After serving only seven months of a one year sentence, Chabad-ordained Rabbi Menachem Mendel Tevel has been released from a New York jail. The Jewish Journal reports that Tevel has returned to Beverly Hills where he was originally arrested at the JEM Center in October 2013.
After being extradited to New York to face 37 counts of sexual abuse, some first degree felonies, Tevel initially entered a plea of not guilty. But in a sweetheart plea deal in April 2015, Tevel changed his plea to guilty to only two counts of a criminal sexual act in the third degree. He was sentenced to one year of jail time in June 2015. Tevel’s victims ranged from 6 to 14 years-old.
He is not currently on California’s sex offender registry. However, he may have to register in California after a scheduled “risk level assessment” hearing scheduled for February 29 in New York. According to the Brooklyn DA’s office, that hearing will determine Tevel’s sex offender registration requirements. Those requirements may include sex offender registration from 20 years to life on New York’s sex offender registry. After being listed on New York’s registry, Tevel will be required to register in California as well.
Seven months after being sentenced to a one-year jail term for sexually abusing a minor, Mendel Tevel, who once worked at a local Jewish youth center, has been released on parole from a New York jail and has reportedly been seen in Beverly Hills, where he was arrested in October 2013 on sex offense charges.
Tevel, who is 32 or 33, pleaded guilty in April 2015 to two counts of a “criminal sexual act in the third degree,” which, under New York law, constitutes anal or oral sex with someone who is a minor or is otherwise incapable of providing legal consent. This was after pleading not guilty to 37 counts of sexual abuse, most either in the first or third degree, upon his arraignment in 2013.
Tevel is the son-in-law of Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, the founder and director of the JEM youth center in Beverly Hills, where Tevel worked until his 2013 arrest.
On Feb. 18, Sgt. Max Subin of the Beverly Hills Police Department confirmed that police are aware of Tevel’s presence in California.
“We are monitoring the situation and will take appropriate action if necessary and in accordance with state law,” Subin wrote in an email. “If he is found to be in violation [of registration requirements], our Detective Bureau will take appropriate action.”
When the Journal called the JEM Center on Feb. 18, this reporter identified himself and asked Illulian, who answered the phone, whether Tevel was at the center. Illulian said Tevel “is working with children, little children,” and then made clear he wasn’t being serious. He said Tevel hasn’t been to the JEM Center for more than 2 1/2 years, and criticized the Journal’s coverage of the case.
“All your articles are not true,” Illulian said. “Everybody knows [the truth] except the people who like to get headlines.”
On a very positive note, at least one Jewish community is being proactive on the matter of Mendel Tevel’s presence and in combating sexual abuse in general. Chabad Bais Bezalel, a synagogue that Mendel Tevel was known to attend, has adopted an official policy called “Child & Member Protection Policies & Procedures.” The synagogue has made it publicly known that Tevel is not welcomed there.
Tevel’s arrest and JCW’s activism have shed light on a divide within Orthodox communities over how to deal with sex offenders and other potentially dangerous members of the community. In November, the five-member board of the Pico-Robertson Chabad Bais Bezalel unanimously adopted a list of “Child & Member Protection Policies & Procedures.” Those policies allow the synagogue to ban any sex offenders from its property and events, and state that lashon hara prohibitions (which govern forbidden speech) cannot be used “as a means of silencing survivors, or those aware of abuse, who appropriately report abuse, or seek aid, therapy or comfort.” The synagogue’s president, Yonatan Hambourger, said the new policy wasn’t a response specifically to Tevel’s case but was necessary because of the number of people who come in and out of the synagogue during the week.
Prior to Tevel’s guilty plea, he would sometimes attend Bais Bezalel. When Hambourger was made aware, he asked Tevel to leave. Tevel hasn’t since returned. So far, Hambourger said, there’s hasn’t been any blowback to the Child and Member Protection policy.
“It’s a difficult issue for us to address because, on the one hand, we’re a Chabad shul, and we want to be open, but the stark reality is there are a lot of really, really potentially dangerous people,” he said.
On Feb. 10, Bais Bezalel’s board sent an email stating that, per its guidelines, it was advising the community of Tevel’s release from prison and assuring people “that Mendy Tevel is not welcome at Bais Bezalel.”
Bais Bezalel’s official policy and active stance against sexual abuse originated at the synagogue level and is not official policy set by Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights, New York. The Chabad-Lubavitch organization has been exposed in recent years as having a history of sexual abuse, and sexual abuse cover-ups in some of its institutions. It’s unclear what status Bais Bezalel holds in the Chabad organization. One source tells me that it’s is not considered a “Chabad House” per se among local residents, even though it appears in Chabad’s official synagogue directory. In 2013 the synagogue was associated with another sex scandal involving their then rabbi, Binyomin Lisbon, a former Chabad emissary and former assistant to Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, as well as head of KSA kosher supervision agency. He resigned his position as rabbi of Bais Bezalel in August of 2013 and the synagogue formed its Board of Directors afterward.