Image: Yeshivah College, Melbourne
In what is believed to be the only case of a member of a Jewish institution in Australia pleading guilty to child sexual abuse, Rabbi David Kramer will be sentenced next Wednesday. Kramer allegedly abused students at the prestigious Yeshivah College in Melbourne while a teacher there.
Victims’ advocate, Manny Waks, who has been very active in exposing cover-ups in Jewish institutions here, has called for the resignation of Rabbi Glick, the former head of the College, if he knew of Kramer’s offending. Outside court, Mr. Waks said he wanted the case to form part of the upcoming Royal Commission into institutional handling of child abuse allegations. “Hopefully each and every person who was responsible for whatever happened will be held to full account,” he has said.
The Kramer case is a classic example of authorities trying to cover-up for an offender, which resulted in more victims being created. At Kramer’s plea hearing on Wednesday, prosecutor Brett Sonnet said Yeshivah’s administration had initially declined to stand Kramer down because of concerns for his wellbeing. Mr Sonnet said Kramer had admitted some of the accusations, but the college did not act until parents staged a protest outside his house.
The school finally agreed to send him to Israel in 1993. Yeshivah did not report Kramer to police. When NSW police were told by victims of the offending, the police did not investigate or pass information on to other authorities. Even Kramer’s lawyer, Tim Marsh, said that Yeshivah had covered-up Kramer’s offences, saying Kramer had been “quietly shuffled out the back door to Israel.”
A former student has claimed that “Parents were threatened they would be thrown out of the school if they told police.” Another also claimed that “If you are labeled an informer, it gives the family a bad name and makes it hard for children to get married.”
In recent years, the Rabbinical Council of Victoria has stressed that the prohibitions of mesirah did not include reporting domestic violence or sexual abuse to police. (Mesirah, which means to inform on a Jew to secular authorities, is proscribed under Jewish law.) Rabbi Moshe Gutnick from the Sydney Beth Din said that, under Jewish law, any case of sexual abuse should be reported to the police, and he has encouraged people with information to come forward.
Recently, Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, stated that his Rabbinical Council “affirms its unqualified condemnation of all forms of child abuse and affirms its halachic position that the prohibitions of mesirah (reporting crimes to the civil authorities) and arka’ot (adjudication in civil courts) do not apply in cases of abuse”.
In an e-mail to other parents at the school, a Mr Vorchheimer wrote. ”As a community we must have the courage and dignity to unite and ensure a full, thorough and proper investigation is conducted, and those who took advantage of our community’s children are held to account. Ongoing silence is not an option.” This appears to be a growing opinion in the Melbourne Orthodox community.
The real message behind the Kramer case is that cover-ups lead to more victims. After moving to Israel, Kramer returned to his native United States. He was soon re-offending there. Kramer was sentenced in Missouri in 2008 for offences in that state. When he was released from his U.S. prison last year, he was immediately re-arrested pending extradition to Australia to face the Yeshivah charges. His attempt to resist extradition was rejected by the U.S. courts last October and he was returned to Australia last December for trial.
The family of one of Kramer’s U.S. victims, according to their Rabbi, Ze’ev Smason, has said that they were outraged Kramer had been able to leave Australia. ”If it is true that the Melbourne Yeshivah . . . was complicit in allowing David Kramer to escape prosecution for his crimes against an Australian child or children, the blood of his later victim . . . rests upon the yeshivah’s head,” they said.
The focus of activity in Australia is moving on from just bringing the abusers to account. It is, more and more, moving towards considering also punishing those who enable the abusers to continue their criminal actions. Organisations like Mr. Wak’s “Tzedek” (justice) group are at the forefront of this trend, within their own minority community in Australia, by calling for attention on those who covered-up the Yeshivah College case.
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That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)