Zephania Waks was not what is classically referred to in halakha as a hiyyuv, someone who is obligated to seek out and be given an aliya due to a life cycle event or a death. But the custom in Chabad of Melbourne is to give aliyot to grandparents on the birth of their grandchildren, which in halakha means that unless the other aliyot were filled by actual halakhic hiyyuvim, Waks had to be given an aliyah.
But, in what has become Chabad's trademark, Waks was not so honored.
The Australian anti-child-sexual-abuse organization Tzedek writes:
Some of you would be aware of the birth of a grand-daughter over the weekend to Zephaniah Waks, father of Tzedek President Manny Waks. As is customary within the Chabad Yeshivah community, members of that community receive a ritual honour by receiving an Aliyah (when one is called up to the Torah). As many of you would know, Zephaniah Waks has been denied this honour in the past since he has taken a public position in support of his son Manny who came out publicly in July 2011 that he was a dual victim of child sexual abuse within the Yeshivah community. As Rabbi Telsner, the Yeshivah rabbi, has previously stated publicly “To give Mr Waks an Aliyah was not deemed appropriate”.
So yesterday morning (on the Sabbath), when Mr Waks approached Mr Herschel Herbst, the Yeshivah Synagogue Committee Head, to inform him that “I had another granddaughter born last night”, Mr Herbst’s response was “I’m not interested”. Once again Yeshivah has denied Mr Waks the opportunity to receive this ritual honour, which is afforded to everyone else within the Yeshivah community (Mr Waks ultimately had to make his own arrangements later in the day to receive this ritual honour).
While this incident may be surprising to those who have not heard about this in the past, to the rest of us it is simply consistent with the attitude and actions of the Yeshivah leadership since the child sexual abuse scandal became public in July 2011. In his own words, Mr Waks has “been the subject of innuendo, lies, vilification, victimisation and discrimination by some of the leadership of the Yeshivah Centre (and many members)”. Mr Waks has tried speaking to the Yeshivah leadership directly and through intermediaries and has been consistently refused a hearing. He has tried going to a Jewish Court, which Yeshivah also refused. Finally, with no other redress possible, Mr Waks was given permission in Jewish Law to go to the secular courts, and the internationally well-respected Rabbi Yosef Blau from Yeshivah University (who sits on the Tzedek Board of Advisors) has explicitly endorsed this course of action. So there is currently an investigation by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission into Yeshivah’s actions (http://www.theage.com.au/national/yeshivah-probe-broadens-20130328-2gxfg.html).
On the face of it perhaps it is understandable to some that Yeshivah would not want to give this ritual honour to a long-standing member who has initiated action against them and therefore their action yesterday is somewhat acceptable. But for this ultra-Orthodox community that perceives itself as “a light unto the nations” and one of the most egregious transgressions within Jewish Law is to act out in revenge, this would merely seem as yet another hypocritical action by this community (as it was a leadership decision sadly the entire community is implicated in this – despite the fact that many would disagree with Yeshivah’s attitude and behaviour). The Yeshivah’s immoral and irreligious behaviour is once again there for everyone to see.
We commend the actions of Mr Waks in standing up to the bullies – despite the personal costs to himself and his family. The much easier option would have been to succumb to the ongoing harassment and intimidation and to leave the Yeshivah Centre, his community of almost three decades.
“Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof” – “Justice you shall pursue”.
Enough! No more silence.