The Royal Commission: Sentiments without action are not enough

February 8, 2015 by J-Wire Staff
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Rabbi James Kennard, principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College in Melbourne has issued a statement on the current hearing at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse….declaring “sentiments without action are not enough”.

Rabbi James Kennard

Rabbi James Kennard

Rabbi Kennard has called for resignations and change…”already long overdue”.

His full statement:

“In October 2013 I resigned from the Executive of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) and subsequently from the Council itself. At the time I made no comment on my action, since any publicity would have served no purpose.

But that is no longer the case.

As the orthodox community is being engulfed in the terrible chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) that is revealed each day at the Royal Commission; as the media coverage has made “rabbi” a mark of shame and “orthodox Jew” a byword for the cover-up of child abuse, it is time to speak out.

My resignation occurred on the day Cyprys was convicted, I expected the RCV to issue a statement calling the leadership of the Yeshivah community to account. But I was disappointed. Since then the only official reference to the topic by the RCV has been a condemnation of the Jewish News for an erroneous detail in a report of a suggestion that resignations at Yeshivah might be appropriate (an attack that, farcically, had to be retracted when found to be incorrect) yet the Council has found no time to disassociate itself from the terrible mistakes made over many years.

And now, when the entire orthodox community is finding itself implicated by association, we are reaping the whirlwind.

It is now urgent that the representatives of the orthodox community make clear that we are not Yeshivah; that we condemn the inaction and worse that have led to tragedies and we now call for action to demonstrate a complete break with the past.

This is no longer about Yeshivah College – a school from which I was proud to see two children graduate, and which, under Rabbi Smukler, has now become an exemplary model of child safety. This is about the Yeshivah Community.

Statements that “child sexual abuse is condemned”; that “victims should come forward and go to the police” and “no victim that acts thus is to be ostracised in any way” are welcome (and, to give credit, have already been made) but are no longer sufficient. As the evidence from the Commission shows, sentiment without action is not enough.

While anyone who held a position of leadership in the Yeshivah community in the period when these terrible mistakes were made remains in such a position today, the community is not able to say that it has learnt and it has changed. The resignations that are required need not be an acceptance of personal responsibility, but an acknowledgement that if abuse, or a failure to deal properly with abusers, took place on an individual’s “watch” then it is honourable and right for such an individual to step down.

But there is more. These events occurred because of a lack of oversight of those who led institutions – a situation riddled with danger that still exists today in many Jewish institutions, run by charismatic, noble, but unaccountable rabbis. It is essential that any such leader is answerable to a body empowered to ask critical questions regarding child protection or any other crucial areas where mistakes can remain hidden with disastrous consequences. Donors should check that such oversight is in place before supporting any organisation. Only in this way can we ensure that terrible mistakes are not made again.

Our community is in pain and cries out for leadership. Rabbis need to imbue their titles again with lustre and honour; the name of “orthodoxy” must be renewed as a badge of pride. A call for change, already long overdue, will start the healing.”

Comments

3 Responses to “The Royal Commission: Sentiments without action are not enough”
  1. Michael Barnett says:

    Any rabbi who stands down under these circumstances should have their rabbinical qualifications cancelled.

  2. Otto Waldmann says:

    First, to answer anxious ben, but also directing my comments to Rabbi Kennar, just out of mere curiosity, why did you keep stumm about your reasons for those resignations and only now, when it seems much safer – see your job – to join the chorus of anti Orthodoxy you summoned that “courage”.

    More importantly, one is fairly confused about your “slight” ambiguity. On one hand you are fulminating against individual Rabbis who committed so and so and should resign – which relates to the individual – and then, a sentence (!!) later, you tell us that all this stuff has nothing to do with “personal responsibility”. Also, perhaps you care to decipher that interesting statement ” we are not Yeshiva”. I do not need deciphering of the other pearl ” ..the entire Orthodox community is finding itself implicated by association”. Is this a studied,empirical finding, a genuine proposition or an indictment, because either is a tad lo beseder bihlal or let’s say slightly oyf kipure.
    I wonder if those orgs. you resigned from asked you to reconsider……
    Anyways, if nobody you “indicted” will resign, what will YOU further resign from !!!

  3. ben gershon says:

    “In October 2013 I resigned from the Executive of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) and subsequently from the Council itself. At the time I made no comment on my action, since any publicity would have served no purpose.

    it would have served a purpose.

    it begs the question whether the council intimidates opposition to silence

    ben

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