“We are sorry that you suffered”

February 5, 2015 by J-Wire Staff
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Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, spiritual head of the Sydney Yeshiva and leader of Chabad NSW has apologised to those who suffered child sexual abuse when attending the Yeshiva.

Rabbi Pinchus Feldman at the Commission

Rabbi Pinchus Feldman at the Commission

The apology was made at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse hearing in Melbourne at the end of the fourth day. The Commission has heard evidence from two prominent rabbis that the Jewish practice of mesura which prohibits Jews from advising secular authorities of the misdemeanors of fellow Jews does not apply halachically in cases of child sexual abuse. In fact, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick and Rabbi Pincus Feldman both told the Commission that Jews are obliged to advise the authorities if they become aware of complaints of child sex abuse.

In his closing statement to the Commission, Rabbi Feldman said: “As Head of Chabad in NSW and on behalf of the entire movement I would like to say to the victims: we are sorry that you suffered; it breaks my heart personally and it breaks all of our hearts. We are sorry that you continue to suffer from the ramifications of how those experiences have affected your life, and we give you our solemn commitment that absolutely everything in our power is being done and will continue to be done to ensure that others don’t ever go through t he same suffering.”

His full statement:

“I would like to start by thanking G-d Almighty for the blessing of living in this great country of Australia, which is investing large amount of resources, including this Royal Commission, in ensuring the safety of our society as a place where the dignity of every human being is upheld, including the most vulnerable such as children.
Although I have been unable to be here in the courtroom for the entire proceedings due to circumstances beyond my control, I have been closely following the broadcast.

It breaks my heart to hear of the suffering that victims of abuse and their families have endured. No one should ever have to suffer in any way, shape or form, particularly children – the most treasured members of our society and the ones who need our protection most.

Manny Waks who was sexually assaulted whilst at the Yeshiva listens to the statement

Manny Waks who was sexually assaulted whilst at the Melbourne Yeshivah at the Commission

Whilst the scourge of child abuse crosses all boundaries of race and religion, it is a matter of extreme concern for myself that such abuse occurred whilst children were under the care of institutions associated with Chabad in NSW.

As Head of Chabad in NSW and on behalf of the entire movement I would like to say to the victims: we are sorry that you suffered; it breaks my heart personally and it breaks all of our hearts. We are sorry that you continue to suffer from the ramifications of how those experiences have affected your life, and we give you our solemn commitment that absolutely everything in our power is being done and will continue to be done to ensure that others don’t ever go through t he same suffering.

One of the issues that a number of the victims have referred to is the experience of being labelled a “Moser” – an informer. I feel your pain acutely, partially because I have been at the receiving end of such accusations myself. I would never purport to compare my experience with your level of suffering but I would like to express empathy as someone who has also been disparagingly called a “Moser”.

This is the first time that I am publicly sharing the following incident, which occurred about 45 years ago in approximately 1970, two years after I started my role as Dean and Spiritual Leader at Yeshiva in Sydney.

One of the students in our school was not presenting well at school and it became very evident after some enquiries by our staff, that this child was subject to severe domestic abuse at home, perpetrated by none other than his own mother. The mother was called in to the school for questioning and she started to act violently to the staff in an uncontrollable way. The situation was quite drastic and I made the decision at the time, as Principal of the school, to call in Bondi Police who arrested her and took her away in a paddy wagon. It was a very heart-breaking scene to watch the mother being arrested and shouting at me from the paddy wagon – “How can you dob me in to be arrested? Haven’t I suffered enough? I am a Holocaust Survivor!”. The mother was [REDACTED] her son was [REDACTED].

Although I had facilitated her arrest, I did not shirk my pastoral care duties for her as an individual and member of the community, so shortly afterwards I went down to Bondi Police station and made sure that she was being provided Kosher food in her cell and that she was getting appropriate legal representation, as well as getting the authorities to work with her, the family and the school to come to a workable solution to the crisis.

A substantial number of the Yeshiva community members at the time were Holocaust survivors, who were deathly afraid of the authorities after what they themselves had experienced by Nazi “Police” as well as various European Police forces that had aligned themselves with Nazi policy. To them it was sacrosanct that a Jew does not inform on another Jew under any circumstances, regardless of the justifiable reasons.

Despite having acted in the best interests of the child, the family and the school community, I was roundly criticised by members of my Board of Management for being a “Moser” an informer, by involving the authorities in this case. Many of the Board of Management were themselves Holocaust survivors. At a subsequent Board meeting I addressed this issue and explained to them that the Halachic concept of Mesirah, the prohibition relating to informing on other Jews to the authorities, was in place precisely because of oppressive regimes such as Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, where a Jew had no hope of being treated fairly by the authorities. However in democratic Australia,where Jews have never been subject to state-sponsored antisemitism, when it comes to protecting our children against abuse Mesirah prohibitions do not apply.

The previously mentioned incident was unfortunately neither rare nor unique. In my decades of leading Yeshiva in Sydney, whenever such matters have arisen and allegations of any form of abuse have come to my attention, I have always counselled to involve the appropriate Government authorities. This has happened on a number of occasions including quite a few incidents where we called the Police ourselves, and to this day there are police records of those instances.

This is also evident to this Royal Commission from the only documented case where the Yeshiva School in Sydney was informed of sexual misconduct by a teacher, in 2002. I gave instructions at the time for all the relevant Government authorities to be notified and for the Head of Studies in the school to consult closely with them as to appropriate procedures and protocol. As recently as a couple of months ago Yeshiva received an email from a member of the community alleging sexual misconduct by another member of the community and we responded that the complainant should report immediately to the Police with those allegations.

I have been accused of knowing about Daniel Hayman’s crimes and not doing anything about it. I can state here categorically that this allegation is false and that my consistent position throughout nearly five decades of spiritual leadership of Yeshiva has always been to refer cases of abuse to the appropriate authorities.

As I have said before, the Jewish community is not immune to all of the social ills that affect society at large. The evil behaviour of abusers leaves permanent scars. Many of those who experience abuse and neglect consequently suffer from a range of physical, mental and emotional illnesses. It is incumbent on us as a community to provide immediate and ongoing support for these people to be able to have the best possible quality of life despite their traumas.

Out of concern for the most vulnerable members of our society, over thirty years ago Yeshiva in Sydney facilitated the establishment of the Jewish House Crisis Centre, an institution dedicated to providing shelter and support for all people in need, regardless of race,religion, colour or creed. In fact, a large proportion of recipients of their help are not of the Jewish faith. Jewish House has grown over the years with a number of facilities throughout Bondi, and although it is now independent of Yeshiva, it is still run by a Chabad Rabbi and inspired by our ethos.

About 10 years ago, Yeshiva in Sydney started a new humanitarian project called “Our Big Kitchen”, which has become a massive operation distributing more than 50,000 meals annually to the needy, the destitute and the infirm. I am proud to say that victims of abuse have told us that they have found a measure of comfort and healing in getting involved with Our Big Kitchen and working towards helping people in need in an emotionally supportive environment.

In fact, one of the Victims that testified before this Commission was provided generous accommodation and training by Yeshiva in Sydney in his teenage years, after he left Melbourne. It has now been revealed that this was following the abuse that he endured. Our support of him at the time was not because he was abused, which we were not aware of, but rather because he was a young man in need and it is our duty to help all those who knock at our door.

The holiest day in the Jewish Calendar is Yom Kippur, the Day of Repentance, which is a fast day for the Jewish people.

The following quote from the prophet Isaiah is read in Synagogues throughout the world on Yom Kippur in the Afternoon:
“G-d Almighty says: This is the fast I want: unlock the chains of wickedness,
untie the knots of servitude.
Let the oppressed go free,
their bonds broken.
Share your bread with the hungry,
and welcome the homeless into your home. When you see the naked, clothe them.
All people are your kin:
do not ignore them.”
This is the ethos of the Jewish people and this is the ethos of the Chabad movement.

However we are human beings not angels, and even the most noble institutions are not immune to the perpetrators of child abuse. I reiterate to the victims that we are deeply sorry that you have suffered abuse and that the Yeshiva Centre in New South Wales failed in protecting you. We vow to do everything in our power both to protect the children in our care and to support those who have suffered.

I would like to now publicly state as not just a position of Jewish Law but the official policy of the Chabad movement in NSW: The reporting of cases of abuse to the authorities is not just “permitted” but an “obligation”, a holy obligation that will keep our children safer and our communities healthier.”

The hearing continues.


4 Responses to ““We are sorry that you suffered””
  1. Lizzie Moore says:

    Ruth in Yerushaleyem: Certainly there have been cases of Catholic priests in Australia [and one does not doubt abroad also] arguing that the young boys violated were and are, “naturally seductive”, ie its the line that the perps “just take what is on offer.” Its a particularly evil phenomenon. Sexual molestings are particularly evil in Jewry because Jewry brought morality to humanity – I think that is the bottom line. Also deeply shocking when among the orthodox and Ultras, because they are considered by many, a very pure and pious form. This perception has been permanently shattered in Australia, now, needless to say. ~~~ Yet if the Royal Commission and Manny Waks had not come along…..???

  2. ruth says:






  3. Steven Glass says:

    What a terrible, hollow, incomplete attempt at an apology.

    Would you send a child who has been sexually abused to be taken care of by Chabad’s Jewish House? No. I thought not.

  4. maurice klein says:

    I used to be a member of Elwood Shule when Rabbi Feldman’s father in law Rabbi Gutnik was alive. I am sorry Rabbi Feledman’s answers to the commission along with his conduct at the time of all the offences and issues are pathetic. “offensive”. Rabbi Feldman should resign and if not , he should be sacked. He is a disgrace to the Jewish community. SINCERELY MAURICE KLEIN Caulfield South Vic

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