrig, 48, is something of a handicraft and fashion icon in her own country. She has been on Israeli television, boasts a significant social media following and has even had her work featured on a virtual runway during Tel Aviv’s Fashion Week.
But Rodrig has never before been to Vogue Knitting Live, an extravaganza of fiber arts that features fashion shows, demonstrations, exhibits and a marketplace of luxury yarns and craft tools. She decided to make the trip after Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked southern Israel and plunged Israel into despair.
Armed with knitting needles and a deep belief that the craft “heals and fills the soul,” the Tel Aviv native began developing a new design soon after the attack. “The October 7 Shawl” is made of a cashmere-merino wool blend and mohair, knit into an elongated, triangular form that resembles the State of Israel. The shawl features a Star of David motif — and a seven-color gradient moving from black to to salmon to pink to white.
“I found myself choosing dark colors that slowly lighten — then I realized that this is what I want: to convey the message of what happened in Israel,” Rodrig said. “Oct. 7 — we didn’t think we would be able to get up from it — and how, little by little, optimism returns and therefore the colors become brighter.”
Rodrig will be showing off her design at an open house about Jewish knitting during Vogue Knitting Live as well as in a series of Zoom sessions in which knitters can create their own Oct. 7 shawls together as part of a community. (The events are organized by “Beautifully Jewish,” a monthly podcast on Jewish material culture from Tablet Magazine that this reporter co-hosts.)
Her participation in the trade show is welcome for Jewish knitters who say they have felt isolated and hurt by the reaction to Oct. 7 in what is typically a warm community, one that engages widely on social issues, not just on matters of skeins and stitches.
“I was stunned by the initial lack of support by the knitting community, which historically has been quick to jump on social issues,” said Sue Blumberg of Larchmont, New York. She said some community members posted online “anti-Israel rhetoric without ever acknowledging the atrocities of Oct. 7. … and I was so angry at the growing visibility of antisemitism in what had always been my safe haven, the knitting community.”
Instagram, the visual social network where much knitting conversation takes place, has been rife with fighting and disinformation over the Israel-Hamas war. Hateful comments piled up on posts that ordinarily would have drawn feedback about new patterns and projects. Some Jewish knitters decided to skip major events such as the NY Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York, out of fear that they would face emotional, verbal or even physical conflict. The dynamic has left lasting scars for some longtime knitters.
“Knitting had been a place I went to to buoy my spirits, lift up my heart. Right now, knitting feels equally fraught, equally painful, and that has been a hard place to find myself,” said Simone Heymann of Portland, Oregon. “It has been hard to feel so unwanted, so hated, amongst people I thought were ‘my people.’”
The division was not an online-only phenomenon. In Brooklyn, Lauren Gottlieb was part of a local knitting group for years and was stunned when members of her unit, all aware she was Jewish, didn’t text or call after Oct. 7.
“We just all watched a pogrom on TV! In 2023! I am not religious at all, don’t believe in God, but I am culturally Jewish — these women were at my son’s very small bar mitzvah but yet nobody thought to ask if I was OK,” she said.
Gottlieb will attend her sixth Vogue Knitting Live this year — this time wearing an indelible mark of Jewish pride. “I will be sure I wear something off-the-shoulder to show off my new ‘We Will Dance Again’ tattoo,” she said, referring to a motto adopted by survivors of the Oct. 7 Nova music festival massacre in Israel. “It’s, to me, the way others wear a Jewish star necklace.”
Now, Rodrig’s scarf could become a shared symbol for the Jewish knitting community. Having struggled as a student with dyslexia, she discovered that her intelligence and creativity knew no bounds in the world of sticks and strings after her mother-in-law taught her to knit 20 years ago. She soon started designing her own knitting patterns and eventually launched Liza Wool, a home-based knitting, sewing, weaving studio and school.
Liza Wool is a partnership between Liza and her husband, entrepreneur Kfir Rodrig. The pair met two years after Liza’s first husband died in a tragic accident, leaving the young widow alone with their daughter. When Liza met Kfir’s mother, the gentle tapping sounds of her knitting needles drew Liza to learn to knit — and from there, her relationship with Kfir, and knitting, took flight. Within a year the two were married and by 2022, Liza’s knitting-lesson business outgrew their living room and into a boho craft oasis in their backyard.
The upgraded space is made up of a series of connected wood-paneled rooms – one for weaving, one for sewing – leading to a homey chalet lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with a wide array of colorful textured yarns. Rodrig’s colorful designs adorn dress forms around the room.
“Everyone who comes to our school feels that they are cut off and are in a kind of village, even though it is in the center of Ramat HaSharon,” Rodrig said, referring to the central Israeli city where the family lives.
She believes her family — the six kids still at home and yellow Labrador Retriever Lucas — who float in and out of the craft spaces contributes to the warm, welcoming vibe because “everyone feels the good atmosphere and all my students are a part of it,” she said.
That space turned into a respite after Oct. 7. With many Israelis turning to crafting to take a break from worry and bad news, Rodrig has had to add another table to accommodate all those who want to knit together.
Now, Rodrig is making her first trip to the Big Apple in 21 years, this time with a singular focus on the craft that saved her after the traumatic loss of her first husband. Her big dreams for the convention: meet knitwear design guru Shirley Paden-Bernstein, source new yarns for her shop in Ramat HaSharon and share her shawl with American Jews in need of support.
Though Rodrig’s new design is named The October 7 Shawl, she was thinking about the future when she designed it. Her journey to New York is meant to strengthen the American Jewish knitting community and give its members a way to wrap themselves in comfort.
”I asked for divine guidance on expressing the depth of my feelings,” she said, adding that the resulting design “mirrors the resilience of the Jewish community [and] encapsulates the journey from darkness to light.”