(JTA) — Chabad in the United Kingdom condemned the hosting in one of its movement’s synagogues of a religious ceremony honoring the donation of a Torah scroll by a convicted sex offender.
A Chabad UK spokesman 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.
Following the celebration and criticism from British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and others, the synagogue rejected and removed the scroll from the premises.
Hundreds of congregants attended the celebration for the inauguration of a Torah scroll commissioned and paid for by Menachem Mendel Levy, a Londoner from the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Golders Green 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.
Mirvis criticized Levy for trying to “seek public acclaim” by donating the scroll, the Jewish News reported, following debate in some Jewish circles denouncing Heichal Menachem and its rabbi, Yossi Simon, for hosting the event in the first place.
Prior to the Chabad UK statement, Simon had said in a statement that he was not involved in planning the 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.”
The debate 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, 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 spokesman 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.”