An open letter to Rabbi Gutnick

August 6, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick has been elected president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria. Social worker Vivien Resofsky has sent him an open letter.


Dear Rabbi Gutnick,

Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick

Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick

On hearing of your appointment as President of the Rabbincial Council of Victoria I would like to ask the following:

That the RCV implement the same reforms of child sexual abuse prevention as its counterpart the Rabbinical Council of America.

The Rabbinical Council of America’s resolution of July 2013 to reform child abuse prevention and its implementation by US Yeshiva University’s (YU) Centre for the Jewish Future, is a paradigm shift in child sexual abuse prevention in Orthodox Jewish America that puts our top Rabbi’s new pledge of reform behind and at odds with world leaders and its USA counterpart.

In 2010 the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) followed the Rabbinical Council of America’s direction. Its resolution, Condemning and Combating Child Abuse was identical to its American counterpart.  However in the wake of the child sexual abuse crisis at Yeshiva institutions in Melbourne the RCV took a different direction.

The latest American reform that incorporates, “bringing in professionals with experience in this area to train staff and educate the community about preventing sexual abuse,” wrestles control from Rabbis and challenges the way Ultra-Orthodox communities normally operate.

The RCV who work in partnership with the Jewish taskforce Against Family Violence (The Taskforce) have relied on Dr David Pelcovitz, a psychologist and an Ultra-Orthodox Jew to inform policy.

Yeshiva University, chose Victor Vieth, director emeritus of the Gundersen Health System’s National Child Protection Training Center an independent and nationally recognized child abuse prevention expert to inform the new prevention reform.

Contrary to the Australian position, Vieth’s reforms place the responsibility of protecting children on adults, not on children themselves. It also encourages the reporting of suspected abuse by community members.   These elements of prevention involve community members acting independently in the best interests of a child. This clashes with the historical prioritisation of the reputational interests of the community over the interests of child victims.

Child sexual abuse has challenged the foundation and cohesiveness of Ultra-Orthodox societies because of the fact that a fellow community member can also be an abuser.  These communities have traditionally handled crimes against fellow community members internally and have not reported criminal offences to outside authorities.

This has not proved successful with child sexual abuse.  Victims who sought help from Rabbis were forced to continue to suffer when they were advised to remain silent. Some victims continued to see the person who abused them in everyday life, other children were abused by the same offender and local mandatory reporting laws were broken when the crime was not reported by those mandated to do so.

Principles of Jewish law have been cited as obstacles to secular child abuse laws. So too have cultural beliefs such as public knowledge of abuse would denigrate the name of the community and the expectation that community members adhere to the complete authority of the rabbi. Lastly, social coercion such as fear of being shunned by the community or being labelled as an undesirable ‘shidduch’ (marriage prospect) has further reinforced the culture of denial, shame and not reporting. YU’s reform confronts these religious, cultural and social coercion.  Elements of the new effort include:

Engaging community members by providing them with the education and confidence to respond responsibly to a child needing help. The most important element in protecting children involves community members. In many cases of abuse family, friends, neighbours, and even professionals fail to recognise abuse and/or fail to respond to protect a child because they don’t know how to recognise signs of abuse or they may be too afraid to do anything.  This can be overcome by providing community members with the education and the confidence to respond to a child in need.

Perhaps the most heartening element of reform was the acknowledgement that children who are growing up today may be too afraid to come forward in the current climate.   “’It’s critical that we educate and train our religious leadership to be able to support this community. These are the shadow children of our country—boys and girls, young and younger, who from the corners of their rooms ask us, ‘Is it safe to come out now?’ By your presence here today, you have dedicated yourselves and your communities to the proposition that we should answer this question: ‘Yes, it is.’ ”

Rabbis to lead reform in their individual communities According to Avi Lauer a lawyer at YU,: “community rabbis must take a leadership role in promoting child sexual abuse prevention and awareness, as well as developing and implementing policies and procedures to deal with the issue within their communities,”

For the last eight years Melbourne’s leaders have rejected the same reforms that its American counterpart has resolved to introduce.   Instead, we have been told that volunteers within the community are experts in child protection when they are not. We have been told children can protect themselves when they can’t. We have been given false assurances. We have been assured that the hiding of abuse in the past was a simple as mistakes made in the past.

To take steps toward eliminating child sexual abuse we must support victims and survivors, get involved in a prevention and education effort that does not exclude any elements and report suspected abuse.  We are not there yet.

I call on Rabbi Gutnick to adopt ALL the reforms that YU’s Centre for the Jewish Future recently introduced and not leave out community education that incorporates reporting suspected abuse



2 Responses to “An open letter to Rabbi Gutnick”
  1. Avigael Cassel says:

    Looking forward to further police arrests and litigation of men supposedly ‘leading’ the community that refuse to step down, or have any accountability.

  2. sheree waks says:

    A very well-informed,important and timely letter! For those who would like to see how sex abuse has been handled by certain elements in Melbourne Chabad/Lubavitch community, tune in to Compass on ABC TV 1 this Tuesday 12 August at 8.30pm, can be seen online at Iview on ABC online if you miss it. I am sure you will find it most interesting

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