Rabbi Telsner resigns

September 2, 2015 by J-Wire News Service
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Rabbi Zvi Telsner has stood down as rabbi at Melbourne’s Yeshivah Centre in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Rabbi Zvi Telsner

Rabbi Zvi Telsner

A letter sent to its community by the Interim Committee of Management the Yeshivah Centre stated: “Today, Rabbi Telsner has notified the Committee of Management of his decision to stand down from his position as Rabbi at the Yeshivah Centre, effective immediately. This follows a recent event in which such values or behaviour to the extent required of a Rabbi in his position were not demonstrated. We support his decision and immediate resolve.

In Rabbi Telsner’s letter to the community he apologises for his past conduct and urges everyone to show compassion and support towards victims and their families throughout the moised and broader community. We echo Rabbi Telsner’s apology and his message of consideration and compassion and we resolve to make every effort to continue to move forward and improve in this regard.”

Rabbi Telsner wrote: “As a senior Rabbi at the Yeshivah Centre I acknowledge and endorse its values, policies and message of continued support and compassion for victims of Child Sexual Abuse, their families and all of the community. Elul is a time to reflect on ones values and behaviours as we prepare to herald in the New Year.

I recognise that my conduct towards victims and their families did not demonstrate these values or behaviour to the extent necessary of a Rabbi in my position. Accordingly, I have decided to stand down from my position as Rabbi at the Yeshivah Centre, effective immediately.

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.

I wish the community all the best for a Ksiva Vechasima Tova, and a year full of blessings.”

Manny Waks is a founder of child sexual abuse advocacy group Tzedek and a victim himself who gave evidence to the Commission, said:

I am pleased that Yeshivah Centre’s Rabbi Zvi Telsner has finally taken responsibility for his gross and repeated failures and has resigned from his role as Senior Rabbi and Head of the Yeshivah Synagogue.

Rabbi Telsner was at the very heart of this scandal. He was more than just a by-stander to the re-victimisation, bullying and harassment of victims and their families – he actively led his community down the terrible path which they pursued towards their victims. While some of the other rabbis and leaders at Yeshivah preached one thing but practiced another, Rabbi Telsner used the pulpit to encourage, normalise and actively participate in the excommunication of victims and their families.

On a personal note, I would significantly attribute my departure from Australia to him. He had the power and authority to ensure I was treated humanely. Instead he mobilised the forces against me, my family, additional victims and others. So the pain and suffering that resulted due to Rabbi Telsner’s actions and inactions is profound – something several of us have experienced until this very day.

There is no doubt that today’s important development would not have occurred if not for the determination and hard work of many. 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.

I also want to acknowledge and thank the interim Committee of Management of the Yeshivah Centre for addressing this and other related issues with professionalism and sensitivity. There is no doubt that they have taken on a monumental task. But the results are starting to show. Importantly, they have the confidence of many (if not all) victims. And they have been able to achieve this through honest and direct engagement with us. Finally the Yeshivah Centre is being run in a way in which the community can be proud.

 

It is a great day for our community and for justice. Now let the healing continue

Below is the J-Wire report following Rabbi Telsner’s appearance at the Commission in February this year:

During the course of his testimony Rabbi Telsner expressed his view that gays and pedophiles could be cured.

The following is  the evidence under questioning  by Christine Hanscombe

CHRISTINE HANSCOMBE: Do you accept the proposition that pedophiles can be for want of a better word cured by counselling and spiritual guidance?

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: There is a possibility. I am not an expert in the field. I suspect there may be a small percentage possibility. I can’t really say.

CHRISTINE HANSCOMBE: It  would appear that Rabbi Groner held the view that some form of spiritual care might cure David Cyprys. Is that an issue that you know anything about Rabbi Groner considering.

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: You said about spiritual care. What do you mean about spiritual care?

CHRISTINE HANSCOMBE: I find myself lost for words not being of your faith. When a senior rabbi says about a pedophile “I thought we had cured him” what would you take that to mean?

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: It would mean he was sent to professional care. It had nothing to with anything spiritual…either therapy, psychiatrist or..nothing to with anything spiritual.Rabbi Groner would send to a school psychologist It had nothing to do with anything spiritual.

CHRISTINE HANSCOMBE: Do you know of anybody accused of abusing children being sent for such medical care by Rabbi Groner?

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: I do

—-

CHRISTINE HANSCOMBE: Curing pedophiles. Do you believe that’s a possibility?

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: I don’t want to use the word ‘possibility’. It can happen. Let me just say that.

CHRISTINE HANSCOMBE: Do you know that of your own experience?

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: Umm…not really.

CHRISTINE HANSCOMBE: So you believe it?

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: There is a certain belief that if someone for example after 20 or 25 years has not committed any offences and all of this time has gone to therapy there would be a good possibility that the person may have been able to change his way of life.

CHRISTINE HANSCOMBE:  And do you have same belief of homosexual persons not attracted to children?

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: I really couldn’t tell you a definite answer. I don’t know.

CHRISTINE HANSCOMBE: Do you distinguish between those two classes of persons in your evidence as to whether a person can be cured by therapy so the answer is yes, you do distinguish.

RABBI ZVI TELSNER:  No I would say the same thing could happen with someone who is gay, I suspect.

CHRISTINE HANSCOMBE: So you think both those classes of persons can be cured by therapy?

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: There is a possibility – I am not discounting that.

Counsel assisting the Commission focused on a sermon delivered by Rabbi Zvi Telsner, spiritual leader of Melbourne’s Yeshivah Centre delivered within ten days of an article published in The Age on July 8, 2011 in which whistleblower Manny Waks reported his abuse  and his suggestion that the Yeshivah Centre had covered up child sexual abuse in the past.

Ms Gerace said that in his sermon Rabbi Telsner was warning his congregation  against “doing a certain type of conduct you are telling them do not this unless you have the permission of a rabbi to do it”. She asked him “What is the evil that you are warning them against?” Rabbi Telsner responded: “Spreading false rumours or degradations of people and institutions in these blogs, emails and anonymous websites.” He agreed that the rumours had been directed towards the Yeshiva and “the legacy of the late Rabbi Groner.”

When asked by Ms Gerace if there had been a suggestion that there had been a failure by the Yeshivah Centre to act on complaints of sex abuse Rabbi Telsner responded : I don’t understand the question.”

Ms Gerace said: “Connected with that, the suggestion in this material that complaints had been made of sexual abuse at the time of Rabbi David Groner and he had not acted on it or  had covered it up.” The late Rabbi Groner had been the head of the Yeshivah.

The line of questioning was dealing with two sermons delivered by Rabbi Telsner during a period when a spate of emails was doing the rounds following both the Waks article and

Ms Gerace indicated that the Yeshivah culture was changing in 2011 referring to the days when it was under the control of Rabbi Groner saying “there had been a great degree of deference paid to him where people often deferred to what he said and would have not acted in any way to go to the press or to send emails without asking him first.”

Rabbi Telsner agreed there had been calls to run the Shul more democratically.

But he said he did not see the connection between a sermon he delivered about spies causing the Jewish people to spend 40 years  in the desert and an email sent the day before the sermon by abuse victim AVB telling community members to go to the police with any information on child sex abuse. This sermon was delivered before the Waks article appeared in The Age.

Ms Gerace said that in the article “he wants to hold to account the alleged perpetrators f the crimes and the Yeshivah Centre which runs the college and which he says betrays victims by persuading them to remain silent.”

Rabbi Telsner said he did not remember admitting that this was the basis of the Loshon Hora he referred to in his sermon following the revelations in The Age.

Quoting from the article, Ms Gerace said: ” ‘Yeshivah College which did not report the complains to police was accused of covering up the scandal’ and there’s the Loshon Hora about the institution and he actually names  your father-in-law.” Rabbi Zvi Telsner is a son-in-law of the late Rabbi Groner.

Ms Gerace further quoted from the Age article on Manny Waks. Reading from the article Ms Gerace said that Mr Waks made his first statement to police in 1996. He also told Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner Yeshivah Centre Director. In 2000 after returning to Australia Mr Waks was shocked to see his alleged abuser was still in a position of authority at the Yeshivah Centre.

Waks is quoted as saying:  “I said to Rabbi Groner how can you give this person access to children. Rabbi Groner pleaded with me not to take it further. He said to me that the alleged perpetrator was getting help from a psychiatrist. I said ‘Can you guarantee me he will not reoffend?’ Rabbi Groner said no and that’s when I walked out. In my attempt to seek justice and closure I was working against an entrenched culture and system of covering up these crimes at any cost.”

Reverting to the sermons Ms Gerace asked Rabbi Telsner if he knew that victim AVB believed that Rabbi Telsner was preaching against him. He responded: “Every person is entitled to their opinion.”

Ms Gerace told Rabbi Telsner that having made no statement denying his sermons targeted Manny Waks, Zephaniah Waks and victim AVB, saying “you stood by and let them fester” adding  that it had been ” a particularly cruel position for you to have adopted Rabbi when you know very well that AVB and Manny Waks and Zephaniah Waks’s family suffered ostracisation in the wake of your sermons.”

Rabbi Telsner responded saying: “I don’t believe it was in the wake of my sermons and if any of my sermons caused them to believe that I apologise profusely and regret that anyone took that message that I was meaning them.”

Counsel for Manny and Zephaniah Waks Melinda Richards said that Rabbi Groner’s role in not reporting instances of child sex abuse to authorities in effect “allowing it to continue so that other children became victims.” Rabbi Telsner replied: “Correct.” He said he understood to him that an email to him as Chief Rabbi of the Centre from Zephaniah Waks, father of victim Manny Waks, was “a cry for help”.  Ms Richards said that this email for help was sent during the week before Rabbi Telsner’s sermon which criticised people who spoke without permission and that the worst sin was “besmirching the name of Rabbi Groner.”

He agreed with a statement that Rabbi Groner had known about sexual abuse in 1986 and not acted causing one of the victims to have assumed guilt and that that guilt belonged to the community.

ROMY VAN DER WEIL: If I said to you now that the late Rabbi Yitzchok Groner and I accept that he was a warm and creative and a wonderful human being was negligent in terms of his care of children would you regard that as a Loshen Hora?

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: Yes

ROMY VAN DER WEIL: “Why”

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: Because he wasn’t. He was a person  who cared and gave his life for every single child that I know of.

ROMY VAN DER WEIL: You see the difficulty then for people to come forward to say during his period of reign at the school and his reign over the community, these things happened to me and he was to some degree complicit in it…do you say that’s a Loshen Hora?

RABBI ZVI TELSNER: If you say he was complicit in it, you could infer that.  What I would say he was trying he best  and at that stage and he may he was doing his duty.

Rabbi Telsner agreed when asked if he had shunned Zephaniah Waks by relegating him to a side room in his synagogue for aliyahs and not permitting him to have one in the main synagogue.

At the end of his testimony Rabbi Telsner delivered another apology saying: “I deeply regret that I should have come out publicly with more statements to the effect of feeling the pain and the difficulties the families are going through.”

Ms Garace asked him: “And do you think in addition to the apology if it is accepted by those persons harmed by your failures there should be some measure of recompense or other action by you in terms of T’Shuvah.”

Rabbi Zvi Telsner responded: “Yes”.

 

Comments

2 Responses to “Rabbi Telsner resigns”
  1. Avigael Cassel says:

    Good News and Good Riddance. Now for the rest of the corrupt chabad leadership to resign, there is still more perpetrators to go. Dont for one minute think they have stepped down of their own accord, they have finally been exposed for the corrupt evil men they are, but cling to power until forced. Until the house is clean, the job is not done. Yeshivah Committee must do more to remove ALL Of the perpetrators that have destroyed many families lives.

  2. Lynne Newington says:

    I can’t help bring to mind the recent power Pope Francis has given all priests to forgive women [never mind the men] who have procured an abortion on the same link as the Old Testament tradition of a jubilee year a time for granting those who are “incarcerated” amnesty…….

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