Trial begins for ex-Orthodox principal Malka Leifer

The jury in the trial of Malka Leifer has resumed deliberations after asking about a deadlock.

The jury in the trial of Malka Leifer has resumed deliberations after asking about a deadlock. Photo: AAP

Former ultra-Orthodox Jewish school principal Malka Leifer allegedly raped a former student and told her it would help her for her wedding night.

The 56-year-old former teacher and mother of eight is standing trial accused of sexually abusing Melbourne sisters Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper when they were her students, or young teachers, at the city’s Adass Israel School between 2003 and 2007.

Leifer, who was head of religious studies and later principal, has pleaded not guilty.

The women, who are sisters now in their 30s, were raised in the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community in which young girls were not taught about sex until after they were engaged to be married, prosecutor Justin Lewis told Leifer’s County Court trial on Wednesday.

A jury of 15 – comprised of eight men and seven women – has been empanelled for the trial which could run for up to six weeks.

According to Ms Erlich, family life was extremely contained to ensure they were not influenced by cultures of the world outside the community, Mr Lewis said in his opening address.

They had no newspapers, television, radio or access to the internet at home, and only had books that had been vetted.

Ms Erlich had no significant interaction with males outside her family until she was introduced by a matchmaker to her future husband, he said.

“They were not taught anything about sex until engaged to be married,” Mr Lewis said.

Court documents reveal some of the alleged offending is said to have taken place during June school camps in 2004 and 2006.

Mr Lewis told the jury Ms Meyer was sexually abused by Leifer when she was a student and after graduating when she returned as a teacher. On a high school camp Leifer allegedly raped Ms Meyer and told her “this will help you for your wedding night”.

On a second occasion Leifer allegedly fondled Ms Meyer, before stopping and telling her “I’ll leave that for your husband”.

Mr Lewis said Ms Meyer was uncomfortable when touched by Leifer but because of her cultural upbringing didn’t know any better.

Ms Erlich was also allegedly abused at the same camp, when sharing a room with her sister and Leifer.

Mr Lewis said Leifer begun to spend more time with Ms Erlich in the lead-up to the camp, when she was in year 11, and told her she was there for her.

Leifer allegedly asked her if she was “an innocent girl or if she’d like to find out things that weren’t relevant” to her, Mr Lewis said.

On another occasion while Leifer was putting her baby to sleep she allegedly kissed Ms Erlich on the lips.

Mr Lewis said Leifer then explained what kissing on the mouth meant because Ms Erlich hadn’t heard of it before.

The jury heard Leifer had Ms Erlich over to her house for kallah lessons – in which young Jewish women are taught about family, purity and basic details about sex.

His opening address to jurors is expected to continue on Wednesday afternoon, before Leifer’s barristers Ian Hill KC and Lucinda Thies open their case.

Wearing a long black skirt, a black and gold jumper and her hair in a black wrap, Leifer sat in the court holding a small book as Judge Mark Gamble addressed the jurors on Wednesday morning.

He told them to put aside any sympathy or prejudice they might feel toward or against any party and determine the case using their intellect, not their hearts.

Leifer is facing 29 charges, including 10 of rape, one of rape by compelled sexual penetration, three charges of sexual penetration of a 16 or 17-year-old child, 10 of indecent assault, and five of indecent assault of a 16 or 17-year-old child.

“Mrs Leifer has pleaded not guilty to each of these charges and so it is for you and you alone to decide whether she is guilty or not guilty of these crimes,” Judge Gamble said.


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