Australia’s most senior Orthodox rabbi has apologised for years of mishandling and cover-up of child sexual abuse within the Jewish community and urged abusers to hand themselves in to police.
“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,” said Moshe Gutnick, the president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australia, on Wednesday.
Ahead of the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement, Rabbi Gutnick told victims no one could know their pain and what they had been through.
“And the pain has only been magnified by our inaction. On this holiest of days, I sincerely beg your forgiveness on behalf of all of us who did not hear your voice.
“I can only assure you on my behalf, and on behalf of the vast majority of the Rabbinate, that we hear you now loud and clear.”
To abusers, he said “you will be found. It may not be today, it may not even to be tomorrow, but it will happen. There will be justice if not in this world, most definitely in the next … Turn yourselves in.”
Rabbi Gutnick’s letter has been sent to the state Orthodox groups in Australia in New Zealand to be disseminated to rabbis and congregations for the Day of Atonement on Friday.
He wrote: “Until we make amends with our fellow man, we cannot find atonement with Hashem (God).”
He said the Jewish community had been “affected by this scourge no differently than any other community” and that it had not handled the issue appropriately.
He recognised victims’ advocacy groups such as Tzedek, whose founder Manny Waks has previously been highly critical of rabbinical denials.
On Wednesday, Mr Waks called the letter an “incredible milestone” and ground-breaking for the Australian Jewish community.
He said it was an acknowledgement victims had longed to hear. “This may very well be a world first and I am particularly proud that an Australian rabbi and the peak Orthodox organisation in Australia, have demonstrated such courageous leadership.”
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