Special Sermon for Yom Kippur

September 11, 2013

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, the president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, has sent a special sermon on sexual misconduct to rabbis in Australia and New Zealand to be delivered on Yom Kippur.

The text of his letter:

“I am writing to you on the Eve of Yom Kippur with the intention that this letter be read and contemplated in the break between Musaph and Mincha on Yom Kippur. Our Sages teach that notwithstanding the extraordinary holiness of the day, the reading of the Torah at Mincha on Yom Kippur recounts the laws of sexual misconduct, because of their
unfortunate prevalence and the need to seek atonement.

Furthermore we are instructed, that until we make amends with our fellow man, we cannot find atonement with Hashem.

In that spirit I wish to address the issue of child sexual abuse. Over the last few years it  has become clear that our community has been affected by this scourge no differently than any other community. It has also become clear that we have not handled this issue in an appropriate manner.

I wish to be frank. For whatever reason a culture of cover up, often couched in religious terms, pervaded our thinking and actions. It may even have been well intentioned, but it was simply wrong. An issue of child sexual abuse must be reported to the police immediately and perpetrators must be brought to justice. It makes no difference whether the crime took place ten years ago or ten days ago. There can be no exceptions and no excuses.

I turn to the victims. No one can know your pain and what you have been through. And the pain has only been magnified by our inaction. On this holiest of days I sincerely beg your forgiveness on behalf of all of us who did not hear your voice. I can only assure you on my behalf, and on behalf of the vast majority of the Rabbinate, that we hear you now loud and clear. We will do our utmost not to repeat the mistakes of the past. We hope that you can find it within yourselves to forgive us.

Another word to victims. I know it is difficult for you to come forward to the police, but one of the ways through which abuse will be stopped is by perpetrators being prosecuted, and a clear message of deterrence being sent to potential abusers. Please try and find it within yourselves to come forward. There are victims advocate groups such as Tzedek who can give moral support. I myself recently accompanied a victim to the police.

Please help us , if you can, to combat this abuse. Very often after coming forward victims find it easier to find healing and closure.

To perpetrators I say you will be found. It may not be today, it may not even be tomorrow but it will happen. There will be justice if not in this world, most definitely in the next. You have done a most heinous crime and you will never find atonement with Hashem or peace within yourselves until you do the right thing. Turn yourselves in. Admit to the wrong you have done so that you may begin the path to atonement and allow your victims to find healing and peace.

I wish to all, that you be sealed in the books of life and happiness. I hope that we all find peace and conquer the demons that in one way or another plague each of us. I pray that Hashem rights all the wrongs in this world and we find ourselves speedily in Jerusalem dancing in the courtyard of the rebuilt Temple.

Rabbi Moshe D Gutnick
Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia

In response advocacy group Tzedek issued the following statement:

Tzedek, Australia’s only dedicated organisation advocating for Jewish victims/survivors of child sexual abuse, warmly welcomes today’s ground-breaking public letter by Australia’s most senior Orthodox rabbi, Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA) President Rabbi Moshe Gutnick. The letter was sent to all leaders of the State Orthodox peak bodies in Australia (as well as New Zealand) asking them to disseminate it to their rabbinic members. Rabbi Gutnick has also requested that the rabbis distribute the letter to their congregants either before or during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – Judaism’s holiest day.

Tzedek founder and CEO Manny Waks stated:

“This is another incredible milestone for the Australian Jewish community. Crucially, this ground-breaking letter provides a frank acknowledgement of past mistakes and an unequivocal apology by Rabbi Gutnick on behalf of the Rabbinate. The letter rightly does not go into specific cases but rather acknowledges that the Rabbinate has in the past dealt abysmally with the issue of child sexual abuse.

This is an important development – it is an acknowledgment that many victims and survivors within religious institutions have longed to hear; that finally the national peak Orthodox rabbinic organisation is taking responsibility for the abuse they suffered, as well as for the subsequent cover-ups. Indeed it is what the entire community needed to hear, as without properly addressing the past, it is difficult to move forward towards a better future.

This may very well be a world first and I am particularly proud that an Australian rabbi and the peak Orthodox organisation in Australia, ORA, have demonstrated such courageous leadership. It is never easy to acknowledge past mistakes and apologise, as Rabbi Gutnick and ORA have now done. Hopefully the global Orthodox community will follow suit.

This letter is an important tool for the Orthodox community – for its rabbis and congregants. It removes any ambiguity as to the correct course of action and importantly, how to respond to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. Further, it encourages victims and survivors of child sexual abuse to seek support from Tzedek, acknowledging the importance of Tzedek’s work in raising awareness and offering support to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community.

We hope and expect that each and every rabbi who receives this letter will convey its full message to his congregation, as requested by Rabbi Gutnick. If you are a congregant of an Orthodox synagogue in Australia and your rabbi did not bring this to your attention by Yom Kippur, it would be appropriate to consider approaching your rabbi for an explanation.

We once again warmly welcome this excellent development and in the spirit of Yom Kippur we sincerely hope that those who need to undertake a process of introspection and atonement for their past actions in relation to child sexual abuse and/or cover-ups, will utilise this opportunity to do so.

Ultimately, actions speak louder than words and we hope to see the content of Rabbi Gutnick’s letter implemented to its fullest by the Orthodox Rabbinate.

We would like to take this opportunity, on the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, to reach out to every Jewish person and group within Australia, particularly Orthodox groups, to work closely with Tzedek in addressing the issue of child sexual abuse appropriately.”


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