Yeshivah Centre chief rabbi Zvi Telsner quits
1 September 2015
Yeshivah Centre chief rabbi Zvi Telsner has stood down after he allegedly accused sex abuse victims of trying to destroy his community, calling one "crazy".
Rabbi Telsner resigned after it was revealed he had berated a victim during a conversation about the centre's leadership following a cover-up of sexual abuse within the centre.
He wrote a letter to the community on Tuesday, apologising for his conduct towards victims and their families, saying it did not demonstrate the centre's values.
"I have decided to stand down from my position as rabbi at the Yeshivah Centre, effective immediately," he wrote.
"We all must be aware of how our words and actions impact on others and therefore would like to take this opportunity to apologise for my conduct and urge everyone to show compassion and support towards victims and their families throughout the moised and broader community."
Sexual abuse survivor turned activist Manny Waks posted a letter on his blog on Sunday which claimed to relay a conversation between another victim and the rabbi that occurred on Saturday.
In the reproduced letter, the victim, whose name was redacted, said they had raised an "important issue" with Rabbi Telsner relating to "positions of authority within the Yeshivah institution".
"I was shocked by his inappropriate and disgraceful response," the victim wrote.
"He proceeded to attack, in his words, 'individuals that are wanting to destroy the mosed [institution].'"
The victim wrote Rabbi Telsner referred to Mr Waks and "particularly" his father as a "Meshugane", which translates as crazy.
They said he referred to one victim as a "problem" and lamented another had written a "defamatory" article about him "for no reason".
"It is shocking and hurtful to me that the head rabbi maintains and expresses the insulting and unjust views he expressed to me yesterday," the victim wrote.
The victim called for Rabbi Telsner to be "immediately stood down".
Mr Waks backed the position in his blog post.
"It's important to emphasise that until Rabbi Telsner is no longer at the helm of Yeshivah it will be difficult for many to move forward," he said.
"And in the meantime, he is continuing to cause damage to many, including to the Yeshivah Centre itself."
Rabbi Telsner labelled Mr Waks' father a "moser" - an informer - after he reported his son's sexual abuse, which, he said, under Jewish law meant other Jews could legitimately kill him.
Mr Waks' father said this prevented other victims and their parents from coming forward and isolated those who did, with supporters too afraid to befriend him publicly because it might negatively affect their livelihoods in the Yeshivah Centre and their children's ability to marry.
According to Mr Waks, Rabbi Telsner directed a sermon about rabbis' power to ex-communicate worshippers to Mr Waks' family shortly after The Age first reported Manny's story in 2011.
On Tuesday night, Mr Waks published a statement welcoming Rabbi Telsner's resignation.
"The victims, our families and supporters deserve the greatest credit – the period of the intimidation which several of us endured (in some cases until this very day) was literally a living nightmare. In spite of this we remained resolute because we knew the truth was on our side. So today we feel a great sense of vindication and justice," he said in the statement.
"It is a great day for our community and for justice. Now let the healing continue."
The Yeshivah Centre Interim Committee of Management also wrote a letter to the community on Tuesday, informing it of Rabbi Telsner's decision to stand down.
"This follows a recent event in which such values or behaviour to the extent required of a Rabbi in his position were not demonstrated," said the letter.
"We support his decision and immediate resolve."
All the centre's board members stepped down in June after revelations at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse of a cover-up of abuse at the centre.
Originally published at The Age.