Some rabbis clueless about sex abuse, royal commission told
13 February 2015
AUSTRALIA’s top rabbi is being pressured to resign immediately after labelling the father of a sexual assault victim a “lunatic”.
Organisation of Rabbis Australasia president Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant made the claim about Zephania Waks, father of prominent victim Manny, in a vile text message.
Rabbi Kluwgant is a Victoria Police chaplain as well as an employee of Yeshiva.
He is also related to Rabbi Abraham Glick who was principal of the school when much of the abuse took place there.
He sent the text to Australian Jewish News editor Zeddy Lawrence after Zephania Waks gave his evidence to the royal commission into child sexual abuse.
“Zephania is killing us. Zephania is attacking Chabad, he is a lunatic on the fringe, guilty of neglect of his own children. Where was he when all this was happeing?” he said.
Rabbi Kluwgant today said he didn’t remember sending the text but remembered when it was put to him verbatim.
In his evidence to the commission Zephaniah Waks said three of his 17 children had been abused while students at Yeshivah College.
He tried to have it dealt with within the community, bounded by the concept of mesirah, a code of silence that prevents Jews informing on other Jews to the police.
“It wasn’t that I thought I wanted to report it to police but I can’t because it’s mesirah,” Zephaniah Waks told counsel assisting the commission.
“This was the reason - mesirah and the whole community culture is the reason.”
However he said the Yeshivah Centre failed to deal with it effectively.
“The following day, on the Monday, I noticed that Kramer was still teaching at the school.
“I confronted Rabbi Glick [Yeshivah principal] and asked him, ‘What’s going on? How is it possible that he’s still here?’
“I thought this was absolutely outrageous, however, if I reported matters to the police I would be in breach of the Jewish principle mesirah.”
Zephaniah Waks told the commission that eventually Yeshivah College’s solution was to send Kramer overseas.
He was later jailed for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old victim in the United States.
“It’s mindboggling. I get emotional just thinking about it,” he said, breaking down in tears while giving evidence.
“We felt suddenly reduced to nothing and had lost all our friends.”
Zephania Waks has claimed he was the victim of bulling, intimidation and vilifcation by members of the ultra-orthodox community after going public with his son’s story.
Rabbi Kluwgant has also been accused of trying to silence a victim who called on Jewish leaders to confront the child sexual abuse crisis, telling him to ‘remain silent”.
The victim, known only as AVB, told a royal commission yesterday the respected rabbi told him he had no right to speak up over the abuse crisis.
AVB said after the call for action, he was bullied and ostracised from the orthodox Chabad community and vilified by senior rabbis.
He said he had emailed a group of influential figures connected to Melbourne’s Yeshivah Centre, calling on them to confront the issue of child sexual abuse in 2011.
He said the email highlighted the importance of supporting victims and encouraging them to co-operate with police.
AVB, who was molested by Yeshivah employees Daniel Hayman and David Cyprys in Melbourne and Sydney, said Rabbi Kluwgant told him he had no right to get involved. It is understood
Rabbi Kluwgant did not know the man was a victim of abuse at the time.
“I have known AVB since I was very young. I have always considered him a close friend. If anything I have said or done has contributed to the pain and suffering that a victim feels, I unreservedly apologise,” he said today.
Earlier, the Commision was told rabbis embroiled in a sex abuse crisis that has rocked Melbourne’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community still “don’t get it”, a senior figure has admitted.
On the last day of royal commission hearings into Yeshiva Centres in Melbourne and Bondi, Rabbi Yaakov Glasman said some Chabad figures were still clueless when it came to handling child sexual abuse.
Rabbi Glasman, the immediate past president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, said the hearings had caused untold damage to the Jewish community because of a handful of radical-thinking rabbis whose evidence has sparked widespread outrage.
“It would be an understatement to say we are deeply disturbed by some of the comments made by some rabbis,” he said.
“There can be no words to mitigate the damage that they have caused.
“Regretfully I would concede there are members of the ultra-orthodox community ... who don’t quite get it, who perhaps are living in a previous generation in terms of their mindset.
“The overwhelming majority of the rabbinate distance themselves from (those rabbis) emphatically.”
Rabbi Glasman was excused from giving evidence to the commission but said he felt compelled to set the record straight.
“The overwhelming majority of rabbis do get it,” he said.
Earlier this week Rabbi Yosef Feldman stood down from his positions within the Yeshiva Centre because of evidence he gave to the hearing.
It included admitting he didn’t know it was illegal to touch the genitals of children.
He also launched a defence of paedophiles who had repented and not offended for decades, saying the law should show them leniency.
Rabbi Glasman said a lot of work was being done to combat child sexual abuse before the crisis at Yeshiva College was exposed in the mainstream media.
Despite that, college leaders this week admitted serious failings in the way they handled abuse allegations.
It included a widespread cover-up that saw now convicted paedophiles sent overseas after complaints were made about them.
Yeshiva Chief Rabbi Zvi Telsner today denied claims he had used sermons to encourage the community to shun victims of abuse.
“I said specifically that the emails and blogs and communications on Facebook and others were absolutely slanderous and no one has the right to do it,” he said.
“This had been my opinion and I had repeated it time and time again.
“At the time it became very prevalent, everyone took it into their own hands. I believed it had to stop.”
The commission heard that after a victim sent an email to community figures urging them to cooperate with police, Rabbi Telsner lectured the community about speaking out.
“Who gave you permission to speak? Which rabbi gave you permission to speak?” he asked during a sermon.
He is also alleged to have used a subsequent sermon to target prominent victim Manny Waks.
Rabbi Telsner denies the sermon was in response to Mr Waks’ media attention.
But he admitted he should have, in the subsequent four years, cleared up rumours that the sermon was directly targeted at him.
“It wasn’t about Manny Waks personally. There were members sending out anonymous emails degrading Yeshivah,” he said.
The hearing continues.
Originally published at Herald Sun.