A Canadian rabbi has been arrested by Peel Regional Police and is now charged with three counts of sex crimes against a minor, dating back to 1997.
Rabbi Shlomo Leib Mund, 79, was picked up on an arrest warrant by the police at Toronto’s Pearson airport on April 13, when he flew from his home in Israel to spend Passover with one of his children.
Rabbi Mund has been charged with sexual assault, sexual interference with a victim under 16 years of age, and incest.
The victim, now an adult, can’t be named due to a court-ordered publication ban on his or her identity. He or she went to police in Montreal two years ago, where the alleged attack happened some 25 years ago.
Rabbi Mund was taken to Montreal where he spent a day in jail. He was released on bail under strict conditions to not contact the victim, and to remain at the house of one of his sons, Philip Mund, a Toronto real estate professional. The rabbi also cannot leave the country.
“Honestly, I don’t really have any specific hope for the outcome of what this is,” said the victim, in an interview with The CJN Daily. “But just that he’s arrested and that the word will go out and the victims will have a chance to speak up is enough for me… I don’t know if justice will ever be served for him, but that’s not really anything I could control.”
Rabbi Mund’s lawyer, Jessy Heroux, said his client would not be making any statements, except that he intends to defend himself against the charges.
“Mr. Mund categorically denies the allegations,” Heroux said in an email.
Faced rebuke by Montreal’s rabbinical court
Rabbi Mund worked in Montreal for years, and ran a synagogue in his house. He provided counselling to members of his congregation in that city’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. He also taught bar mitzvah lessons.
In the early 2000s, other sex crimes complaints against Rabbi Mund were brought to the attention of Montreal’s religious court of rabbis, known as the Jewish Community Council. The rabbis held an investigation concerning improper behaviour with women of his community.
According to Rabbi Saul Emanuel, the current executive director of the JCC, hearings were held at the time, although Rabbi Mund declined to participate. He was ordered to step down as the rabbi of his congregation.
“I do remember when the original claims came up that were verified and we had a whole gamut of rabbis across Montreal that were involved in the situation,” Rabbi Emanuel told The CJN Daily in an interview. “The rabbis of the Jewish Community Council were fully engaged in the issue to ensure that he was removed quickly and not continue to be involved in any congregation.”
Rabbi Emanuel says it was no secret that people in Montreal knew about Rabbi Mund’s reputation.
“Obviously everyone was talking about it, just like everyone talks about anything else that happens in the public view,” he added. “We were dissatisfied to hear the claims, but certainly we acted, as I said, immediately and promptly to address the issue.”
No charges were ever laid, and the complainant did not go to the police, although Rabbi Emanuel points out that it is the rabbinical council’s policy these days to direct victims of assault to go to the authorities.
“We do not cover things up. And certainly, a person should go and report if something has happened. That’s the law. They have a right,” he said.
In Rabbi Mund’s case, there was no further engagement to encourage him to express remorse for his actions, he said. Rabbi Emanuel denies that Rabbi Mund was also ordered to leave town.
“No, that’s an old problem. And I attended conferences regarding that. If anybody does that, all they’re doing is transferring the problem to another city. And that’s not what happened,” he said. “[Mund] took the decision to move to Israel.”
When asked if rabbis have the same legal duty to report child abuse to police in Quebec that teachers and therapists do, Rabbi Emanuel said they absolutely do. He did not say whether that was done in the Mund case. In general, he said the rabbis first investigate, to ensure that the grievance is not a personal vendetta, but rather a legitimate crime.
Victims living ‘in pain’
The victim is disgusted that Rabbi Mund was never charged back then, and was able to live freely in Canada and, until his arrest, in Israel.
“They are protected by batei din (Jewish rabbinic courts), rabbis, community leaders, therapists,” the victim said, adding that while the abusers are able to keep on committing their crimes, “victims are trying to survive every day, living in pain.”
The victim calls it “beyond backwards” that some rabbis blame a lack of modesty in the religious community for encouraging sexual assaults.
“They say that tznius (modesty) is the problem, and wigs are the problem, and men masturbating is the problem, like, in the frum community, this is what they say,” the victim said. “That is not the problem.”
Even as recently as a year and a half ago, when the victim had already started the legal process against Rabbi Mund, he or she said a rabbi advised them not to do anything publicly, but instead to write a letter to the accused.
The victim’s reply?
“I’m like, ’Dude, do you know how much blood is on your hand? If you would have done something, maybe I wouldn’t have to be standing in this position today’,” said the victim.
The victim views Rabbi Mund’s move to Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, a haredi town near Jerusalem, as fleeing to a safe haven where he would be protected from Canadian law enforcement. Canada has had an extradition treaty with Israel since 1967, but no one had ever gone to the police about the accused, until now.
When Rabbi Mund and his wife left Canada, the Montreal rabbinical court made sure their counterparts in Israel were informed about his background, according to the victim.
Documents about Mund were apparently sent at the time to the Jerusalem-based organization, Ichud HaKehillos Tohar HaMachane, or Union of Communities for the Purity of the Camp. It is an organization sometimes called the Tznius (modesty) watchdogs, with a reputation for wanting to ban the internet, among other things, and sending thugs out to beat up Jews who transgress haredi values.
A group that works with survivors of sexual abuse in Israel, known as Magen for Communities, tried to track down those old Mund documents from Montreal, and discovered it was a dead end.
“The problem is that up until ten years ago, [Tznius] did not keep files on cases. They didn’t actually properly archive things. It was whatever the guy [secretary] kept in his head,” said Shana Aaronson, the executive director of Magen, from her office in Israel.
That Tznius official is over 90 today, and did not remember anything about the case, she said. “And nobody has any notes.”
It is a situation that Aaronson has seen countless times, where abusers from the haredi community are able to come to Israel to avoid consequences.
She is currently working with several survivors, who allege they are also victims of Rabbi Mund, but none have made official complaints to Israeli police, yet.
“Which is not surprising considering the community that he was living in,” Aaronson explained, describing Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet as a “very extremist community” who do not trust the police.
“Quite the opposite. This is the kind of community where they believe the police are Nazis.”
According to a report from 2015, Mund was running a synagogue in Israel for a haredi congregation known as Kehillas Kosson.
Sexual abuse education organizations get involved
News of Rabbi Mund’s arrest was first published by the Za’akah organization in New Jersey, which advocates for victims of childhood sexual abuse in the Jewish community.
Za’akah posted the news on its Facebook page, and also on its TikTok account.
Officials aren’t surprised that the victim decided to approach police only after the passage of 25 years.
“Typically, it takes a number of decades for survivors to trust anybody around them to tell them, and in the Orthodox world, it’s possible that it could be longer, given the fact that abuse is so stigmatized and reporting it is so stigmatized,” said Ariella Kay, a Za’akah advisor and director of their social media accounts.
Traditionally, victims who do come forward either to their rabbis or, in rare cases, to law enforcement, suffer tremendous personal backlash, she said. Za’akah has heard of victims who are shunned by the Jewish community, but also who lose access to housing and job opportunities, and even marriage prospects dry up.
“There are people who face extreme ostracism… when they walk into the shul. They’ll no longer get any honours. They won’t get aliyahs. They’ll be considered a pariah by everybody around them because they dared to report,” said Asher Lovy, the executive director of Za’akah.
There are several aspects of Jewish law that Lovy and others say are wrongly invoked when someone is considering whether to report sexual abuse. First is the rule of mesirah, which frowns upon Jews reporting another Jew to secular authorities. The second is the concept of lashon hara, or speaking badly about someone.
According to Lovy, neither rule applies when it comes to the dangers posed by a pedophile or a sexual predator, since the Jewish concept of saving lives, or pikuach nefesh, outweighs everything.
Rabbi Emanuel of Montreal’s Jewish Community Council agrees that mesirah doesn’t apply to sexual assault.
“People may think about it, but the fact of the matter is, when it comes to halakhah, it requires that if somebody is doing something that is dangerous, remove it, get rid of it. So you’ve got to bring it up to the authorities,” he said.
Signs of change?
Despite the two decades-old sex crime case and how it was handled in Montreal, there are signs across Canada that attitudes have begun to change within the Orthodox community.
In April, the popular American magazine “Mishpacha” printed the names of several hundred Orthodox rabbis who signed a pledge vowing to encourage sexual assault victims to go to the police, rather than seek the help of a rabbi first. Several Canadian clergymen added their names, including Rabbi David Kadoch of the Sephardic Kehila Centre, in Thornhill, Ont.
Rabbi Kadoch said he hears of two or three cases of child sexual abuse per year in the Toronto community.
“That’s a high number. We don’t want to hear that number,” he said.
The pledge which he and other rabbis signed was designed to avoid situations where perpetrators can cover it up, use their connections, and pay off people, including their victims.
“That’s something that we pledged as rabbis to stop and put an end to it and to go to the authorities and let them know what’s happening in the religious community,” he said.
For his part, Rabbi Kadoch has organized several public events to raise awareness about sexual abuse in the Orthodox community, including conducting interviews on his podcast with a sexual abuse expert and educator, and speaking about the issue from the pulpit.
“I hope the other rabbis get on board and join us. And if they haven’t signed that pledge, then they need to sign that pledge and stop covering things up.”
Meanwhile the victim who pressed charges against Rabbi Mund says he or she isn’t worried about receiving backlash from the haredi community – including family – for deciding to come forward, all these years later.
“I was always a truth teller and I don’t have space for not living the truth. I can’t not do this. I have the support. I have a [spouse] who supports me. I’m doing well. There’s no reason for me not to do it. I think it was my duty, too.”
Rabbi Mund’s next scheduled court date is July 11 in Montreal.