Australia's Top Rabbis Urge Yeshivah Leaders Who Failed Abuse Survivors to Step down

By Christopher Knaus
The Guardian
November 30, 2016

An orthodox Jew prays. The royal commission found the Yeshivah communities’ strict adherence to orthodox laws and practices contributed to their poor handling of child abuse. Photograph: Katarina Stoltz/Reuters

Australia’s most senior orthodox rabbis have called on Jewish leaders who failed child abuse survivors to stand down from their public positions.

The rabbinical councils of Australia and New Zealand, New South Wales, and Victoria issued a joint statement on Wednesday in response to the royal commission’s damning findings against Yeshivah communities in Melbourne and Sydney.

The royal commission found the two insular, ultraorthodox Chabad-Lubavitch communities discouraged the reporting of child abuse, failed to act when complaints were made, and treated survivors and their families as outcasts.

The three rabbinical councils said they were “deeply distressed” by the contents of the report, and acknowledged the abuse had caused “unimaginable suffering” to survivors.

The councils called on leaders who had denigrated or undermined victims to stand down from their positions, saying they had “lost their right to serve in our communities”.

“We call on those who have been identified in the report as not fulfilling their legal obligations to protect children to stand down from their public positions,” the statement said.

“The rabbinate must demonstrate that Judaism and the Jewish community will not tolerate child sexual abuse and those who perpetrate it, and must support those who have suffered.”

The Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand was formed last year, largely to help communities reform in the wake of the royal commission.

Survivor Manny Waks, who was abused repeatedly in the Melbourne Yeshivah community in the late 1980s, welcomed the rabbis’ response.

Waks blew the whistle on abuse within the Melbourne Yeshivah community in 2011, a move that shocked the insular orthodox movement.

He told Guardian Australia the councils’ statement was “extremely powerful and moving”.

“It will be comforting for victims/survivors and our families – indeed, for the entire community,” he said.

“It will also help to restore the community’s faith in the rabbinate. I look forward to continue working closely with these organisations in addressing the issue of child sexual abuse.”

The royal commission found that the Yeshivah communities’ strict adherence to orthodox laws and practices contributed to their poor handling of child abuse.

Disputes were handled internally according to Jewish law, rather than secular law, and members were prohibited from informing on one another to outside authorities.

Speaking negatively or gossiping about others in the community was also not allowed, regardless of the truth of what was said.

The rabbinical councils’ joint statement restated its ruling, first made in 2012, that Jewish law requires all allegations of child sexual abuse to be immediately reported to police and government authorities.

The statement also encouraged anyone in the communities who had contact with children to undergo detailed training in child protection.

“Child sexual abuse has caused unimaginable suffering to the victims in our community, and RCANZ, RCNSW and RCV and their members are totally committed to removing this scourge from our community and from our institutions,” the statement read.

“We offer our deepest sympathies to the victims and commit ourselves to learning from the failures of the past.

“As the royal commission has made clear, child sexual abuse was allowed to continue because of actions and inaction by some rabbis and community leaders.”








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