He seduced vulnerable women who came to him for spiritual enlightenment. Now Rabbi Hershy Worch is the one being exposed and shamed.
RABBI Hershy Worch did not look like a serial seducer. Talented and charismatic, despite his homely looks, the "singing rabbi" attracted crowds of students of both sexes.
Women predominated because Worch specialised in teaching female students the Talmud – Jewish commentaries traditionally taught to men.
The English-born rabbi came to
The main character is "Rabbi Reuven Klein", not Hershy Worch. Meanwhile, Fein herself, the editor of the 1990s Jewish magazine Generations, appears in the novel as Freddie Rose, editor of the magazine Diaspora Dreaming. Its headquarters are downstairs from Rabbi Klein’s office – just as Generations was downstairs from Rabbi Worch’s office – and its location is "Ben Gurion House" in
HaMakom, the "alternative" orthodox synagogue Worch established, appears in the novel as "HaDrasha". The fictional Rabbi Klein has sexual relations with three of his students and tries to seduce others.
Fein openly admits that much of the novel’s content is based on Worch. She made her fictional Rabbi Klein a "composite character", based on Worch and several other rabbis, because she feared she was unable to make a "short, fat and ugly" rabbi into a credible fictional seducer.
Fein says her fictional rabbi and the real Rabbi Worch both played on the emotions of a group of young adults who were all children or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.
These women wrote a long, anonymous statement accusing the rabbi of "predatory" and "manipulative" behaviour and it was added to the
It also alludes to complaints about him to the Rabbinical Council of America and the Chicago Rabbinical Council.
According to the
Worch, now 54, has married a third time since leaving
Sam Lipski, editor of the Jewish News when Worch was in
At the time, influential businessman, rabbi and former Melbourne Football Club president Joseph Gutnick had offered to re-fund Hillel, the organisation that had been paying Worch, if it got rid of the radical rabbi. Joseph Gutnick heard them, and also read testimonies from American and Australian women who reported inappropriate sexual overtures from Worch. The reports confirmed his opinion of the rabbi, Gutnick says now.
What upsets me is that he uses religion to abuse women. According to Fein, conversation about alleged impropriety began after the rabbi’s sudden departure, when his shocked students gathered to "debrief".
At the time, says Fein, any Australian woman considering making allegations of abuse to rabbinical authorities would have first thought of the now notorious case of
She points to the secrecy surrounding sexual abuse claims against the principal of the
Like any other community, the Jewish community does not like bad news published about itself .