The Royal Commission releases its report on the Yeshiva and Yeshivah

November 29, 2016 by J-Wire Staff
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The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has said that some members of the community had been “discouraged from reporting”.

Royal-Commission290The Royal Commission’s report into Case Study 22 – the response of Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne to allegations of child sexual abuse made against people associated with those institutions – was released today.

The report follows a public hearing in February 2015 which inquired into the response of the Yeshivah Centre and the Yeshivah College in Melbourne to allegations of child sexual abuse made against David Cyprys, David Kramer and Aaron Kestecher. The hearing also inquired into the response of the Yeshiva Centre and the Yeshiva College Bondi to allegations of child sexual abuse made against Daniel Hayman.

The case study examined:

  • The influence of Jewish (or ‘halachic’) law on the responses of the institutions to child sexual abuse allegations
  • The experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse and their families and the community’s response to them
  • The response of the leadership of Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne to survivors of child sexual abuse
  • The actions of perpetrators of child sexual abuse and how their connections to the institutions gave them an apparent power or authority
  • The present approaches of Yeshivah Melbourne and Yeshiva Bondi to child sexual abuse

Four survivors of child sexual abuse perpetrated within the Yeshivah Melbourne and Yeshiva Bondi communities gave evidence detailing their experiences of sexual abuse and the impact that had on their lives.

The Royal Commission heard evidence that a Jewish law, known as mesirah, forbids a Jew from informing upon, or handing over another Jew to a secular authority (particularly where criminal conduct is alleged). Under Jewish law gossiping, or speaking negatively of another Jew, Jewish institution or place, is discouraged, even if what is said is objectively true.

The Royal Commission also received evidence that in 2010 the Rabbinical Council of Victoria had issued an advisory resolution that the prohibition of mesirah did not apply to child sexual abuse and that it was an obligation of Jewish law to report such abuse.

Witnesses told the Royal Commission that they observed the community to treat survivors of child sexual abuse as outcasts after it had become known that they had reported their experiences of child sexual abuse to secular authorities.

The Royal Commission found the evidence strongly suggested that, because of the way these concepts were applied, some members of those communities were discouraged from reporting.

The Royal Commission also found that there was a marked absence of supportive leadership for survivors of child sexual abuse and their families within Yeshivah Melbourne and that the leadership did not create an environment conducive to the communication of information about child sexual abuse.

The Royal Commission heard evidence that Yeshivah Melbourne has since taken significant steps to implement child protection measures, including drafting formal policies and giving detailed training to children, parents and staff. The evidence as to any steps Yeshiva Bondi has taken in implementing child protection measures is unclear.

The Yeshivah Melbourne has released the following statement:

“On Tuesday 29 November 2016, the ‘Report of Case Study No. 22’ was tabled in the Commonwealth Parliament. The Yeshivah Centre is currently reviewing the Report and expects to make a more detailed statement in the near future.

As you are aware, in February 2015, the Yeshivah Centre was the subject of a Royal Commission into ‘Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’. This followed the incarceration of two perpetrators of child sexual abuse, both of whom held roles in different capacities at the Centre. The Commission focussed on the institutional response to these crimes.

The Yeshivah Centre deeply regrets its failure to protect those who were victims of child sexual abuse perpetrated by people in a position of trust in the Yeshivah Centre and its schools. We condemn any form of abuse and acknowledge the serious harm it causes, both at the time of the abuse and later in life, for victims and their families.

The Yeshivah Centre Board and staff have been working hard to properly respond to these issues and ensure that we embed policies and processes of the highest standards to create a safe environment for our children, and to support and show compassion for victims and their families. The Yeshivah Centre’s number one priority is the safety of the children in its care, and we will continue to take all possible steps to maintain and continually raise this standard. We also need to ensure that we continue to support and show compassion for victims and their families.

In September this year, the Commission invited us to present our current policies and procedures in relation to child protection and child-safe standards and the steps taken across the Centre following the Royal Commission hearing. We submitted information in relation to:

  •   The newly established governance framework (with elections closing 7 December 2016);
  •   Our accreditation from the Australian Childhood Foundation (Chabad Youth in 2014 and Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Colleges in March 2016); and
  •   The establishment of an independently operated Redress Scheme for past victims of Child SexualAbuse.
    In its executive summary and media release the Report notes that:The evidence identified that Yeshivah Melbourne has taken significant steps in implementing structured child protection measures, including drafting formal policies and giving training to children, parents and staff.

We are aware that the process of growth and change that the Centre has embraced over the past few years will continue to present us with some challenges along the way. However, we firmly believe that this process of change and the new representative governance structures now being established will bring us forward towards a stronger, brighter and safer future.

The Boards of Directors of:
Yeshivah Centre Limited Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Schools Limited Chabad Institutions Victoria Limited.”

In Sydney, a spokesman for the Yeshiva told J-Wire: The Yeshiva Centre welcomes the publication of the findings of the Child Sexual Abuse Royal Commission consequent on its Hearings into Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne in February 2015.

 Our hearts go out to the victims whose suffering brought about these investigationand we hope that this report will bring a measure of closure and solace to them.

The report does not make any findings of failures of governance at Yeshiva Bondi under the leadership of Rabbi Pinchus Feldman.

The Yeshiva Centre will study this report along with other reports from the Commission into general standards and governance, in its pursuit of continuous improvement and enhancement of the community service provided by the Yeshiva.

Please note that the report states on page 11 that “the evidence as to any steps Yeshiva Bondi has taken in implementing child protection measures is unclear.”

This does not accurately reflect the information provided to the Commission as can seen in the report itself from page 80 onwards.

In prehearing correspondence, Yeshiva Bondi Provided to the Commission copies of the Yeshiva College Bondi staff manual containing the policies and procedures for child protection. These policies and procedures were current at the time of the hearing and in force at Yeshiva College Bondi.   In addition, a document entitled “abridged staff handbook essentials” was provided to all rabbinical students as a matter of course to ensure that they were properly informed before they undertook any voluntary work as teachers aides. 

This is acknowledged, on page 82 of the report, which reads as follows:-

“On 1 November 2014 the Yeshiva College Bondi published its Staff Handbook for fulltime employees. 

The Staff Handbook outlines the school’s formal child protection policies of the school and the procedures for staff to report serious incidents.

The Yeshiva College Bondi also has published an abridged version that is provided to all non- permanent staff undertaking supervision of children.”

(This November 1 2014 document was not the first edition of the manual. It was an update prepared in accordance with the continuous improvement policy of the College. Child protection procedures were incorporated in the staff handbook from the time the College was accredited in 2008.)

These policies are what was being referred to when the Commission’s report on page 83 stated in relation to the Yeshiva Gedola Rabbinical College that ”The college does not have formal  policies for responding to and  reporting allegations of child sexual abuse. It adopts(where necessary) the Yeshiva College Bondi policies.”(emphasis added)

A careful reading of the Royal Commission report would enable the reader to glean this information, which demonstrates that Yeshiva did and does have policies and procedures in place to properly protect the children in its care.

Management of Yeshiva College Bondi passed to new directors in December 2012.

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