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‘Listen to me’, says Israeli woman accusing top rabbi of rape

#Listen #Israeli #woman #accusing #top #rabbi #rape

Through weekly protests outside Israel’s parliament, Nehama Teena has demanded an investigation into a prominent rabbi she accuses of rape and sought to break the code of silence surrounding sexual assault in the Orthodox world.

“I’m not asking that they take my word for it, only that they listen to me and stop preventing victims from speaking,” the 38-year-old mother of five told AFP.

In August, Teena rattled Israel’s Orthodox Jewish community with a Facebook post that accused 84-year-old rabbi Zvi Thau of raping her over several years, including when she was a minor.

Thau heads one of Jerusalem’s most influential Jewish study centres, the Har Hamor yeshiva.

He is also the spiritual head of Noam, a virulently anti-LGBTQ party that secured one parliament seat in Israel’s November elections and has struck a deal with prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to support his next government.

Thau has refused to comment on the series of allegations made against him by Teena and another woman, Dorit Lang, who came forward with accusations dating back 40 years.

Thau did not respond to requests from comment from AFP. Israeli media reported Monday that he could be cleared in a probe opened several weeks ago due to a lack of conclusive evidence.

– ‘Shock waves’ –

Beyond Teena’s parliament protests, she has also tried to confront Thau outside Har Hamor, meeting him on territory where he is revered by followers.

“It’s not easy for me to come here. I was part of this community for more than 15 years. I was married to a man from this community and my children studied in its institutions,” she said.

She told AFP her protests were motivated in part by her devotion to Torah, and her sense of duty to help vulnerable people under threat.

“There are people who are suffering. It is really a question of life and death,” she said.

Yair Ettinger, a writer specialising in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, described Thau as one the country’s “most influential” rabbis, but also one of its “most conservative and radical”.

The accusations levelled by Teena and Lang have “sent shock waves through the religious world”, he said.

They “are the beginning of a profound process, and it is difficult to know what the long-term consequences for the religious world will be,” Ettinger said.

– Code of silence –

There are also signs that Teena’s protest, which began as a solitary effort, is gaining momentum, with dozens of people now regularly joining her outside parliament each Monday.

Among those standing by her side at a recent rally was her brother, Yossef Boyarski, who said Teena’s protest was against “a whole system of omerta” that has compelled many victims of rabbinical assault to stay quiet.

He told AFP his sister’s campaign was in the public interest, not a personal quest and affirmed that she had been offered — and rejected — a payout in exchange for her silence.

A growing list of rabbis have openly backed an investigation into Thau.

Even Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the extreme-right Religious Zionism party that included Noam on its electoral list, said there must be an effort to “shed light” on the complaints against Thau.

For Carmit Feintuch, a female rabbi who leads an Orthodox community and has come to support Teena for recent weekly protests, the mindset within the religious community about how these cases should be handled is changing incrementally.

“Shame has changed sides,” she said. “It is the aggressors who should be ashamed, not the victims.”

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