We need real justice, not rumour

This week’s Torah reading – Shoftim – contains the well-known phrase ‘Tzedek tzedek tirdof’ (Devarim 16:20) – the injunction to pursue righteousness. This comes at the conclusion of verses which mandate the establishment of ‘law and order’ in society, which are built upon a judicial system, and police to enforce the law. Further, the Torah sets down the rules by which judges must operate: they must not pervert the course of justice, must remain unbiased when dealing with parties in a dispute, and must avoid bribery. The section goes on to discuss the case of a person who transgresses God’s covenant and worships other gods. In such a case, the court must ‘give the matter a hearing and carefully investigate’ to determine if it is true, and only if so, render judgement and execute that judgement. The Torah continues with the requirement for at least two witnesses with corroborating testimony to establish a fact at law.

The Torah definition of ‘justice’ and ‘righteousness’ is clearly built upon a strong judiciary and due process. These attributes are reflected in the judicial systems that operate in the Western world.

JBD – Jews of the CBD, of which I am president, present diverse speaking events in the Melbourne CBD often in collaboration with other organisations that share our interests. The COSV approached us with the opportunity to host visiting Rabbi Kenneth Brander during his speaking tour of Melbourne, and we accepted and scheduled the event for 6 August. On or about 22 July I became aware of an article in the Forward that was critical of Rabbi Brander regarding the way he dealt with an accused paedophile, and I promptly brought it to the attention of members of the COSV board. The board took this matter seriously, and conducted a detailed investigation of their own into the allegations, concluding that it was not reasonable to cancel his speaking tour. They shared with me reliable accounts of Rabbi Brander’s conduct in a particular matter, which made it clear that contrary to what has been suggested, Rabbi Brander represented a very high standard of vigilance in dealing with allegations of sex abuse within the Orthodox community.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Brander’s speaking engagement for JBD and COSV has invoked the ire of Tzedek / Manny Waks, who have released a statement referencing our event (only) and expressing their dismay. The statement refers to the lack of a direct response by Rabbi Brander’s employer Yeshiva University (YU) pending a lawsuit by alleged victims of sex abuse, and the aforementioned article in the Forward.

But in its alleged pursuit of Tzedek – justice – the statement leaves many questions unanswered:

  • Rabbi Brander is speaking at five more events – all advertised in the Australian Jewish News – during his visit to Melbourne. Other collaborating organizations/groups include AUJS, Beit Aharon, Blake Street Shule, Bnei Akiva, Central Shul Chabad, Daminyan, Elwood Shule, Mizrachi, Mt Scopus, Nachalat David and Torah Mitzion. Why has just one of his events come under fire from Tzedek?
  • More broadly, the cases referred to are making their way through the judicial system, which for all its rigour operates in a slow and deliberate manner. Is it appropriate for YU or Rabbi Brander to pre-empt this process and respond publicly to allegations just because the lynch mob demands it, or should they cooperate with the process and allow it to continue unfettered to its conclusion?
  • Until that does happen, must any YU Rabbis with ‘questionable records’ be black-banned from speaking appearances anywhere in the world, on any topic? Who decides what a ‘questionable record’ is? Should this apply to anyone with any ‘link’ whatsoever (whatever that means) to sex abuse allegations or to YU, even if their time there did not overlap the alleged abuse?
  • The article in the Forward and many Tzedek posts have developed a reliance on gutter-dwelling blogs such as Failed Messiah and Frum Follies. These blogs’ raison d’être is to publicize the worst of Orthodox Jews, and do not maintain any standards of journalism, yet they are at the forefront of the very public battle against sex abuse in Orthodox communities. Should we be relying on them for genuine information?

The path to vigilantism, revenge, trial-by-media and smear campaigns is short and easy, and feeds the bloodlust of the anti-Orthodox masses. It causes division in our community rather than healing from the mistakes of the past. The path to justice is long and deliberate. The Torah spells out very clearly the true meaning of ‘tzedek’.

See also this piece published two years ago on the danger of rumours. The pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other; it needs to find the middle.

David Werdiger is a technology entrepreneur, writer, and public speaker. He’s involved in several not-for-profits at director and committee level, and has an interest in Jewish community, education, and continuity. You can connect with David on LinkedInFacebookTwitter, or Google+.

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10 comments

  1. Excellent article , David.
    It is beyond me that Manny Waks has begun to perceive himself as the only voice of Tzedek in the entire world. He has tried to discredit many a rabbi who may have made silly and even irresponsible remarks relating to child abuse, and Manny begins to trumpet like an elephant demanding everyone who is associated with the individual or the institution to resign immediately. As if !
    It is a pity that his credibility is now beginning to wane due to posts on FB FM and others.
    Tzedek, Tzedek tirdoif. First one must makes sure that the intentions are Tzedek before you go about Tzedek tirdoif

  2. To be excessively civil to Tzedek, polite simply because that here is “someone: up there at the helm of this site who wont let me be me otherwise, so I can not express freely what I think about Mr. Many Waks.

    For that matter I find David Werdiger unduly nice – In fact he is right, any topic that contains the sanctity of the Torah must be an example of civility and right here we must, because we must, intercede with the unpalatable presence on the entire Manny Waks enterprise.

    Not only has he appropriated with chutzpah and distasteful narcissism any subject any approach any whisper related to child abuse related to the Jewish community, but he is doing it with what I must call a fascist type of claimed/demanded authority.

    Nobody, in his mind and practice, has the right to upstage his “leadership” on the matter.

    David is right on a number of accounts. Our people are a people of justice, a justice that must be rendered “by the book” not by the personal acclaim. Access to justice must be afforded as not to impede its rightful course. Justice is not to proclaim one’s supremacy, but equal participation in the process. Manny Waks’ attacks not just a certain Rabbi who might have transgressed, in some cases we may even talk about slips of the tongue most unusual for a certain individual, but which can easily put down as a sign of old and inevitably depleted intellectual function. Yet to the perennial President of one thing ( or even two ) or another, the entire Rabbinate is dismissed, thus clearing the podium for his, Manny’s , sole , unchallenged authority.

    Well, let me tell you, noble intentions notwithstanding, Messrs. Waks appearances at the Commission on the matter a short while back, disqualifies the entire Waks camp as voices of reason and balance of our Community. The manner in which respectable ENTIRE institutions were given the third and ultimate in viciousness degree , such as all Orthodox Rabbinate, the practice of mikvah, the grossly generalised and unsubstantiated notion of a predominant practice of child abuse within our community, the paranoia expressed in relation to entire Judaic educational practices, all these and more have left some of the panel members aghast and the entire Jewish community disgusted. Nothing short of irresponsible acts of enticement to anti Semitic musings – to say the least – that must have inspired those with or even without such predilections.

    And, yet, they are giving all and sundry lessons in ethical representation of judicial Jewish matters !!!

    Did I mention anything yet about Mr. Waks penchant for exacerbated publicity !

    If not yet, don’t let me start …………it makes me sick.

  3. Interesting article. As I have no knowledge of either Rabbi Brander or Manny Waks, I am not qualified to comment on this. All I know is that the Age has had a field day, thanks to Manny Waks, with various articles which give the impression that Yeshivah school is a hotbed of child abusers, with the leadership intent on covering it up. we know The Age loves showing Jews in a bad light.

    It’s a pity that Manny didn’t go to the police first, rather than the press, as if he knew of a criminal offence being committed, the police are the appropriate people to approach.

    The reality is that in all institutions, there are rotton apples. Hopefully, now that the Jewish community is more aware of the problem and have initiated training, the response to instances of child abuse will be much better.

  4. Otto, your comments are very well expressed, and I must say that you have hit the nails in their heads. The Waks are perceived as martyrs by their followers on FB and that all the publicity they attract is always detrimental to Judaism and therefore counterproductive. I had, initially, sympathy for Manny, but now realise that he is in pursuit of financial gains, and he has an insatiable desire for publicity.
    Pam, it is refreshing to hear sane voices. Perhaps if more of us express them, Tzedek will redirect itself to what it set out to do, and that is support victims, rather than create more,albeit of a different nature.

    • I’ve had an on going issue with Manny Waks and his ‘self-promotion’ for a long time, way before this child sex issue reared it’s ugly head. Whilst it’s admirable for Waks to tackle this situation head on, I have no good thoughts towards him and his family, whose reputations precede them, even in Sydney.

      One only has to see how he basks in the admiring words of his few followers. Most people now have seen through him.

      I have no time for anyone who can complain he has had no support form the ECAJ and then post ALL their private correspondence on FaceBook

  5. “The path to vigilantism, revenge, trial-by-media and smear campaigns is short and easy, and feeds the bloodlust of the anti-Orthodox masses..”
    Very well said, David.In fact, Manny’s father in his eternal victimhood, concocted an entirely new ‘episode’ this past Shabbos of some ‘altercation’ that never occurred,. His attention/media hungry son Manny posted it on websites and the gullible supporters rush to tar and feather a good man for something that never occurred. Shame on them.

    • On another Blog, someone commented that he was sitting very close by Waks senior and he saw nothing. As I have said elsewhere. “If he has an issue, I am sure their are ample number of shuls in Melbourne to accommodate him”

  6. ZW can always (and should) become a member of the Blake St Synagogue where they honored each other with his presence. No one will assault him there, at least not for the first few weeks.
    It will take time, but the falseness and lack of sincerity on the part of ZW and MW is going to come out.
    It is no longer about what Manny Waks says or does. It is ” Tzedek”.
    The fact that whenever a rabbi or person of worth is invited to lecture, speak or participate in a community event, there is going to inevitably be, a comment from “Tzedek” about the qualifications of the speaker. lecturer or institutions concerned.
    Really! What is this? Does he perceive himself as the focal point of the entire community or indeed the world???
    I would donate, and do ,to any other organization that supports victims child sexual abuse ( any abuse) rather than feed MW’s ego with financial aid.

    • More people than you think know where those two are coming from. I for one cannot believe how inaccurate and distorted their evidence at the hearing last year was.