Western Wall Rabbi Asked State Prosecutor to Help Australian Wanted for Sex Abuse

Rabbi requested release of Malka Leifer, former headmistress of ultra-Orthodox girls' school, from jail to house arrest

Malka Leifer is facing possible extradition on 74 counts of suspected sexual abuse. She was the headmistress of an ultra-Orthodox girls’ school in Melbourne and fled to Israel in 2008
Mahmoud Illean/AP

The rabbi of the Western Wall asked the Israeli state prosecutor a few months ago to move Malka Leifer, who is wanted in Australia on charges of sexually abusing her students, from jail to house arrest.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said he made the request because of Leifer’s health problems, although in March 2018 the Israeli High Court ruled that Leifer was feigning mental illness, and moved her back from house arrest to jail.

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan didn’t reject Rabinowitz’s request out of hand. Instead, he passed it on to the prosecutors handling her case, and it was rejected after consideration.

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Rabinowitz declined to say why he appealed to Nitzan specifically. But his office said in a statement that he did so after “a senior rabbinic personality” asked him to explore whether the state would consider moving Leifer to house arrest “due to her medical condition.”

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.
\ Moti Milrod

Rabinowitz “contacted the prosecution to ask about this issue without going into the details of the charges,” the statement continued. “The Western Wall rabbi, who gets many requests on various issues, checked this option with the Justice Ministry and received a negative answer.” It added that he trusts the legal system’s judgment on this issue.

The prosecution said it was barred from commenting because of an ongoing police investigation into alleged intervention on Leifer’s behalf by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. A gag order on the Litzman probe was lifted two months ago. He is suspected of abusing his position to try to persuade senior psychiatrists to declare Leifer unfit to stand trial and thereby prevent her extradition.

In 2008, Leifer, who was the principal of an ultra-Orthodox girls’ school in Melbourne, was suspended due to abuse. According to Australia’s extradition request, she seriously sexually abused three sisters who were students at the school. It said the abuse continued for more than four years, from January 2004 until March 2008. The Australian indictment charged Leifer with 72 counts of various types of sexual assault, including 11 counts of rape.

After Leifer fled to Israel, the Australian authorities sought her return. They secured an arrest warrant from an Australian court in 2012 and filed an extradition request several months later.

A year later, the Israeli prosecution launched extradition proceedings in the Jerusalem District Court, but persuaded that she wouldn’t try to flee justice, the court ordered her released to house arrest in Migdal Ha’emek.

In June 2016, the court halted the extradition proceedings because a government psychiatrist found Leifer unfit to stand trial. She was therefore released.

Last year, an undercover police investigation found evidence that she was feigning mental illness, and in light of that evidence, the psychiatrist changed her mind and deemed Leifer fit to stand trial. The court therefore resumed the extradition proceedings.