Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse: The Masorti viewpoint

February 27, 2015 by J-Wire Staff
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The rabbis of the Masorti Beit Din have observed, with sadness and disappointment, the proceedings over the past month of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

We are deeply concerned about the testimony given by individual rabbis regarding the treatment of those who experienced abuse as well as their families. We are further concerned that many rabbis who gave evidence showed an ignorance of what constitutes abuse while others showed a failure to act in a timely manner when the abuse first came to light.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins

Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins

Several rabbis also showed a lack of knowledge of Australian law, or knew the law but chose to ignore it and thus ignored the halakhic dictum that “the law of the land is the law [Dina de-Malchutcha Dina].”

The Masorti Beit Din celebrates the diversity of religious identification, education and skills found in the Australian rabbinate as well as the rabbis’ involvement in the Jewish community and beyond.

Our community has an expectation of rabbis and, as such, deserves a better quality of public representation than the leadership recently on display.

As the Beit Din reflects on the victims of the abuse, we are reminded of the saying from Pirkei Avot: “Our Rabbis taught: …The sword comes into the world, because of justice delayed and justice denied…”, [Avot 5:7]

The Masorti congregations in Australia [and their rabbis] are:

Kehillat Nitzan, Melbourne [Adam Stein, Rabbi]

Masorti@Emanuel, Emanuel Synagogue, Sydney [Jeffrey Kamins, Senior Rabbi]

Beit Din [Jeffrey Cohen, Rabbi]


15 Responses to “Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse: The Masorti viewpoint”
  1. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,
    I am not one for decaffinated cappucinni! I am also not one for lite milk, desalted butter … or the de-essencing of anything. I don’t consider Masorti in that light at all.

    I was pleased to read of your Sephardi experience, and yes, the food is bliss. I was welcomed to the approved status of fine Yemeni cook within the community of Rosh HaAyin while living there (it took a while to learn), despite being the only ‘red tulip’ around – I seduced with my chamin, my Yemeni chicken soup and shakshuka. I did not go so far as to try pastry offerings, and think I might have fallen a bit short if I had. I was happy that my husband’s immediate family were eager to try my other dishes of Italian and French origin, even my Cantonese chicken. Others, such as one of his brothers, would not. It’s true to say, however, that every Cantonese chicken produced is another poem unborn.

    Onto more serious matters. We still haven’t resolved the ‘ultra’ orthodox terminology problem. I keep seeing it used everywhere I look – Israeli newspapers I subscribe to (translated to English), Israeli literature I’m reading, etc. etc. It’s a common term, Otto, only ever used in attempt to differentiate the gradation of Jewish religious observance. As you find it offensive, I shall try not to use it directly with you, however, there might be times in other posts I find myself having to do so, and I’ll have to hope you understand where it’s coming from from my point of view. Sometimes ‘Orthodox’ alone isn’t enough to clarify the discussion. You still haven’t explained to me why it is offensive.

  2. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,
    Of course, the individual traits of some cannot characterise an entire group. And I am often at pains to point that out when I criticise one or two or three Rabbis, or more, who happen to be Orthodox/Chabad, I am not extrapolating their behaviour or thoughts onto the whole of Orthodoxy. That said, until Orthodoxy at that level can make way for women, I shall have to participate, when I can and do, with the Masorti. I hope in saying so, I do not immediately lose you as a friend.

    I was most interested to read of your experience with your son on the eve of Yom Kippur at the North Shore synagogue. How absolutely off-putting. I guess buying seats beforehand, or at least registering for attendance, is basically a security measure. I was reminded of my younger son’s experience in Melbourne many years ago when, independently of me or anyone else, he went to an Orthodox synagogue in Kew (an area equal in prestige to Sydney’s North Shore) on a Chag day (I forget which), seeking entrance, and was not allowed for the same reason. It actually had a dreadful effect at that particular time, which for him was a turning point. I think security needs to be an issue, obviously, however, he would have happily submitted to a body search or whatever. It seems crude, unfriendly and lacking in vision to turn someone away from a synagogue so unequivocally, or not be welcoming to a ‘stranger’ who made it inside.

    Well, you must be a man who follows his heart with spontaneity and passion it would seem, so you’re bound to come undone with it now and then! And to be so generous as to allow advantage to be taken, well, yes, that really does indicate a splendid, divine nature! No doubt there has been recompense along the way. I jumped into a second marriage while in my fifties and left everything behind to live in Israel with my Israeli Yemeni husband – my grown-up children, my business, my house – it was a case of feeling I knew this man very well after three months, or not caring that I didn’t, I’m not sure which. I lived in an Israeli Yemeni community half an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, not far from the West Bank, and that was certainly a different experience. I was, as a woman friend of mine in Netanya said, ‘a red tulip in a field of yellow tulips’. Very friendly, musical people in the main, generous, yet conservative, who pronounce the ‘ayin’ in Hebrew more perfectly than I have ever heard elsewhere – like a soft breath just giving form. I shall not attempt to describe to you my nature. You would find it in my poetry.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Why, dear Liat, some of my best friends are kinda Masorti, my own twin brother’s son had his barmitzva at the Temple Emanuel and let me tell you the pretzels were delicious and they even had decafinated cappucinnos ; what more can you ask !!
      My own bubele had his at the Sephardi, after his Mumsy who MAY NOT be objected to, least the wrath of the Pharaos would have sliced me in a thousands pieces, but then the delights of the sofritos, the pastelas, sambusaks and the way they treated me as the tolerated Yid and even laughed at my jokes in Yiddish as if my fly was open………………vat a life, van vort sufering for !!!! Things are much better now, after thirtysome years, a divorce and a comeback, I am allowed to apologise for saying “thank you “.
      I wish I could put all that on rhyme AND reason.

  3. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,
    Thank you for your discussion of the term ‘Ultra Orthodox’. Does that mean it should be replaced by ‘Haredi’, or would that immediately exclude other kinds of highly observant Jewish people who are not Haredi? If so, this is the problem for people like me who simply want to refer to that level of Jewish religiosity as a distinction. I’m sure you’re aware various Rabbis use the term.

    I won’t bore you and J-Wire contributors with my personal story – suffice to say that I have, as I said before, experienced different kinds of Judaism. Due to my experience with your kind of Orthodoxy, and the way for a good deal of time it touched my soul, sustained me and enabled me to realise the solidity and essence of Judaism, I do understand what it means to you personally as you have explained it. As well, for me much of its beauty lies in its concrete nature, or, as you say, tangible reality. I like that very much.

    That said, I’m a woman … Therein lies a big problem, one that you do not have to encounter. A role for me within the dictates of ‘ultra’ Orthodoxy, which sometimes can involve subtle negation of me, precludes my full participation. I have, too, been exposed to the unfortunate behaviour of some Orthodox men, in Israel, in particular that, to my mind, goes far away from what G-d might deem sensible or moral. Their harsh, rigid views of Torah, based on man’s interpretations and rules, and the way they seek to enforce them, are not mine. Given mine are inexpert and still searching, you might laugh at me here. However, these are my reasons for having to be more pluralistic, as well as questioning, in my own endeavours. Until women are viewed differently and accepted as full human beings rather than just as a Woman of Valour to men who like the fantasy that inspires, the lop-sided structure we have now will continue. I know a lot of Orthodox women are happy within this structure and while that is so, then let them get on with it, let them be. Not all of them are though. And I cannot be. The integrity of Judaism demands more inclusiveness if you look at it more holistically.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat

      we must be fair and accept that belonging to a certain “designated” group, linked by a variety of norms, mores, even principle, does not mean that all members of the group are the same in any respect. One thing that is a visible commonality would be the garb they display and , in many cases similar reactions to certain stimuli. Individually, however, variations are as vast as in any group. I have encountered some unbelievably affable and insightful Rabbis within the Orthodox fold. I combined “affable” with “insightful” for a particular purpose. That is because I have also seen insightful, but not particularly affable, approachable, only one or two. In my wonderings I lived for a short while in a very exclusive Syd. North Shore suburb mit a quite impressive shul. To my chagrin from the groisse macher to the little men davvening, I could not meet ONE single pleasant person. I just moved there on the eve of Yom Kippur and , when walking inside with my Son I was told by a mamzer sitting there with a certain accent that I did not purchase a seat and should not be there. I told him nicely where HE could go in explicit terms and sought better company elsewhere. The respective Rabbi not the friendliest either, as I said. Did that change my opinion about Jewish Orthodoxy !! Not in the least .
      The Rabbi supervising my Son’s barmitzvah is,to mine, one of the wisest, kindest people I ever met and so is one other, whose command of reality in writing in accordance to the highest Judaic values is unequaled. Others have impressed me by the sheer generosity in sharing what they have gained from their exposure to the Torah with all in a manner unsurpassed by any other kind of spiritual pursuits; some of them have been seen at that bloody Commission and NOT appreciated for their neshama, the precious, most valuable virtue of being real mensch.
      So, I can very well believe that one would have had unsatisfactory experience , yet, I would not be tempted to believe that that kind of individual trait t a few individuals would characterise an entire group.
      I had a first marriage which was an unmittigated disaster, but jumped into the second one barely five minutes after the former catastrophy while cursing the entire female genre. The second one took advantage of mine splendid, divine nature and I let her do it simply because splendid divinities are just like that. I was surprised at myself, to be honest….I have grown to ignore the fact that superb blokes like meself are condemned not to be overtly acknowledged as such. Part of being modest, I suppose.

  4. Liat Nagar says:

    P.S. Otto, I have never heard before that the term ‘Ultra Orthodox’ is considered offensive, only from you. And I have been in conversation with many Jews in many different circumstances. I would be pleased to know more about this ‘rule’.

    The fact that some Jews specifically refer to themselves as Modern Orthodox, some Orthodox, and, I thought, some Ultra-Orthodox, differentiates the kind of Judaism they wish to be associated with, so whatever some rule says (is it amongst the 613? – I wouldn’t have thought so) there lies the reality.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat

      in Haredi parlance “ultra Orthodox” is regarded derogatory and one can relate to a number of mitzvot, particularly if Haredi, but I wont go there now.
      My previous posting was unintentionally in jest. Unintentionally means, in my case, that I hit that type of mode and off I go……
      On the other hand, I can only make light of matters which, if taken too seriously, can digress into unwanted crazy turbulence, and we don’t want that, do we…
      In each one’s way, the known strands of Judaism are doing their job in persuading “their” people of the veracity of the directions prefered.
      I derive a lot more wisdom from the good ol’ heder of payes and tzitzkes and I’ll tell you why.
      Having been acquinted with all kinds of non Judaic philosophies, once I encountered the solid what’s known as “ultra” Orthodox, I detected distinct approaches to necessary values, ontologically far deeper and conducive to a more intense necessary effort of aligning my existence from a basis of “pure” logic to a tangible reality. More importantly, derived from it the “motric”, the dynamics of logic, a mechanism useful in almost any circumstance , as constantly renewed as it may present itself.
      Haskala has been busy “cleansing” Judaism of what it perceives as a “ballast” , sets of “unnecessary” , “burdens” of notional categories.
      The integrity of Judaism is as important as its specifics and delving into all, while quite impossible, is the REAL quest for existential splendour.
      So far, me never disappointed…….

  5. Liat Nagar says:

    Your last response to me doesn’t deserve reply, Otto, however I shall respond because I had grown to like you. I won’t be lumped by you into any kind of category, even one as general as ‘you Jews of all persuasions’. So, forget it.

    I never ever ridicule anyone or laugh at someone unkindly – never. That really is the lowest form of human behaviour. I realise I am probably taking you too seriously in your last posting, however, jokes aside, it is a deeply offensive one.

    I don’t have any pets.

  6. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,

    There is nothing offensive about using terminology that attempts to make a distinction between the different religious streams of Judaism. There is nothing offensive in the term Ultra Orthodoxy, or in inferring that some Jews practice their Judaism with ‘more’ orthodoxy – it’s just a means of acknowledging the difference and making the distinction for clarity in discussion. It’s certainly not meant by me in a negative sense. As far as I’m concerned I accept the lot, without reservation: Ultra Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform/Progressive … whatever. I would never sneer at any of them and believe there’s a place for all of them. Also, I personally am familiar with all of them, and by familiar I mean have experience of.

    Reread your second paragraph and you will see therein your prejudice toward other Jews who practice differently to yourself. What is it exactly that gets in the way of you being able to accept the names of these other forms of Judaism and invites such anger? Your wish they didn’t exist, your opinion they shouldn’t exist, your authority as to the only form of Judaism of relevance being your own …? Your reference in your earlier post to ‘… the Masorti whatever they call themselves’ indicates your lack of respect and tolerance for others in this regard and is not a pretty thing. It’s this attitude, and the attitude of many of the Ultra Orthodox who negate the very existence of Jews who practise differently to themselves, that causes division and animosity among the Jewish people, not anything else.

    It’s a great pity you cannot share your abundant personality, warmth and humour with Jews of all persuasions. And I do mean that with all sincerity.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat

      my apologies, but now I get it, all that stuff about me sneering was a joke, kinda humour you Jews of all persuasions crack , alas indulgent towards folk like me born unlucky, deprived of that gift of fun and laughter, forever condemned to be left in THAT life’s corner of neglect by ridicule..
      But, let me tellya, Liat, we are still happy in our little world and, when you guys walk by us, smilin’, laughin’, gigglin’ while casting sidelooks at us, sometimes pointin’ your index finger while laughin’, we don’t hate yourse because we thinks that maybe one day you’ll come around and say, Oto or Gavin or Bily come play with us and let’s be friends….
      Tellya wha’ Liat, I will be your friend and then, then maybe you’ll let me play with your pet dog Smurfy because dogs like me and I like dogs, I promishya.

      Now, Liat, is that better !!!

      • Otto Waldmann says:

        Dear Liat

        no offence, but the term “ultra Orthodox Jews” is considered offensive
        I am serious . I didn’t make the rule.


        I am, actually, allergic to pets. We look at life from different perspectives and I have much better manners, especially on the street around trees etc.

  7. Liat Nagar says:

    Otto, you are yourself being devisive in the way you sneer at what you would call ‘less observant Jews’. Observant Jews of ultra-Orthodoxy do not own Judaism and should never negate other Jews for practising differently. I applaud the frankness of the Masorti Beit Din. They are obviously capable of recognising the importance of diversity of education and skills, as they put it, as well as diversity of religious identification. This goes a long way to providing tolerance and intelligent, morally ethical behaviour.

    ‘Past negative aspects’ are not yet in the past. They’ve only just been exposed and there’s a lot of work yet to do to revise and reform more orthodox institutions such as Chabad. It will take a long time, even if the intentions are immediate. You can hardly expect Masorti to applaud the Rabbis discussed – it should be called as it is. You are the only one applauding them.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat

      can you please erase your expression “more orthodox” from the second paragraph; it screams CONTRADICTION !!!! to the one in the previous para. where you are telling us about my “sneer (regarding )…less observant Jews “, whoever they might be.
      Since we are into applauding, you are right, I would never expect Masorti to say anything good about the ones different to the previously mentioned “less observant Jews”. Otherwise, my conscience is incredibly unique and only looks after…… numero UNO !!

      One day I WILL organise a Sydney to Melb. march of those as unique as me, sponsored, no doubt by Sydney’s Hadassa Butchery; 25% OFF waves from behind the counter from the Management and staff, under strict supervision. The waves will be kosher, only from the right to the left.

  8. Otto Waldmann says:

    A shameful, typically divisive attitude statement, one which intentionally extrapolates by emphasising exclusively on past negative aspects while ignoring totally the open, emphatic position expressed by ALL Rebbonim associated with the Yeshivot that they have accepted and INTRODUCED EFFECTIVE MEASURES OF DEALING WITH CHILD ABUSE !!
    Explicit expressions of teshuva from the same Rebbonim are, once again, completely ignored by this ill-intended position by the Masorti whatever they call themselves.
    Consistent with their “regular” vitriolic position against the more observant Jews.

  9. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

    The sentiments expressed I would believe are similar to those already articulated by all religious organization “Down Under” in the wake of Royal Commission.
    The essential issue is, we must all stand guard against the evil of child abuse and assist the victims.
    Across the board, Synagogues, Churches, Temples, Mosques, Schools and Daycare Centers and Clubs must develop strategies and protocols to minimize to the greatest extent humanely possible these evil crimes against our precious children and youth.

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