Australia's top rabbi resigns after revelations at royal commission
Sydney Morning Herald
Jane Lee, Timna Jacks
16 February 2015
Australia's most senior rabbi has resigned days after revelations at a royal commission that he called the father of three child abuse victims a "lunatic".
The senior vice-president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, Rabbi Yoram Ulman, confirmed to Fairfax Media that Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant had stepped down as president of the organisation on Monday morning. Rabbi Ulman said he could not comment further at this stage.
Rabbi Kluwgant has also resigned from all his duties and positions at the Rabbinical Council of Victoria. He has also resigned as general manager of cultural and spiritual services at Jewish Care Victoria, which is investigating historical claims of child sexual abuse in Jewish children's homes from the 1960s.
A police spokeswoman said that as of Monday, Rabbi Kluwgant was no longer a member of Victoria Police's multi-faith council. Earlier, spokesman Sergeant Kris Hamilton said Victoria Police was aware of the statements made at the Royal Commission and would meet with Rabbi Kluwgant to discuss his membership.
The commission heard that Rabbi Kluwgant sent a text message a week earlier calling Zephaniah Waks, the father of prominent victims' advocate Manny Waks, a "lunatic" who had neglected his own children.
Three of Mr Waks' children were abused as students of Yeshivah College in Melbourne, including Manny, the founder of Jewish victims support group Tzedek.
Asked by the Waks' lawyer, Melinda Richards, SC, whether he sent a text message to Australian Jewish News editor Zeddy Lawrence about Mr Waks' evidence that day, he said "I don't recall."
Ms Richards asked: "Did you, Rabbi, send a text message to Mr Lawrence saying 'Zephaniah is killing us. Zephaniah is attacking Chabad. He is a lunatic on the fringe. Guilty of neglect of his own children. Where was he when all this was happening?'"
"I may have said that, yes," he replied.
Both Manny and Zephaniah previously told the commission they had relocated overseas following years of intimidation from the ultra-orthodox Chabad community, in response to going public with abuse allegations.
Manny Waks said on his Facebook page on Monday that Rabbi Kluwgant's position as a community leader was "untenable" and that his thoughts were with him and his family at this difficult time.
"Hopefully he will take the time to educate himself about this issue. Also, hopefully this will assist in the healing for victims/survivors and their families, as well as the broader community."
Tzedek's acting chief executive officer, Danny Blay, said the organisation welcomed Rabbi Kluwgant's resignation.
"It sends a clear message that any less than safe and transparent responses to allegations of child sexual abuse won't be tolerated," he said.
Executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) David Marlow said Rabbi Kluwgant's resignation was necessary, given the contents of his text message.
"I believe he genuinely wants to do the right thing in terms of the victims and the police, and ensuring there is counselling and psychological services available to victims," Mr Marlow said.
"But unfortunately, he said what he said and no matter what he says (now) or how he says it, it won't be taken well."
Mr Marlow said the Yeshivah Centre in Melbourne also needed to review its practices and policies in relation to child sexual abuse allegations for any hope of progress in future.
"They will need to think about their approach to responding to complaints...I don't know that replacing a person or a couple of people will fix it. I think they need to have a good hard look at their failings in terms of governance and responding to victims."
Rabbi Kluwgant did not return calls.