Students Molested in Australian Girls’ Yeshiva

Sexual molestation of students by teachers is an extraordinarily damaging breach of trust. For years, it was considered the sort of problem Jews just didn’t have. And when stories of abuses by male teachers and rabbis were reported (some of them for the first time in the pages of Lilith), it was a stunning blow. Now the Jewish community must acknowledge allegations of sexual abuse of ultra-Orthodox girls by their female principal.

Malka Leifer, principal of Adass Israel Girls’ School in Melbourne, Australia, has been accused of sexually molesting teenage students, including sharing her bed with them when her husband was out of town. Within 24 hours of the investigation that resulted in her firing, Leifer flew to Israel — and some parents allege that the school paid for her ticket, according to The Australian News. The investigation is ongoing, but local authorities in Melbourne are unwilling to release details, as some of the victims may be underage.

The comparison of this case, as it is unfolding, with similar cases involving male teachers is notable not so much for its contrasts as for its similarities. In both, parents are “frustrated by the ‘silence of the establishment’” reported a local Australian newspaper, The Age (unconnected to the Jewish community), which also reports that Leifer’s access to students was facilitated by the strict gender segregation followed by the Orthodox community in Melbourne.