Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Waks Case in Australia : Abuse isn't reported to avoid abuse by the community

The Australian   The fears that choke child-abuse victims in every community cast an even darker shadow in orthodox circles, where dirty laundry is typically dealt with in-house. The archaic concept of Mesirah - the prohibition on reporting another Jew’s wrongdoing to non-Jewish authorities - still exerts a powerful hold. Zephaniah began to feel a bristling towards him from the first Sabbath after his son’s disclosures. That Saturday in the synagogue the most senior spiritual leader, Rabbi Zvi Telsner, delivered a stern sermon from the pulpit. “Who gave you permission to talk to anyone? Which rabbi gave you permission?” he thundered, without mentioning any names. Zephaniah and his wife Chaya walked out in a spontaneous protest with six others. Rabbi Telsner insists his remarks were not directed at any individual. “It’s like calling someone fat,” he tells me. “If you think you’re fat that’s up to you.” He had dismissed as “absolute rubbish” any suggestion he sought to discourage witnesses from stepping forward.

Slowly and surely, during the weeks and months that followed, the Waks began to detect slights and snubs in personal and religious forums, making life increasingly fraught. Zephaniah has been denied religious blessings routinely dispensed to others. Men who have accompanied him to religious studies for years now cut him dead. Intimate friends no longer share their table or invite him to family celebrations. Whispering campaigns besmirch him as a “dobber” or “moser” and anonymous bloggers have defamed him. [...]

Appearing with his son Manny in December, he gave his account of the dynamics at work. "Why people do not talk? What sort of pressure is put on people? If you come forward and it becomes known it is a closed community; everybody knows everything - you are going to have trouble getting marriages for your children. This is a very, very strong thing and people are very fearful... It's a terrible dilemma for a parent: family name, stigma - all that sort of stuff." [...]

Rabbi Telsner denies there has been a vendetta against Zephaniah: "It is absolutely false from beginning to end." He says the decision to withhold blessings from him was made by a synagogue committee. "We give it to the people who deserve it," he says.


  1. I do not know anything about the story or the individuals involved. What I find offensive is the misuse of the pulpit. If this rabbi had a point to make, he needed to do so in his office. Maybe he is right, maybe not. But the public embarrassment is certainly not the way of the Torah. Moreover, his pronouncement is an opinion, not a psak din. He needed to use better judgment. he effectively revictimize a victim, and that is intolerable. He needs another career.

  2. Okay, so some in the community turn on you out of ignorance and idiocy. Why would you want to be around those people in the first place?

  3. Mighty Garnel Ironheart,

    It is not so easy to walk away from the community in which you have invested decades. You certainly would have the right to. But you should have the right to stay. Saying, just take a hike is not a substantive response to the identified problem: witness intimidation

  4. So one should just give in and walk?


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