Child abuse is the most abhorrent crime. Sadly, the incidence of child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, has been disclosed in recent times as being perpetrated in a number of educational institutions in Australia.
Extremely disturbing facts have been revealed by recent investigations especially within the Catholic Church in Australia and overseas. Some statistics are staggering.
On 12 November 2012, the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, announced a nationwide Royal Commission into the sexual abuse of children in institutions.
The earliest reports into child abuse elicited alarming data in regards to abuses detected and even legally dealt with within the Catholic Church in Australia. Some examples are of the most disturbing kind.
In Melbourne, for instance there were fifty nine priests found to have sexually abused children. In Ballarat , a cluster of paedophilia priests was discovered and subsequently six priests were gaoled. Within the Salvation Army as many as fifty Salvation Army officers had been named as abusers and more than $15 million had been paid to their victims. At least five thousand lined up to tell their traumatic stories at the ‘Royal Commission Into Child Abuse’ all just in reference to the Catholic Church and the Salvation Army.
Justice McClellan, the Chair of the six Commissioners issued orders to produce documents on the Catholic Church and the Salvation Army. The most disturbing fact relates to large numbers of suicides among boys from Catholic schools. Here
Yet, child abuse has not been the strict domain of the Catholic Church educational and child care system.
Within the Australian Jewish community disturbing incidents of child abuse have surfaced too. Two legal cases associated with Jewish learning institutions have run their course and respective convictions recorded. The substantive issue of moral reprehension stands, as Judaism has been at the forefront of articulating its abhorrence of any abuses , particularly child abuse. Yet, transgressions have been found, individuals broke ethical covenants.
Due to traditional distinctive, yet historically effective, approaches within Judaism to ethical conduct, some unfavourable comparisons have been exacted between the non-Judaic legalistic methods and the Halachic, Jewish, legal methodology.
When distinct procedural systems run in parallel, there is bound to eventuate reciprocal criticism, in most cases borne out of a less understood alternate procedure, but also due to an ethos, a condition of inherent respect for the continuity and relevance of a coherent way of life, in this case the upholding of genuine Judaic tenets. One must consider seriously the necessity of constructive respect Jews must retain for an existential code of conduct specifically ordained. This does not mean that a Jew should refrain from looking critically at the way in which Judaism is observed, quite to the contrary.
Unfortunately , situations are seen where conflicts within the formal confines of Judaism do occur. Motivations could be as various as the cases themselves, yet, the clarification of the “reasons” behind the conflicts is most essential if communal cohesion is to be retained.
Child abuse in the Jewish community has been the cause of some of the most acrimonious exchanges with the Australian Jewish community in recent times.
While proven serious incidents have been identified, the manner in which they have been dealt with has caused serious rifts within certain communal strands, particularly the Orthodox communal segment.
At the forefront of the open conflicts has been one particular Jewish family, originally from Melbourne, the Waks family.
Commencing with a necessary introspection of possible abuses within some educational institutions- initially Yeshiva Beth Rivkah in Melbourne – the most ardent commentator upon the alleged abuses has been a former President of the ACT Jewish community, Manny Waks. Himself a former student of the Yeshiva and self-declared victim of child abuse within the Yeshiva, Manny Waks engaged in a tireless campaign of revelation and condemnation of the abhorrent practice. Joined at a later stage by his Father, Zephaniah, Manny Waks made it a full time mission to elicit instances and encourage victims to reveal the substance and extent of child abuse within Jewish learning institutions, albeit targeting seemingly only Yeshivot, the Jewish Orthodox places of learning.
What seemed as a specific educational initiative was extended to encompass the entire Jewish Orthodox religious strand, even outside the strict educational perimeter. As matter of practical necessity, Manny Waks established a formal institutional entity, an organisation now known as Tzedek. Specifically created to deal with the justice of revealing child abuse within the Jewish community.
Tzedek reached prominent status within a meteoric time span. Skilfully managing media venues, Tzedek has achieved impressive outcomes in the public domain. According to its web-site, between February and November this year scored some 133 “media clippings”. Which meant it was mentioned in the Australian media at a frequency of less than one mention in less than three days.
Large media interviews in the Australian. TV interviews etc. honoured the presence of Manny Waks. Both Manny and Zephaniah Waks were given extensive time, some two hours, of testimony at the Federal Government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in early October.
While necessary facts needed to be revealed and discussed, Tzedek chief and his Father, in a private capacity, expanded the areas of necessary comment into matters which seemed of stemming from personal gripes with the same Jewish institutions. Further, comments were ventured in general terms about the ethical standards of entire educational structures, Judaic traditional practices.
Generalised comments were made, not for the first time publicly by both protagonists in relation to religious principles and practices thereof as seen by them . Strictly personal conflicts within the communal framework and some of the Waks family, were discretely vented under the guise of “objective” commentary on “unwanted” practices within the Jewish ethics.
Consistent with this attitude was a major piece in ‘The Weekend Australian Magazine’ on May 18 2013, in an interview Kate Legge with both Father Waks and Son, titled “Manny Waks pays the price for speaking about sexual abuse in an Orthodox Jewish community.” The title reflects the image solicited by the two Waks subjects, one of a persecuted people by a community bent on obstructing their quest for Tzedek, Justice.
This attitude was continued at every possible public turn, whether strictly related to, or proven as relevant to the serious issues of child abuse.
The communal rift created , open conflicts mushroomed in the Jewish social media with the most acrimonious character one would not wish to witness. One such web site Galus Australis, commenced a thread on the subject ( one out of four it posted ) on October 11 and it is still running at a record exchanges of opinion up to my last read of….281. Unprecedented and also unequalled in the spuriousness and viciousness of some of the allowed comments, particularly in defence of the “Waks camp”.
Fact remains that Tzedek and its chief voice avail themselves of any opportunity to expand the issue of child abuse onto the vastness of a most decent Jewish community. More often than not, spurious transfer of data residing with the Catholic child abuse incidence is “discretely” apportioned to the Jewish fold. Statistics of general nature are transferred by notional implication onto the Jewish community.
In a recent comment. Manny Waks stated on J-Wire, that ” based on widely-accepted statistics 1 in 3-4 girls and 1 in 5-6 boys experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18.” without qualifying to what specific group the numbers apply or, conversely qualifying if the numbers can or cannot be accepted for the distinctive Jewish community, the one he purports to be “uniquely” positioned to defend in respect of child abuse.
Recent media allegations of child abuse in the Jewish community have been covered with less than objective intents.
Fuelling the Waks offensive onto Orthodox Judaism, the current issue of “The Australian Jewish News” has promoted on its cover the image of a Jewish community committed to covering up child abuse. Based on allegations only, the mantra of Jewish communal cover up and implicit general, communal ethical transgressions is excessively obvious and offensive.
In the current edition of the AJN here
Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) executive director Peter Wertheim said he isn’t aware of anyone that has been offered payments to remain silent, but if it is true then it would be appalling.
“The interests of justice and the protection of society from abusers demand that perpetrators be brought to account.”
“We also believe that this is the best way to help past victims achieve some measure of redress and perhaps a sense of closure.”
He said the ECAJ has stated publicly on many occasions that all allegations of sexual abuse of children should be the subject of a thorough and proper investigation by the police, with the complete cooperation of the Jewish community.
“We continue to call on the families, friends and advisers of those with claims of abuse to support them in every way, and that includes taking information and allegations to the proper authorities.”
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Yair Miller said he also wasn’t aware of anyone being paid to stay quiet.
“If these allegations are true they raise very serious ethical, moral and possibly also legal questions for those involved.”
He said offering payment for victims to remain silent is, in his view, unacceptable.
“If perpetrators of child abuse are shielded from having to face the law, both the interests of justice and deterrence against future abuse are undermined.”
The main issue remains that Judaism, our highly respected Jewish community, should not be seen in the spurious critical light it has been farcically portrayed, by only a few of its members who seem to be driven at times by personal agendas, thus affecting the very commendable activity they seem to promote principally.
We need to be alert and active in eliminating the scourge of child abuse, whether in the general community or, just as strongly, if detected, in our own.
This is not just a substantive call to feel encouraged in our beliefs, but absolute numbers and proportions do matter, as human failures are not the strict domain of other beliefs. As such, considering the comparative frequency of unwanted events, Judaism deserves a better press than the farcical presage into identical moral stature with abominable statistics outside the Jewish community and the implicit false comprehensive shame some intend to obviate.
The results the ‘Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations’ can be downloaded here http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/