'Fringe' rabbis slammed at commission


Rabbis with controversial views on pedophiles have damaged the standing of Jewish leaders in Australia, the royal commission has been told.

Rabbis fear some of their colleagues with "fringe" views on pedophiles have damaged the standing of Australia's Jewish leadership.

A royal commission has wrapped up in Melbourne after two weeks of examining the response of Jewish schools and centres, in Sydney and Melbourne, to a string of child sexual abuse cases going back to 1980.

Under questioning, some rabbis have put forward controversial views, including that ageing pedophiles who have not offended in decades deserve leniency, or that they could be "cured" and still maintain regular contact with children.

One rabbi told the commission that about the time he received a child abuse report in 2002, he "did not know that as a fact" it was against the law for an adult to touch a child's genitals.

Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, a former president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, called such opinions "fringe".

"It would be an understatement to say that we are deeply disturbed by some of the comments that have been made by rabbis in this very box," Rabbi Glasman told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Friday.

"There can be no words that could in any way seek to mitigate or to reverse the damage that they have caused ... comments which I know the overwhelming majority of the rabbinate distance themselves from emphatically."

Rabbi Glasman urged the broader community not to assume all rabbis shared the same views.

Australia's most senior rabbi, Rabbi Meir Kluwgant, also appeared on the last day of hearings in Melbourne, where he was caught out by a text message in which he criticised a victim's father.

Rabbi Kluwgant, the president of the Organisation of Rabbis Australia, had repeatedly testified it was "absolutely" wrong to discourage victims from speaking out or to blame their families for doing so.

But he was then asked about an SMS he sent to a Jewish journalist on Tuesday while Zephaniah Waks, the father of sex abuse victim Manny Waks, was giving testimony.

The text message says: "Zephaniah ... is a lunatic on the fringe. Guilty of neglect of his own children. Where was he when all this was happening?"

There was a gasp in the court as the message was read out and Rabbi Klugwant agreed: "I may have said that, yes."

He later made a lengthy apology.

"I want to acknowledge that the issue of child sexual abuse was not handled well in the past and that there is still a lot that needs to be done to create and foster a safe and welcoming and supportive environment for victims," Rabbi Kluwgant said.

Outside the inquiry, Manny Waks told reporters the text message was the latest in a campaign of intimidation his family had faced since speaking out about child sexual abuse in Jewish schools.

The royal commission's findings are expected later this year.

Source AAP

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch