Australia's most senior rabbi has resigned days after revelations at a royal commission that he called the father of three child abuse victims a "lunatic" and took other actions, including telling an abuse victim it was wrong to encourage people to report child sex abuse to police or cooperate with the ongoing police investigation.
Above: Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant
The Age reports:
Australia's most senior rabbi has resigned days after revelations at a royal commission that he called the father of three child abuse victims a "lunatic".
The senior vice-president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, Rabbi Yoram Ulman, confirmed to Fairfax Media that Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant had stepped down as president of the organisation on Monday morning. Rabbi Ulman said he could not comment further at this stage.
Rabbi Kluwgant has also resigned from all his duties and positions at the Rabbinical Council of Victoria. He has also resigned as general manager of cultural and spiritual services at Jewish Care Victoria, which is investigating historical claims of child sexual abuse in Jewish children's homes from the 1960s.
A police spokeswoman said that as of Monday, Rabbi Kluwgant was no longer a member of Victoria Police's multi-faith council. Earlier, spokesman Sergeant Kris Hamilton said Victoria Police was aware of the statements made at the Royal Commission and would meet with Rabbi Kluwgant to discuss his membership.
This follows calls for Rabbi Kluwgant to resign from all his public positions after appearing at the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Abuse on Friday, the final day of its hearing on Yeshivah Melbourne and Yeshiva Sydney's response to child sexual abuse allegations against convicted offenders David Cyprys, David Kramer and Daniel Hayman.
The commission heard that Rabbi Kluwgant sent a text message a week earlier calling Zephaniah Waks, the father of prominent victims' advocate Manny Waks, a "lunatic" who had neglected his own children.
Three of Mr Waks' children were abused as students of Yeshivah College in Melbourne, including Manny, the founder of Jewish victims support group Tzedek.
Asked by the Waks' lawyer, Melinda Richards, SC, whether he sent a text message to Australian Jewish News editor Zeddy Lawrence about Mr Waks' evidence that day, he said "I don't recall."
Ms Richards asked: "Did you, Rabbi, send a text message to Mr Lawrence saying 'Zephaniah is killing us. Zephaniah is attacking Chabad. He is a lunatic on the fringe. Guilty of neglect of his own children. Where was he when all this was happening?'"
"I may have said that, yes," he replied.
Both Manny and Zephaniah previously told the commission they had relocated overseas following years of intimidation from the ultra-orthodox Chabad community, in response to going public with abuse allegations.
Manny Waks said on his Facebook page on Monday that Rabbi Kluwgant's position as a community leader was "untenable" and that his thoughts were with him and his family at this difficult time.
"Hopefully he will take the time to educate himself about this issue. Also, hopefully this will assist in the healing for victims/survivors and their families, as well as the broader community."
Tzedek's acting chief executive officer, Danny Blay, said the organisation welcomed Rabbi Kluwgant's resignation.
"It sends a clear message that any less than safe and transparent responses to allegations of child sexual abuse won't be tolerated," he said.
Executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) David Marlow said Rabbi Kluwgant's resignation was necessary, given the contents of his text message.
"I believe he genuinely wants to do the right thing in terms of the victims and the police, and ensuring there is counselling and psychological services available to victims," Mr Marlow said.
"But unfortunately, he said what he said and no matter what he says (now) or how he says it, it won't be taken well."
Mr Marlow said the Yeshivah Centre in Melbourne also needed to review its practices and policies in relation to child sexual abuse allegations for any hope of progress in future.
"They will need to think about their approach to responding to complaints...I don't know that replacing a person or a couple of people will fix it. I think they need to have a good hard look at their failings in terms of governance and responding to victims."
Rabbi Kluwgant did not return calls.
The Jewish Care email announcing Kluwgant's resignation, obtained by FailedMessiah.com:
To: 01-All at Jewish Care
Subject: Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant today resigned as the General Manager of Cultural & Spiritual services at Jewish Care Victoria
Dear Staff & Volunteers,
Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant today resigned as the General Manager of Cultural & Spiritual services at Jewish Care Victoria.
I accepted Rabbi Kluwgant’s resignation following discussions about his ongoing employment including his testimony late last week to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The President of Jewish Care Victoria, Mike Debinski, and the Board, sought clarification following Rabbi Kluwgant’s appearance at the Royal Commission last Friday.
As a result of my discussions with Rabbi Kluwgant, where he expressed regret over the text message that was sent to Mr Zeddy Lawrence, Rabbi Kluwgant tendered his resignation, effective immediately.
I would like to thank Rabbi Kluwgant for his service over the last 26 years at Jewish Care Victoria.
Jewish Care Victoria has a strong record of supporting victims of abuse. In 2013 it established an independent scheme to investigate historical claims of child sexual abuse in children's homes run by predecessor Jewish welfare organisations in the 1960s.
Jewish Care Victoria’s actions show that it supports not only practical help but legal redress for people who have experienced abuse.
There is never a circumstance in which the criminal act of child sexual abuse should go unreported, and where claims are proven perpetrators should face the full force of the law.
Victims and supportive family members are never to blame for abuse. Our community has an obligation to support victims, and that is what Jewish Care Victoria will continue to do.
Senior Minister Rabbi Yoseph Nerenberg and our cultural and spiritual services team will continue to provide support services to the Jewish Care Victoria community pending a permanent appointment to the General Manager role. Mark Joel will be the Acting General Manager – Cultural & Spiritual Services as an interim arrangement.
Should staff / volunteers need assistance, please feel free to access Jewish Care’s confidential Employee Assistance Program 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 1300 361 008.
Despite a wave of devastating revelations under oath at the Royal Commission investigating child sex abuse in Chabad institutions – including repeated testimony from top Chabad leaders that they failed to report child sex abuse to police or take mandated steps to protect children – Chabad's top international leadership based in Brooklyn, New York (and Philadelphia) have refused to commen – or even to publicly apologize to victims.