Australian Chabad under fire over ongoing failings following sex abuse cases


Much has changed within the Chabad world since the Royal Commission hearings, more than two years ago, into child sexual abuse in the Melbourne and Sydney Yeshiva communities.

But old loyalties remain stubbornly resistant to change. Rabbi Zvi Telsner, the disgraced former chief rabbi of the Yeshiva Centre in Melbourne, is still being paid a salary more than 18 months after he resigned over his conduct towards victims and their families.

At the Royal Commission’s final hearing into the two communities on Thursday, Rabbi Chaim Zvi Groner, the Director of Adult Torah Education at the Yeshiva Centre, was unable to shed light on why Rabbi Telsner was still being paid a salary when his involvement these days amounts to being a congregant and giving occasional classes.

“Why does he still receive a salary?” asked counsel assisting the commission, Naomi Sharp.

Rabbi Groner: “The current board is dealing with this in regard to the financial arrangement around his resignation.”

“Does he still occupy a position of leadership?


The questions of governance and awareness were key themes in this last hearing, which brought together Rabbis Groner and Smukler, the principal of Yeshiva colleges in Melbourne; Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, head of the Yeshiva Centre; and Rabbi Dovid Slavin, head of the Yeshiva College, both from Bondi, to give evidence on the same panel.

The commission asked the rabbis about various policies they have instituted in response to the original hearings – relating to matters such as conflict of interest, child protection, dealing with complaints and mikveh protocols.

In relation to a child protection policy, Rabbi Feldman admitted his centre had developed one policy to cover school programmes, which “by osmosis” would apply to the synagogue and youth programmes because they all took place on the same premises. He told the Commission that in the last few days he had rectified this oversight and created a child protection policy that expressly applied to the synagogue.

Rabbi Feldman then admitted he signed off on the Chabad Youth child protection policy without knowing what was in it. “I accept that I have dropped the ball,” he said.

Rabbi Groner also admitted to an embarrassing lapse over a redress scheme. The Yeshivah Centre in Melbourne launched its redress scheme at the end of 2015, but only left it open for 13 months, he said.

 “Why only 13 months?” asked counsel.

“That was the recommendation of the Royal Commission.”

When he was told the Commission had never made such a recommendation, Rabbi Groner then agreed that that if someone now belatedly approached the centre for redress, they would be disadvantaged. “We would bring it to our board,” he said, conceding there was room for improvement.

Earlier in the hearing, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick from the Sydney Beth Din admitted that he had not heard of any abuse cases until 2011, which prompted a commissioner to ask why it took the Chabad leadership so long to appreciate the gravity of child sexual abuse, when it had been widely reported in the secular world for decades.

“We considered ourselves safe, different.”

 “Was there something fundamental in the Jewish faith to be slow to respond to emerging issues?”

Rabbi Gutnick: “On the contrary. …but we were naïve. We are a very small community so examples of abuse would be small – one or two, unlike the Catholic Church.”

“Why not come forward?”

Rabbi Gutnick: “Jews have an innate embarrassment about showing the rest of the world our faults. It comes from being a minority for so long.”

Michael Visontay is co-author, with Manny Waks, of Who Gave You Permission? The memoir of a child sexual-abuse survivor who fought back (published in the UK by Scribe)



Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive