By Leon Symons
May 11, 2007
A leading Orthodox synagogue has chosen to ban indefinitely a convicted child sex offender, due to be released from prison later this year, who wanted to return to pray in its congregation.
Andrew Josephs, 29, a member of Stanmore Synagogue in North-West London and a former teacher at Michael Sobell Sinai primary school, was convicted in February last year of sexually abusing two barmitzvah boys he was teaching. He was sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court to two years and nine months in prison, and is due to be released in July.
In a letter to the synagogue's members, warden Dr Nigel de Kare Silver said the decision to ban Josephs had been reached only after a lengthy consultation exercise carried out by a specially appointed committee.
Dr de Kare Silver said: "Following this consultation exercise and further discussions with the board of management and the United Synagogue, the special committee recommended that the honorary executive and ministers exclude the individual concerned from synagogue premises and activities, and that such exclusion should be indefinite."
He said the recommendation had been accepted by all parties and that Josephs and his family had been told.
The letter also made it clear that "any other individual who has been charged or convicted of similar offences... unless individual circumstances require otherwise, that individual will also be excluded from the synagogue premises".
The special committee, which included synagogue ministers Rabbis Mendel Lew and Andrew Shaw, consulted police, probation services, child agencies and the United Synagogue.
Initially the synagogue asked the US if it had a child-protection policy and was told it did not, so it drew up its own. A draft document from the US, setting out its own guidelines on child protection, was published last week at the same time as Stanmore's decision went out to its members.
On the advice of the US trustees, Stanmore sent a questionnaire to synagogue members with children, asking whether Josephs should have either limited, or no access, at the synagogue.
Stanmore's decision drew praise from the US and also the Reform and Liberal movements, which are drawing up their own joint child-protection document.
The US document covers all aspects of child protection but falls short of recommending the total banning of convicted sex offenders from its synagogues.
It states: "Children should be protected from those who have committed offences against children, even after any sentence of the court has expired."
It adds that synagogues should be notified in advance of sex offenders' attendance, that they should be restricted to events where children are not present, and that they must be accompanied at all times, even to the bathroom.
A US spokesman said: "The US is extremely respectful of the very difficult decision that Stanmore's honorary officers reached, taking into account all the relevant circumstances.
"The US document is advisory: it cannot be prescriptive because there are a number of communities which have particular circumstances about which they will need to react."
Debi Penhey, communities consultant at Leo Baeck College, who is overseeing a child-protection policy for the progressive movements, commented: "I am not surprised the synagogue has banned him. I think one would have to, because the majority of people in a synagogue would be so scared and nervous. The welfare of the community as a whole has to come first."