Thursday, December 21, 2017

RCANZ Does it Again

Once again the RCANZ (Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand) has outdone itself with irresponsible public statements.

Just a few days ago, they put out a statement as a response to a report by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It seems that their outlet for statements is an Australian organization called Kol V'Oz which is dedicated to “Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in the Global Jewish Community” and this is where the statement appears. After reading the statement, I can only say, in the clearest of terms, that it is fundamentally flawed and a misuse of the teachings of our gedolim. I am shaken to the core!

How so?

First, let’s have a look at the statement:

The Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand (RCANZ) Executive has made the following powerful statement in response to the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse:

The Royal Commission has now completed its work. The findings in general, and in particular the findings in relation to the failures of the rabbinic leadership of Yeshiva Sydney and Melbourne, must shake us to the core.

The Rabbinate as a whole must share responsibility in its failure to have educated itself and the community properly as to the true Torah values that do not allow mesira or any similar concept to be used to protect perpetrators and allow children to be left in harm’s way. We must recognise the great Chilul Hashem that was caused because we were not the light unto the nations that we should have been, but rather we contributed to the darkness. We can make no excuses and any apology we may make at this time must not be mere platitude.

We must truly absorb the horror that the Royal Commission has found, that instead of being protectors of the weak and innocent, Rabbis were directly responsible for the sexual abuse that occurred to children. There can be no greater shame, and no greater admonition to all of us, than that failure.

We must be grateful for and applaud the victims who had the extraordinary courage to stand up and be counted whether they were named or were represented anonymously. Reading their testimony breaks our heart. Make no mistake, the shunning still occurs. They still suffer not just for the abuse but at the hands of those who would blame them for exposing the community to criticism. We have all heard it, even now, and even amongst some within the leadership of the community. We as a Rabbinate say loudly and clearly: Those who spoke up are heroes who reflect the highest biblical ideals of the pursuit of Justice. We call on all members of the community finally to acknowledge and recognise all those who spoke out, as the true heroes they are and to give them and their families the respect they truly deserve.

Chanukah teaches us that a little light dispels a great deal of darkness. The light that the Royal Commission has shone on the darkness within our community must be the kindling for a great fire. We of the RCANZ have resolved to do everything we can so that the light we generate dispels once and for all, the darkness that is the abuse of children and the abuse of survivors.

Powerful, indeed. The statement itself is well written and quite principled. It says very appropriate and powerful things, BUT…
…the important thing is not what the statement says, but what it does. Or, what can happen as a result.

Believe it or not, this is a very irresponsible, scary, and dangerous statement. On the surface it appears to be very saintly, sincere and contrite and a confession of past sins. Ashamnu, bagadnu, We have sinned. We have erred. We must do better.

The problem is that it does not look like they are trying to center the pendulum, but rather to swing it to the opposite extreme. A statement like this is bound to be read that "anything goes". For child abuse there is no such thing as "mesira" and likewise no such thing as due process or protecting the rights of one who is only suspected and accused of things that they may not have done. Nothing to tell their followers to think and ask before they do things that can be more damaging than they imagine. Damaging even to those they think they are protecting.

It is wonderful to praise those who have the bravery to speak out, but it is not always a good idea to speak out to just anybody - for the sake of all parties concerned. One must know what to speak, when to speak, how to speak, and to whom to speak. In most cases, and certainly whenever possible, it requires rabbinic guidance in each case.

Aside from being the teaching of the Chofetz Chaim and just plain common sense (see my posts about the 3 Ps and the 3 Cs), it is the ruling of Moreinu Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, ZTVK"L (click HERE). 

As I wrote previously about the Australians, they are sadly not an am chacham. They do not see the nolad.

I hope the Australian Jewish community can survive the tribulations of this generation, but I think it is a time for a change in leadership.

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