Progressive rabbis declare abhorrence of child sexual abuse

August 23, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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During last Shabbat,  pluralistic Rabbis across Australia, New Zealand and Asia read out the Statement below as part of the Sabbath service.

It should be noted that the idea came about after a similar initiative was undertaken in the United Kingdom, where the Imams of all the mosques issued an identical sermon on this issue. It is unfortunate that the entire Australian Rabbinate could not unite for this important initiative.

Well done to the pluralistic leadership for responding in such a positive way and we hope that the Orthodox Rabbinate will follow suit.


The recent launch of the National Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse provides the opportunity for Rabbis across all denominations to declare our abhorrence of child sexual abuse and to state our commitment to assist in the work of preventing its occurrence in our communal institutions and organisations.

In Judaism human life is essential and so Pikuach Nefesh, the obligation to save a life in jeopardy, is considered a major value to uphold. The responsibility to act extends to the bystander, i.e., one who happens to find themselves in the presence of a person in peril or in danger of being victimized by a crime. The obligation to act is summarized by Maimonides (1135-1204) in his Code as follows: “If one person is able to save another and does not do so, they transgress the commandment “Neither shall thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16).

We must not stand by and allow this evil to flourish because to do so would be Chillul HaShem, for “one honors The Eternal One and the Jewish people when one honors others; one dishonors the Eternal and desecrates the people of the Almighty when one abuses a human being created in the divine image.”

In dealing with the consequences of child sexual abuse that occurred in the past, research makes it clear that while it is not possible to undo the crimes of the past, how people respond to the victim and the perpetrator – even now – can make a significant difference to them for the rest of their lives.

It is an unfortunate fact that no part of society is exempt from having some people who abuse their position of power and influence in order to abuse young and vulnerable people. We accept this reminder that we must be vigilant in our efforts to protect those people who are entrusted to our care, whether it is for a long period of time or for a few hours. We strongly encourage every communal institution to regularly review their policies and procedures and ensure that they are rigorously enforced.

Steve Denenberg

Steve Denenberg

As Progressive Jews we strongly believe in personal responsibility. It is our view that individuals in our communities must take responsibility for their own actions. As well as being illegal the actions of child abusers are morally unacceptable to us, both as Jews and as members of Australian society.

We take this opportunity to state our support for the important work of the Tzedek organization in reaching out and helping victims of sexual abuse of children in the Jewish community, and to state our commitment to work with them in partnership. If you or anyone you know requires assistance in respect of any child sexual abuse – irrespective of when this may have occurred – we urge you to contact Tzedek, for confidential support, advice or referral to an appropriate professional or government agency. Tzedek is also working closely with the Royal Commission and will be able to advise in this context as well.

We should emphasise that if you are aware of any current cases of abuse, please immediately contact the Police (and advise Tzedek).

As a community we must embrace the scriptural words upon which Jewish law bases the obligation to come to the assistance of one in peril, lo ta’amod al dam rei’ekha ((Leviticus 19:16).

Steve Denenberg, executive director of the Union for Progressive Judaism, told J-Wire: “The Rabbis and leaders of the UPJ congregations felt such concern about the incidents of child sexual abuse that have been uncovered that they wanted to make a concerted and clear statement about how the Progressive Jewish movement feels about it.  As such, a wide range of congregations and rabbis, including Progressive, Conservative, Renewal and Reconstructionist rabbis across Australia and New Zealand read out the same statement on the same day.

We need to make it clear that we condemn any act of child sexual abuse totally and we equally condemn any person or organisation that puts the protection of the perpetrators or their organisation before the safety of the young people placed in their care.”

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