Child abuse royal commission: Rabbi inaction failed abuse victims within Yeshiva community
The royal commission has delivered its findings into child abuse at Jewish institutions in Melbourne and Sydney, saying that abuse victims were let down by rabbis and their “confused” adherence to the Jewish law Mesirah, leaving them vulnerable to paedophiles.
The commission found many of the lead rabbis at Yeshiva Melbourne and Yeshiva Bondi, as well as synagogues and schools in Sydney and Melbourne followed “a pattern of total inaction” that was wholly inadequate.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s findings vindicate whistle blower Manny Waks, who first exposed abuse within the strictly orthodox and insular sect.
Three commissioners found a “marked absence of supportive leadership for survivors of abuse” and the incorrect application of Jewish law left those who spoke out criticised and isolated.
Mesirah is the religious concept stopping a Jewish person informing upon another to a secular authority. To do so would make them a “Moser”.
Mixed messages produced inaction
Those who spoke out where strongly criticised and confusion reigned about whether reporting abuse to police was forbidden, the report found.
“If anything, the mixed messages were likely to have produced inaction,” the report said.
Four victims of sexual abuse, along with leading rabbis within the Chabad movement, gave evidence about child abuse in Yeshiva Colleges and centres in Melbourne and Bondi last year.
Convicted paedophiles David Cyprys, Rabbi David Kramer and Daniel Hayman were all the subjects of allegations of abuse by parents and students between 1984 and 2000.
“It is perhaps unsurprising that a community described in the evidence as being insular, would be concerned by communication with those external to the community about child sexual abuse reportedly perpetrated by Jews,” the report said.
“We are satisfied that, for the period from 1984 to 2007, the Yeshiva College Melbourne did not have adequate policies, processes and practices for responding to complaints.”
Child abuse ‘uncommon’
Senior Sydney rabbi Yosef Feldman provoked controversy when he told the royal commission he would be “asking for more leniency” for reformed or inactive paedophiles
In its findings, the commission was critical of his ignorance about what constituted child abuse.
“Rabbi Feldman freely admitted to a lack of technical knowledge about child sexual abuse but expressed the belief that his ignorance was unimportant,” the report said.
He told the commission he believed child abuse to be “uncommon”.
“He did not hear of child sexual abuse or complaints of child sexual abuse ‘much’ and believed that ‘only’ 5 to 10 per cent of the community ‘are involved’ in child sexual abuse,” the report said.
Rabbi Feldman misunderstood what grooming was, describing it as “just talking to the child and trying to get close to him”, the commission found.
He also regarded the age of a victim to be important when assessing any allegation.
“The older you get, the less innocent you become and there could be a possibility,” he told the hearings.
“I could imagine that there could be false accusations with regards to teenagers, who are not so innocent.”
The commission found Rabbi Feldman believed that the conviction of a child abuser who was repentant would be unfair.
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YESHIVA CENTER RESPONSE FROM THE PAGES OF MANNY WAKS:
Rabbinic Council of Australia and New Zealand public statement in response to the Royal Commission Report
30 November 2016
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse: Report of Case Study No. 22. The response of Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne to allegations of child sexual abuse made against people associated with those institutions
The Executive of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand (RCANZ), The Rabbinical Council of New South Wales (RCNSW) and the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) are grateful for yesterday’s report by the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse at Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne, and deeply distressed by its contents.
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. 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. Victims were not always believed or supported, adding to the trauma.
We restate a ruling that has been made many times before, that Jewish law requires all allegations of child sexual abuse to be reported immediately to the police and other relevant government authorities. We encourage all professionals working in the Jewish community whose work brings them into any contact with young people to receive specific and detailed training in child protection. We urge all synagogues and schools in our community to ensure proper governance procedures to oversee the work of their staff, to ensure that failings are identified and corrected.
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. We believe that those who denigrated or undermined the victims have lost their moral right to serve as leaders in our communities. 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.
We hope and pray that this report will help our community and others to keep children safe, and ensure that no child in the Jewish community, or throughout Australia, will ever again suffer the horrors of sexual abuse.
No member of the signatory bodies with a conflict of interest took part in the drafting of this statement. For further information please contact Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton, Secretary of RCANZ via email@example.com.
FOR FURTHER READING:
Melbourne Yeshivah Centre public statement in response to the Royal Commission Report
29 November 2016
28 Cheshvan 5777
29th November, 2016
Dear Community Members
Today, the ‘Report of Case Study No. 22’ was tabled in the Commonwealth Parliament. The Yeshivah Centre is currently reviewing the Report and expects to make a more detailed statement in the near future.
As you are aware, in February 2015, the Yeshivah Centre was the subject of a Royal Commission into ‘Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’. This followed the incarceration of two perpetrators of child sexual abuse, both of whom held roles in different capacities at the Centre. The Commission focussed on the institutional response to these crimes.
The Yeshivah 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. We condemn any form of abuse and acknowledge the serious harm it causes, both at the time of the abuse and later in life, for victims and their families.
The Yeshivah Centre Board and staff have been working hard to properly respond to these issues and ensure that we embed policies and processes of the highest standards to create a safe environment for our children, and to support and show compassion for victims and their families. The Yeshivah Centre’s number one priority is the safety of the children in its care, and we will continue to take all possible steps to maintain and continually raise this standard. We also need to ensure that we continue to support and show compassion for victims and their families.
In September this year, the Commission invited us to present our current policies and procedures in relation to child protection and child-safe standards and the steps taken across the Centre following the Royal Commission hearing. We submitted information in relation to:
- The newly established governance framework (with elections closing 7 December 2016);
- Our accreditation from the Australian Childhood Foundation (Chabad Youth in 2014 and YeshivahBeth Rivkah Colleges in March 2016); and
- The establishment of an independently operated Redress Scheme for past victims of Child Sexual Abuse.
In its executive summary and media release the Report notes that:
The evidence identified that Yeshivah Melbourne has taken significant steps in implementing structured child protection measures, including drafting formal policies and giving training to children, parents and staff.
We are aware that the process of growth and change that the Centre has embraced over the past few years will continue to present us with some challenges along the way. However, we firmly believe that this process of change and the new representative governance structures now being established will bring us forward towards a stronger, brighter and safer future.
The Boards of Directors of:
Yeshivah Centre Limited
Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Schools Limited
Chabad Institutions Victoria Limited.
The Report of Case Study No. 22 has been made publicly available on the Royal Commission’s website at: http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/2016-11/report-released-intoyeshiva-bondi-and-yeshivah-me
The Yeshivah Centre encourages anyone who has experienced sexual abuse at Yeshivah Centre (Melbourne) to contact the independently operated redress scheme via the confidential email firstname.lastname@example.org or the police (contact the Moorabbin SOCIT unit on 9556-6124).