Image: Rabbi Moshe Gutnick (Source: Australian Jewish News)
Moshe Gutnick, the president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australia, has issued an apology for the organisation’s failings to combat child sexual abuse within its components. It is believed to be a world first for a rabbi.
A letter was sent to all leaders of the State Orthodox peak bodies in Australia (as well as New Zealand) asking them to disseminate it to their rabbinic members. Rabbi Gutnick has also requested that the rabbis distribute the letter to their congregants either before or during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – Judaism’s holiest day.
Victims’ support group Tzedek, founded by activist Manny Waks welcomed the move. Mr. Waks said, “This is another incredible milestone for the Australian Jewish community. Crucially, this ground-breaking letter provides a frank acknowledgement of past mistakes and an unequivocal apology by Rabbi Gutnick on behalf of the Rabbinate. The letter rightly does not go into specific cases but rather acknowledges that the Rabbinate has in the past dealt abysmally with the issue of child sexual abuse.”
“This is an important development – it is an acknowledgment that many victims and survivors within religious institutions have longed to hear; that finally the national peak Orthodox rabbinic organisation is taking responsibility for the abuse they suffered, as well as for the subsequent cover-ups. Indeed it is what the entire community needed to hear, as without properly addressing the past, it is difficult to move forward towards a better future.”
“This may very well be a world first and I am particularly proud that an Australian rabbi and the peak Orthodox organisation in Australia, ORA, have demonstrated such courageous leadership. It is never easy to acknowledge past mistakes and apologize, as Rabbi Gutnick and ORA have now done. Hopefully the global Orthodox community will follow suit.”
“For whatever reason, a culture of cover-up, often couched in religious terms pervaded our thinking and actions. It may even have been well-intentioned, but it was simply wrong,” the letter said.
While there is no doubt that the letter marks a significant step forward, Mr. Waks and others will be only too aware, from the experiences with other religious organisations, that the apology is only the first move in a continuing process.
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Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)