[16 February 2015] - The most senior rabbi in Australia has resigned, days after appearing before the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, the president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, stepped down on Monday morning, the immediate past president, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, confirmed.
Child sexual abuse victims said Kluwgant’s position was untenable after the commission heard on Friday that he had called the father of three sons who were sexually abused a “lunatic” who was guilty of “killing” the Orthodox Jewish Chabad community within which his sons had been violated.
Zephaniah Waks told the commission how he and his family were ostracised and bullied by religious leaders after speaking out about the abuse within Chabad’s Yeshivah centre headquarters in Melbourne.
The commission heard that as Waks was giving his evidence, Kluwgant sent a text message to the editor of the Australian Jewish News that read: “Zephaniah is killing us."
“He is a lunatic on the fringe, guilty of neglect of his own children,” it said. “Where was he when all this was happening?”
Waks’s son Manny, who was abused within the centre, said Kluwgant’s resignation was welcome.
“I hope this is his first step towards educating himself about child sexual abuse and that he can contribute towards being a part of the solution to it from now on,” Waks said.
“But he is unfit to hold any leadership position. As he holds several high-profile positions within the Yeshivah community, I feel he should resign from them all.”
Kluwgant’s resignation is the second to result from the hearings. The director of the Sydney Yeshivah centre, Rabbi Yosef Feldman, resigned last week, after offending child sex abuse victims and members of the Jewish community during his evidence.
Since 2013, the commission has been investigating how institutions such as schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.
The past fortnight of hearings was the first time the orthodox Yeshivah centres had come under its scrutiny. The Yeshivah centres in New South Wales and Victoria run schools, religious activities and youth programs. Failures to address child sexual abuse within the centres were highlighted before the commission at Melbourne’s county court.
Read an article summing up the child sexual abuse scandal in Australia's Jewish communities here.