Australasia's most senior rabbi resigns after damning Royal Commission evidence
MARK COLVIN: A senior rabbi has been forced to resign from his role as president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia.
Rabbi Meir Kluwgant shocked many with his evidence to the Royal Commission into child sex abuse.
He was forced to admit that he had just a week earlier he had sent a text message accusing a victim's father of bearing some of the blame for his son's abuse.
The royal commission was investigating how the ultra-orthodox Yeshivah communities in Melbourne and Sydney have handled allegations of child sexual abuse.
Samantha Donovan reports.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Last Friday Rabbi Meir Kluwgant told the royal commission that it was "absolutely" wrong to try and shift the blame for child sex abuse from the abuser and institution on to a parent.
Melinda Richards, the lawyer acting for Yeshivah College abuse victim Manny Waks, then asked him:
MELINDA RICHARDS: 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?’
MEIR KLUWGANT: I may have sent that yes.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Manny Waks immediately called for Rabbi Kluwgant's resignation from his position as president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia.
The organisation has confirmed his stepping down this afternoon.
Danny Ben-Moshe directed the Walkley award-winning documentary Code of Silence. It examined the ostracism and vilification Manny Waks and his father Zephaniah faced in Melbourne's ultra-orthodox Yeshivah community after going public.
He says Rabbi Kluwgant's resignation was inevitable.
DANNY BEN-MOSHE: In his testimony before the royal commission, the rabbi was emphasising all the good and positive work he has done working with the Yeshivah and working with victims and for victims.
If that was the context, when it was revealed that indeed the father of a victim was being denigrated in this way, and that rather than the Yeshivah institution and the rabbinical leadership accepting responsibility for this, it was easier to blame the victim and the victim's families.
And I think it was just so stark and so clear, it was something I certainly witnessed when I was making my documentary, but it was all articulated right there in that text message in that dock at the royal commission.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Danny Ben-Moshe expects the royal commission hearings will lead to a shake-up of the handling of abuse allegations in Australia’s Jewish institutions.
DANNY BEN-MOSHE: Unfortunately it seems that this is like a problem that occurs across all sectors of every community. But I think the issue that was particularly acute and which came out very clearly in the Yeshivah was the lack of governance and systems to deal with this. It was unclear, there was almost a kind of collective amnesia in testimony given from the Yeshivah.
No-one could quite remember what happened where, no minutes or notes were taken from important meetings, no-one was quite sure who had responsibility for what and I think that was something that is probably more acute to the Chabad community than it is to other sections of the community.
However I think it's also important to say this, there has been a deafening silence by the probably the majority of the wider Jewish community in terms of organisations and leadership outside of Chabad.
Other rabbis, other pulpits, other roof-body organisations on this issue and I think what they've hopefully now woken up to is that on the street as you see in social media and as you literally hear in the street, this has caused an earthquake and people just won't accept it anymore. It has brought unfortunately it seems to have brought shame on the Jewish community, it's brought shame on orthodox community, it's brought shame on the Rabbinate.
And I think it's now important that the communal leadership more broadly, ladies leadership and every single rabbi stand up and say two things.
One - not in my name and two, what needs to happen as a result of what is known, what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of practises and for people to have leadership positions.
MARK COLVIN: Danny Ben-Moshe, the documentary filmmaker, speaking to Samantha Donovan.