Jewish Communities Hushed Up Cases of Child Abuse

Jewish Community

On Tuesday the Royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse released its report on Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne, two communities belonging to the Chabad-Lubavitch orthodox movement of Judaism. Chabad, also known as Lubavitch, Habad and Chabad-Lubavitch, is an Orthodox Jewish, Hasidic movement. Chabad is today one of the world's best known Hasidic movements and is well known for its outreach. It is the largest Hasidic group and Jewish religious organization in the world. Orthodox practices and laws, imposed on members of Chabad communities, encourage modesty and gender segregation, while discouraging contact with non-Jews or any discussion of sex, the commission found.

The Jewish principle of mesirah is an ancient rule, still present among the followers of many faiths including Judaism, threatens believers with expulsion if they take crimes within the faith to the civil authorities. A couple of months after Groner’s death in 2008 (Rabbi Yitzchok Groner was a dominating figure in Melbourne’s Jewish world), news broke that David Kramer had been sentenced to seven years in prison in St Louis, Missouri, for molesting children at a youth camp where he was supposed to be teaching “Hot topics for Jewish teens”. That case was hushed up for many years just as many other cases of abuse have been.

During last year’s commission hearing, Rabbis were found to have discouraged members from contacting authorities in cases of abuse and a number resigned. Yeshivah leaders chose to preserve the prestige of their faith over the safety of children. The Royal commission examined how both communities responded to abuse complaints against David Cyprys, David Kramer and Aron Kestecher in Melbourne, and Daniel Hayman in Bondi.

Internal conflict resolution is practiced in Chabad-Lubavitch communities and it should be done according to Jewish law rather than secular Australian law, the commission found. “We heard evidence that some members of the communities believed that those who were understood to have communicated about child sexual abuse were acting outside the bounds of acceptable halachic conduct (that is, they were sinning),” the commission said. If members report abusing after all, they (“sinners”) would then be shunned socially, economically or religiously.

One survivor, Manny Waks, was abused by two adults in the Melbourne community for years, including his martial arts teacher, Cyprys, who was eventually convicted in 2013. Waks was bullied and tormented when he first talked about his abuse with a fellow student and he later rejected his religion and turned to alcohol.  Years later, Waks told his father and they went to the Victoria police, who investigated his complaints but did not lay charges. He even went public about his treatment 15 years later, the first time anyone had spoken out about abuse within the community.

Yeshivah Melbourne has since apologized for “any historical wrongs that may have occurred” in a 2012 letter. It has encouraged its members to report any allegation of child abuse to authorities. Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, the leader of Yeshiva Bondi, has also apologized to children that the community had failed.

Both communities will be examined again in a second inquiry in March next year.

Photo Credits: New York Times

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