‘Rabbi has blood on hands over abuse’


An inquiry into a child sex abuse scandal that engulfed two Australian Chabad institutions in the 1980s and 1990s has been suffused with acrimony and accusations, tragedy and trauma.

In an email to one of the victims that was read out at the hearing last week, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, from Sydney, said: “I’m prepared to say that Rabbi [Boruch] Lesches lied when he said that he didn’t know about the abuse.”

Lesches, who now lives in the US, was a senior official at Chabad’s headquarters in Sydney at the time of the abuse. It is understood he will not appear before the commission despite attempts by Australian officials to bring him in.

“People say that everything that will come out is a hilul hashem (desecration of God’s name) — I say the hilul hashem is if it doesn’t come out,” Rabbi Gutnick wrote. “These guys are all bastards. They all have blood on their hands.”

The inquiry at the Royal Commision is probing how leaders of Melbourne’s Yeshivah Centre and its Sydney counterpart responded to multiple claims of sexual abuse.

Unsurprisingly, the damning testimonies and explosive admissions have fuelled a barrage of bad publicity — in print, on radio, TV and online, where details of the sordid scandal are being streamed live.

David Cyprys and David Kramer, former employees at Yeshivah in Melbourne, were convicted and jailed in 2013; Daniel “Gug” Hayman, a one-time director of Sydney’s Yeshiva, was convicted in 2014 with a suspended sentence.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry described statements at the hearings by Rabbi Yossi Feldman, of Chabad in Sydney, as “repugnant to Jewish values” and called his position “untenable” after the rabbi told the commission that reformed paedophiles were not a threat to society and that the law should be lenient on those who have refrained from abusing children for decades.

“It is unacceptable for any religious leader to confess ignorance of basic law relating to the crime of child sexual abuse or to suggest that there are circumstances in which instances of such abuse should not be reported to the authorities,” said president Robert Goot in a statement. “Nobody should take the law into their own hands, or be encouraged to do so. We believe his position as a religious leader has become untenable.”

Meanwhile, Rabbi James Kennard, principal of Melbourne’s largest Jewish school, called on senior officials to stand down shortly after the first week of hearings ended.

“While anyone who held a position of leadership in the yeshivah community in the period when these terrible mistakes were made remains in such a position today, the community is not able to say that it has learnt and it has changed,” Rabbi Kennard posted on Facebook.

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