Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – Day 3: Rabbi Moshe Gutnick

February 4, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
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Statements made by Sydney Rabbi Moshe Gutnick have reignited a commitment to Judaism for child sexual abuse victim Manny Waks.

Waks, who co-founded the child sexual abuse advocacy organisation Tzedek was present at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse  hearings in Melbourne today when Rabbi Gutnick’s statements came under the scrutiny of counsel assisting the enquiry.

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick

Waks told J-Wire at the end of the day’s proceedings: “Rabbi Moshe Gutnick has restored my faith in ultra-orthodox Judaism. Following his statements it seems that whereas more reform is urgently needed within the ultra-orthdox’s handling of what has happened to me and others, the reform seems closer. We need more like Rabbi Moshe Gutnick.”

Rabbi Gutnick is a senior rabbi and Dayan at the Sydney Beth Din. After learning that individual rabbis were in effect the spiritual head of the community in which they functioned, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission Maria Gerace asked Rabbi Gutnick: “Is it accurate to say there is no overseeing body in terms of the way that that rabbi acts or operates within that community.” Rabbi Gutnick responded: “There is no overseeing body but any member of the Jewish faith has the ability to challenge that rabbi and to take him to Beth Din. [Jewish Court of Law].” When asked if a rabbi could refuse to attend, Rabbi Gutnick said: “If the rabbi didn’t want to attend he would have to give good reason why he doesn’t want to attend. Nobody is above the law.”

He told the Commission that “pretty much all the rabbis were members of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia”.

Maria Gerace took Rabbi Gutnick back to 1987 citing evidence given in the morning by a witness code-named AVB in which he said that “he was told by someone that in or about 1987 this person had a conversation with you and reported some matter of abuse.”

Rabbi Gutnick read from his statement: “I first heard allegations of child sexual abuse at Yeshiva Bondi in 1987 when I was rabbi at Strathfield and District Hebrew Congregation. I received an anonymous phone call from two people at the one time…an older boy and a younger boy. The older boy said he had someone with him who had something he needed to tell me. He put the younger male on to the phone and told me that he had been sexually abused by Daniel “Gug”  Hayman. I think he said that it had occurred in the showers at the Yeshiva Centre but I don’t recall the specific words. I requested that this younger caller tell me his name but he chose not to.” Rabbi Gutnick then said that at the time he thought it might have been “a hoax or even a prank”. He said he thought they might be just trying to get Hayman into trouble. He continued: “I nevertheless rang someone at the Yeshiva to report the call.”

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick said he thought that the older boy was “scripting” the younger one. He went on to say: “In reality, the younger boy didn’t have the courage to say it and the older boy was helping him…but I only know that now.”

Rabbi Gutnick was asked if there were any character tests of those wishing to become rabbis. He answered: “There is no test of character. There should be.”  He agreed that a man with a flawed character could become a rabbi. He said: “All you have to do is have all the knowledge.”

The discussion was focused on a man codenamed AVL a rabbinical student who qualified as a rabbi but who fled Australia. Rabbi Gutnick was asked if AVL could call himself “rabbi”. He said that he could bu did not think that he did.

Maria Gerace then took Rabbi Gutnick forward to 2011 and the sexual abuse committed by David Cyprys at Melbourne Yeshivah. He said he heard about Cyprys through the media and said that the news had come as “a big shock”.

He then read from his statement about a series of emails circulated through the ORA members discussing child sexual abuse. He said: “In July 2011, there was a series of emails that circulated amongst the ORA membership in which the response to child sexual abuse was discussed. The discussion was initiated by Rabbi Yosse Feldman. AT the time he was the president of the Rabbinical Council of NSW and the treasurer of ORA. He is my nephew. In the emails, I expressed the view that allegations of child sexual abuse must be immediately reported to the police. This remains my view. I felt that reporting was literally a matter of life and death and that none of the laws of Messirah [the ‘crime’ of reporting incidents or crimes within the Jewish community to the secular authorities] apply to the reporting of abuse to the police. However, Yosse argued to the contrary wand was outspoken in the emails.” He said that it sparked a debate within ORA culminating in the issue of a public statement advocating reporting child sexual abuse incidents to the police.

Maria Gerace highlighted an email from Rabbi Yosse Feldman expressing the view that “each child sexually-abused” should be taken to their rabbi first before a decision is taken whether or not to report the matter to the police and asked Rabbi Gutnick “What do you say about that view?” He answered that he believed it to be incorrect. In his statement he said that he was not aware of any rabbi who was competent enough to make the dicision.

At this point the topic of being a Mosser was raised…that is anyone who reports a child sexual abuse incident to the police.

Rabbi Gutnick said that “I absolutely reject that.” Dealing with Mesura Rabbi Moshe Gutnick said: “I believe it is an absolute religious obligation to report any allegation of child sexual abuse as quickly as possible to the appropriate authorities.” He said that any religious-based suggestion not to do so would be “an abomination”.

Maria Gerace then asked: “Should members of the Jewish community feel free to report their abuse without any risk of ever being shunned or criticised or ostracised?” He responded: “Those who do so should be considered heroes and should have the full support of every single member of the community.”

The rabbi delved further into the question of Mesura. He said that he had issued a statement as president of ORA in which he said: “Whereas there have been in recent times the reporting pf cases of abuse of children,  including sexual abuse, both here and overseas, and the misapprehension that Jewish law prohibits the reporting of such abuse to the relevant authorities or  condones the non-reporting or concealment of such abuse, the Melbourne Beth Din and the Sydney Beth Din together with the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia reiterate the following Halachic principles:

1. We reiterate our condemnation of all forms of child abuse.

2. We reiterate that there is no halachic impediment to convey all credible information about such matters to the police or relevant authorities. To the contrary, it is halachically obligatory to do so.

3. This obligation to mandatory reporters bit to all who have become aware that abuse has taken place.

This statement made is 2011 prompted the boy who called Rabbi Gutnick in 1987 to call him again creating for the rabbi “a life-changing experience”.

Rabbi Gutnick told the Commission. “I did not immediately recall the phone call. Eventually I recalled it and everything flooded back in my head and I said to him ‘please tell me that that was not you’.  He told me it was him and confirmed that Gug had sexually abused him. I was shocked. It was the first time I had come face to face with a victim. It was the first time I had come to the realisation that Gug was indeed a perpetrator. I felt pained and I told him that I wish I had been able to do more at the time. He said he understood why I didn’t and he had no ill-feeling toward me. That didn’t help me at all. I encouraged him to go to the police and I myself went to the police and reported the entire conversation.”

He said: “I appeal to the entire community. To victims and their parents to community members and to the leaders. If you have information, please come forward. Don’t be afraid.”

He was reminded that following the publication of his statement a 74-yr-old woman from the Gold Coast contacted the rabbi to tell him she has been abused while studying for her Batmitzvah. And that she had carried the secret with her for her entire life.

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick told the commission that he considered it a sin not to act if you aware of incidents of child sexual abuse.He said that perpetrators must be brought to justice. “It makes no difference if the crime took place ten years ago or ten days ago.No exceptions. No excuses.”

To the victims he said: “No-one can know your pain or what you’ve been through. I beg your forgiveness on behalf of all of us who did not hear your voice. We hear you now – loud and clear.”

He added: “To perpetrators I say – you will be found. There will be justice. If not in this world, most definitely in the next. Turn yourselves in.” He added there is no statute of limitations in Jewish law for crimes like this.

He later referred to the curriculum of those studying for the rabbinate telling the commission that there were no courses to deal with sexual abuse that he was aware of.

Maria Gerace asked Rabbi Gutnick if there was any halachic obligation preventing Jews working with the police. Rabbi Gutnick’s reply was short: “None whatsoever.” He added: “There is a halachic obligation – to absolutely co-operate.”

When relating the incidents being examined to Chabad, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick said: “I believe that the cover-ups, the bullying and intimidation that has gone on and I accept that it has gone on represents the antithesis of the teaching of Chabad and Judaism and orthodoxy.  When any religious institution forgets that its original purpose must always be to serve the individual and instead is prepared to sacrifice the individual for the sak.e of the institution…that is when everything goes wrong.”

The previous day Zephania Waks, father of Manny Waks who played a major role in making the authorities aware of the child sexual abuse in the community, had told the Commission that his syangogue had refused to give him aliyas at the appropriate time. Rabbi Gutnick was asked if customary aliyas were ‘uniform and routine’.  He agreed that it was “very rare to refuse an aliya”. He also stated that it was “extremely rare” for a rabbi to preach against someone in a sermon.

Under questioning from a lawyer representing Manny and Zephania Waks, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick made it clear that within Jewish law there had been “no criminal jurisdiction for more than 1,000 years.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

2 Responses to “Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – Day 3: Rabbi Moshe Gutnick”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    No Crimen Solicitations, Canon law or claims of diplomatic immunity.
    Retired judge Kieran Tapsell gave a full insight to what we had to deal with in the Newcastle Herald.

  2. ben gershon says:

    at least one of Chyim children that is a credit to him .kol ahcavod

    ben

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