Israeli Rabbi Indicted for Indecent Acts Against Boys

Rabbi Avraham Shemesh, a teacher in an ultra-Orthodox school in Ashdod, allegedly fondled 13- and 14-year-old boys' genitals.

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Arrest (illustration)
Illustrative image of an arrest.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The Southern District Prosecutor’s Office served an indictment on Monday in the Be’er Sheva District Court against Rabbi Avraham Shemesh, a teacher in an ultra-Orthodox school in Ashdod, for committing indecent acts against three of his male students, aged 13-14, on many occasions.

According to the indictment, in the context of his position as an educator in the elementary school (grades 1-8) Shemesh would summon the students for private meetings in the teachers’ room, telling them that the purpose of the meetings was to make up for gaps in the study material due to their absence from school.

After the students arrived in the teachers’ room, Shemesh would lock the door and close the curtains. According to the indictment, submitted by attorney Rami Almakhawi, Shemesh would tell the boys that in order to determine whether they could be hazanim (prayer leaders), he had to check whether they had pubic hairs, as a sign of their maturity and readiness.

In one case, according to the indictment, a few months ago one of the students celebrated his bar mitzvah and was therefore absent from school for several days. When he returned to class, Shemesh sat down next to him and taught him in order to help him catch up on the material. During the lesson in class, according to the indictment, Shemesh began to caress the student’s leg and genitals.

After the lesson Shemesh called him to the teachers’ room with the excuse that he wanted to speak to him privately. Shemesh asked the student whether he knew who can be a hazan, and then explained to him that according to halakha (religious law), in order to be a hazan a boy must have two hairs in his crotch, which indicates maturity.

After he pulled down the boy’s pants and underpants, Shemesh caressed and kissed his genitals, claiming that he was checking whether the boy was fit to be a hazan. Shemesh repeated these acts four days later, and once again several months after the first incident.

According to the indictment, Shemesh committed similar acts against two other minors, students in the school, with the same false pretense of checking their suitability to become hazanim.

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