(photo credit: Courtesy)
A senior Australian rabbi told a government commission of inquiry on Wednesday that the Jewish-Australian Orthodox community was guilty of covering up sex crimes against its members, going so far as to use intimidation to prevent people from coming forward.
In testimony before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, a senior Chabad leader in Sydney and the head of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, said that “a culture of cover-up, often couched in religious terms, pervaded our thinking and our actions.”
Gutnick asserted that those who reported abuse were labeled mosers (“informers”), and subjected to social ostracism, according to The Guardian.
Such actions are a “gross misuse of rabbinic power,” he said, adding that those who push for victims to go to their rabbis rather than the authorities are trying to “hush it up, to cover it up, to prevent the victim from finding redress. There is no doubt at all: Mesira [‘informing’] has no application whatsoever to instances of child sexual abuse. To use mesira in this way is an abomination.”
Among those who have given testimony are those who have suffered due to their decision to come forward.
The wife of one victim told the commission that “as a spouse of a victim and whistle blower, I feel hated and isolated” and that she had “lost faith in the leadership of the Jewish community,” the Australian Jewish News reported.
Victim’s rights advocate Manny Waks, who was himself sexually abused as a student in a Chabad school, took to Facebook to praise Gutnick for his statement, which included an admission that he had been informed about allegations of abuse 20 years ago and had not followed up properly.
“Today, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick restored my faith in ultra-Orthodox Judaism,” Waks wrote. “For the first time ever the reform that is so critical seems much closer. Thank you Rabbi Gutnick. Hopefully the rest of the Orthodox Rabbinate will now follow suit. What an incredible day for justice.”
Testifying before the commission earlier this week, Waks recounted how his parents were pushed out of the community for supporting his decision to go to the media with his story.
In a letter to an abuse victim sent last week and read aloud before the commission, Gutnick said that he “hope[s] and pray[s] that this royal commission will finally expose all the crap.”
“People say that everything that will come out is a hilul Hashem (desecration of Hashem’s name) – I say the hilul Hashem is if it doesn’t come out,” he read.
A community leader who declined to be identified told The Jerusalem Post earlier this week that attitudes regarding the reporting of abuse have changed, and that rabbis have begun advising congregants to turn to the authorities.