Is it only Progressives and Muslims who condemn child sexual abuse?

 My understanding is that Judaism unreservedly condemns child sexual abuse. So I was bemused by the following statement which implied that Orthodox Jews were lukewarm in this respect:

 … pluralistic Rabbis across Australia, New Zealand and Asia read out the Statement below as part of the Sabbath service…the  idea came about after a similar initiative was undertaken in the UK, where the Imams of all the mosques issued an identical sermon on this issue. It is unfortunate that the entire Australian Rabbinate could not unite for this important initiative.

Well done to the pluralistic leadership for responding in such a positive way and we hope that the Orthodox Rabbinate will follow suit.

 RABBIS’ STATEMENT ON CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

The recent launch of the National Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse provides the opportunity for Rabbis across all denominations to declare our abhorrence of child sexual abuse and to state our commitment to assist in the work of preventing its occurrence in our communal institutions and organisations.

 In Judaism human life is essential and so Pikuach Nefesh, the obligation to save a life in jeopardy, is considered a major value to uphold. The responsibility to act extends to the bystander, i.e., one who happens to find themselves in the presence of a person in peril or in danger of being victimized by a crime…

 We must not stand by and allow this evil to flourish because to do so would be Chillul HaShem, for “one honors The Eternal One and the Jewish people when one honors others; one dishonors the Eternal and desecrates the people of the Almighty when one abuses a human being created in the divine image.”

Union of Progressive JudaismAs Progressive Jews we strongly believe in personal responsibility. It is our view that individuals in our communities must take responsibility for their own actions. As well as being illegal the actions of child abusers are morally unacceptable to us, both as Jews and as members of Australian society.

 We take this opportunity to state our support for the important work of the Tzedek organization in reaching out and helping victims of sexual abuse of children in the Jewish community, and to state our commitment to work with them in partnership… Read Here:

It’s great that Progressive Jews take a strong stand, but to assume Orthodox Jews do not seems a little unfair. On 10 October, The Principal of Melbourne’s Yeshivah – Beth Rivkah College, Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, issued the following statement :

 “… I find it most disturbing that anyone reading the Australian Jewish News or Tzedek website may be led to believe that Yeshivah College currently employs a known perpetrator of child sexual abuse. This could be no further from the truth.

We are in regular contact with the Victoria Police and the relevant authorities. The Police have made it very clear that should they believe that there is cause for concern or that we need to take action in relation to any staff member, they will contact us immediately. The Police have unequivocally confirmed, that at present, there are no concerns about any of our staff whatsoever.

 We were terribly disappointed that the Australian Jewish News did not have the decency of giving Yeshivah the right of reply prior to publishing an article about an alleged staff member of our College.

 It is outrageous and irresponsible for the AJN or the Tzedek advocacy group, who profess to act in the best interests of the community and the children within it, to make broad and sweeping allegations. In doing so, they have cast suspicion on hundreds of innocent educators in circumstances when the police have confirmed there are no concerns. This does nothing to keep children safe.

It is a pity, that instead of acknowledging and encouraging our extensive efforts in child protection, and working together with us to ensure the safety of all our children, that Mr Manny Waks and his Tzedek organisation have instead continued to portray themselves as having a vendetta against orthodox Jewry and in particular the Yeshivah community. It is most disappointing that this vendetta also appears to be supported by the AJN.

 We prioritise child safety, with best practice in relation to staff employment policies and training, and employ effective policies to prevent, and procedures to deal with any issues should they ever arise. We… collaborate and work closely with the community, the Police and Government and support agencies. Together we keep our children safe.

 The reality is that child sexual abuse is abhorrent to all streams of Judaism, and such abuse of power and trust occurs in all congregations – yes, even in Progressive ones – as evidenced by this statement:

 On Wednesday 26 June the UPJ was advised by the CEO of Tzedek, Mr. Manny Waks, that allegations of child sexual abuse by persons employed in a Progressive congregation had been brought to his attention. He told us that the allegations would be posted on Tzedek’s Facebook page and he invited us to make a statement…  This is the Statement provided by the UPJ.

 It is with horror and great sadness that we have learned of allegations that acts of child sexual abuse were carried out by people employed within one of our congregations several decades ago.  Our Movement has a zero tolerance with regard to such matters and we welcome and support any investigation into these allegations.

 Any person who did suffer such abuse as a child will have carried the emotional and psychological burden of it throughout much of their lives. We can only hope that in sharing these experiences they will be able to receive support and assistance from the Tzedek group and that this will enable them to move forward with some sense of resolution and closure.

 It is an unfortunate fact that no part of society is exempt from having some people who abuse their position of power and influence in order to achieve personal gain or, in such cases, to abuse young and vulnerable people.  Without being able to comment on these particular incidents or the individuals involved we can only express the hope that a thorough investigation will be carried out and that if anyone is found to be guilty of such acts they should be appropriately punished.

 We take this opportunity to repeat our support for the work of Manny Waks and Tzedek in reaching out and helping victims of sexual abuse of children in the Jewish community and our commitment to work with them in partnership.  Read here:

 What is particularly disturbing is the UPJ’s attempt to use a serious issue to take a dig at the Orthodox community,  even suggesting that – unlike the Imams of all the mosques in the UK – they were shirking their responsibility. This is unfair and certainly not conducive to good relations between the different streams of Judaism.

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4 comments

  1. Among fundamental prohibitive ethics, such as murder or incest – the earliest anthropological essays mention “horror of incest” at Australian indigenous tribes, such as Punalua, in Engels’ “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State ” – , child abuse has been implied or explicit in many civilisations, regardless of spiritual/religious entities.

    Mosaic ethics have been essential in upholding the norms.
    Sadly, since clear schisms within Judaism and the development of conflicting strands, chiefly in Central Europe at the beginning of the 19th Century, various subversive currents have developed, mostly attacking Orthodox Judaism.

    The current disturbing accounts of child abuse revealed in the Australian Jewish community, while purporting to defend worthy principles, have often turned into schismatic invectives, clearly intended to score religious factional points rather than conducive to a necessary common concern for the genuine address of a specific issue.

    The misuse of fundamental principles to advance sectarian or even personal issues and frustrated grief, not only proves a perversity of ethics, but can only be conducive to a very detrimental departure from the necessary attention to the issues initially purported to be addressed, i.e. child abuse. Simply put, child abuse has turned on sad occasions into (i)mature abuse.

    Tzedek has promoted publicly in many arenas, not strictly of the Jewish kind, with greater interest religious idiosyncrasies turned into personal gripe often of the minutely hysterical kind, turning important matters into farcical personal encounters.

    Ethical platforms have been perverted too often into means of detracting from the originally implied issues.

    Orthodox Judaism has been placed on judicial stands in a public manner unworthy of traditional communal ethical considerations.

    The latest imputations against Melbourne Yeshiva, to which its head Rabbi Smukler has replied in an unequivocal way, are still alive and sickening, particularly on certain social blogs which promote with apparent glee libelous accusations, while pretending “balance” by allowing certain objections to counteract.

    One such website is Galus Australis where false, unfounded, accusations are voiced without decent editorial control. Speculations which defy logic and ethics abound, all based on prejudice rather than FACT.

    Thus a social forum pretending to devote itself to promoting Jewish values, contributes to devaluing not only Jewish moral tenets, but the character of public expression. Invectives abound and the expression de rigeur has become “idiot” as the protocol of retort, particularly if anyone dares contesting Tzedek’s authority and “word”.

    A Fein way to erode communal decency and (not so) subtly promote the unwanted sides of Tzedek.

    Mature and responsible debates are necessary, all in order to clear issues at hand and also clear undesirable ,detractory stances.

    • “Well done to the pluralistic leadership for responding in such a positive way and we hope that the Orthodox Rabbinate will follow suit.”

      Yes they have…September 11, 2013

      “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. Read on Here:

    • Otto, very well put. Under the guise of concern for protecting children – a concern all decent people must share – certain groups have used it as an occasion taking a dig at Orthodox Judaism, which they seem to find repugnant. Odd, as at most times in Jewish history, Orthodox or Torah Judaism was mainstream.

      As you say “The current disturbing accounts of child abuse revealed in the Australian Jewish community, while purporting to defend worthy principles, have often turned into schismatic invectives, clearly intended to score religious factional points rather than conducive to a necessary common concern for the genuine address of a specific issue.”

      I am disappointed that the UPJ have put ideology before protection of our children, which should be in the interest of the while community.

  2. With due respect for Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, and he would be aware of my personal respect for his wisdom, I think that the spirit of Yom Kippur must have overwhelmed him.

    I cannot agree with the generalisations contained in his phrase : “.. a CULTURE ( my italics) of cover up OFTEN (ditto) in religious terms PERVADED (ibid) our actions…”.

    “Culture”, “often” and mainly “pervasive” do not reflect reality. The good Rabbi practically throws a blanket over the entire Rabbinate for VERY isolated incidents.
    The “culture” notion can be easily extrapolated to expand into an entire practice, as it HAS BEEN DONE particularly when the Waks father and son appeared in front of a certain Commission accusing Orthodox Jewish entire practices and unqualified entire Rabbinate of falsehoods.