Australian rabbinate undergoes shakeup in wake of sex scandal

Jewish paper fires journalist who exposed senior rabbi.

Manny Waks (photo credit: Courtesy)
Manny Waks
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Shaken by revelations that senior rabbis were complicit in covering up sexual abuse and intimidating the families of victims, high ranking members of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia have split off to form a new rabbinic body, the Australian Jewish News reported.
While the rabbis have worked to distance themselves from their disgraced colleagues, the AJN itself has come under fire for terminating a reporter who leaked information that led to the resignation of ORA Rabbi Meir Kluwgant.
As rabbis and community members testified last month before a government commission investigating institutional responses to child molestation, Kluwgant reportedly sent a text message to Australian Jewish News editor Zeddy Lawrence in which he called the father of an abuse victim “a lunatic on the fringe” who was out to destroy the ultra-Orthodox community.
Zephaniah Waks testified that three of his children, including prominent victims advocate Manny Waks, had been abused while attending yeshiva.
Following the revelation of the text, Kluwgant resigned from the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia and the Rabbinical Council of Victoria. The New Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, which split off from ORA, has called for further rabbinical resignations, AJN reported.
According to The Australian, Adam Kamien, an AJN reporter, was fired for leaking Kluwgant’s SMS, although a staff email obtained by that paper asserted that his position had “been made redundant as part of a restructure of the editorial team.”
Kamien declined to be interviewed by The Jerusalem Post but did confirm that he had been “made redundant.”
“In my view it’s clear that the journalist was effectively dismissed for disclosing to me a vital bit of evidence for submission to the royal commission,” Manny Waks told the Post on Monday.
According to Waks, the text served as a “critical bit of evidence” supporting his contention that “some within the rabbinate, including at the highest level, were involved in an intimidation campaign against those who spoke out and their families and supporters.
“Had the text message not been disclosed, Rabbi Kluwgant would probably still have his senior leadership positions, and victims and their families would still be accused of exaggerating the intimidation,” he said.
The Australian Jewish News has been a consistent critic of what some have termed a “cover-up culture” within the ultra-Orthodox community and has called for the resignation of at least one of the rabbis implicated in the scandal.
Despite the paper’s strong stance on abuse, however, not all of its staffers are happy with the SMS leak and Kluwgant’s resignation.
“He sent an extremely stupid text message when he was angry while watching someone on the stand give testimony,” reporter Joshua Levi wrote on Facebook.
“There is absolutely no doubt that he now regrets the text message, and regrets that it has been publicly released. I joked with him before he gave his testimony that it couldn’t be that bad after what we had seen earlier in the week, but little did I know what was coming.
“As a journalist, it is hard to see a good person who made a mistake lose so much while those worse have wiggled their way through the royal commission.
Or worse, didn’t even turn up to face questions. And on a personal level, it is hard to see someone hurting so much because of actions of people that I know well,” Levi wrote.