Child abuse unreported and 'enabled' at Yeshivah, Royal Commission finds

By Timna Jacks
November 29, 2016

Yeshivah College in Melbourne.
Photo by John Woudstra

Leaders at Yeshivah Melbourne and Yeshiva Bondi have been accused of failing to report child abuse to police and allowing paedophiles unfettered access to children, in strongly-worded findings of the royal commission. 

Investigations into child sexual abuse at the religious Jewish institutions uncovered a "pattern" of inaction in responding to reports of abuse, according to findings released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Tuesday.

In the face of repeated reports of child abuse, leaders at the Orthodox centres - which operate as synagogues, schools and community hubs - assured victims they would act in defence of the victim, but no action was ultimately taken, the commission said.

"We were told that the responses of leadership groups to the adverse experiences of survivors and their families ranged from inaction to enabling those adverse experiences. The responses were perhaps in part to protect the reputations of individuals or the institutions concerned."

Four survivors of abuse and several rabbis and community leaders, gave evidence about the the scale of child abuse at Yeshivah Centre and the Yeshivah​ College in Melbourne and Yeshiva​ Centre and the Yeshiva College Bondi, in public hearings last year. 

Convicted paedophiles accused of sexual abuse allegations at the hearings included Shmuel David Cyprys, Rabbi David Kramer and Daniel Hayman.

Despite victims' allegations of abuse, paedophiles had a "continued association with, presence at or employment at the institutions", the commission found.

Abuse was often not reported to police due to a Jewish law, known as Mesirah, which some interpret as forbidding a Jew from handing over another Jew to a secular authority.

As a result, victims who reported their abuse to police were treated as "outcasts", the commission heard.

Evidence from victims at Yeshivah Melbourne, including outspoken advocate Manny Waks and his father Zephania Waks, showed leaders and community members ostracised and reprimanded victims for speaking out.​

"Criticism of those who spoke out was forceful," said the commission, noting there were "many occasions" where leaders at Yeshivah Melbourne failed to advocate for victims and educate the community about religious obligations to report child abuse. 

From 1984 to 2007, the Yeshivah College Melbourne "did not have adequate policies, processes and practices for responding to complaints of child sexual abuse", the commission said.

Former board member of Yeshiva in Sydney, Rabbi Yosef Feldman, last year told the commission he only recently learnt that it was a crime to commit child sexual abuse.

In 2011, Rabbi Feldman wrote an email to other rabbis questioning the need to report child molestation to police.

The commission said Rabbi Feldman supplied the commission with a false statement of his views to defend his reputation, and accused him of prioritising the "perspective of the perpetrator rather than that of the victim".

It was unclear, the commission said, whether Yeshiva Bondi had implemented child protection measures.

Yeshivah Melbourne however, had taken "significant steps in implementing structured child protection measures, including drafting formal policies and giving training to children, parents and staff," the commission said. 

A statement from the directors of Yeshivah Centre, Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Schools and Chabad Institutions Victoria, said the centre "deeply regrets its failure to protect those who were victims of child sexual abuse perpetrated by people in a position of trust in the Yeshivah Centre and its schools".

Gavriella Aber, Head of Teaching and Learning at Yeshiva College in Bondi, said the school was under "new management" and was committed to child protection.

Yeshiva Centre in Bondi did not respond to Fairfax Media.

With Aimee Amiga



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