Top Australian rabbi resigns over sex commission texts

Meir Shlomo Kluwgant steps down after writing that father of abuse victims is ‘a lunatic on the fringe’

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, who resigned as president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, on February 16, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube/The Shabbos Project)
Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, who resigned as president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, on February 16, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube/The Shabbos Project)

Australia’s most senior rabbi resigned on Monday after testimony in a child sexual-abuse commission revealed he had sent a message calling the father of some victims “a lunatic.”

Meir Shlomo Kluwgant stepped down from his position as president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia as well as from the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, the third high-profile rabbi to resign amid an inquiry into sexual abuse at educational institutions that has rocked the Jewish community.

Victoria Police said that Kluwgant was no longer part of its Multi-Faith Advisory Committee, a position he had held since 2011. The rabbi also resigned from his managerial position at Jewish Care Victoria, a community support organization.

Calls for Kluwgant’s removal from office came after testimony that was heard last Friday at the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Abuse that has shocked the Australian Jewish community by uncovering how education institutes allegedly failed to properly address reports of abuse.

The commission heard the testimony of Zephaniah Waks, the father of three sexually abused children. Waks claimed the Jewish community had shunned him and his family because he reported abuse at Chabad’s Yeshivah Center in Melbourne.

“Zephaniah is killing us,” Kluwgant texted to the editor of the Australian Jewish News, denouncing the father of three. “He is a lunatic on the fringe, guilty of neglect of his own children. Where was he when all this was happening?”

The Australian government has begun investigating sexual-assault cases from Jewish religious schools as part of an overall inquiry into child abuse in various institutions, Jewish and otherwise, across the country.

Last week Yosef Feldman, director of the Yeshivah Center, resigned after admitting to the commission that he “didn’t have a clue” that it might be criminal for a member of staff to touch the genitals of a student and that he was unaware of the correct procedures for reporting incidents of sex abuse, The Guardian reported.

Rabbi Abraham Glick, who headed the yeshiva, also resigned last week.

The commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began its investigation in 2013. It has investigated the Catholic Church, the Australian Scouts, a yoga ashram and other groups, as well as inquiries into several sexual-assault cases in the Jewish community in order to report how those institutions responded to sexual abuse against children and how they prevented it — or failed to.

The Yeshivah Center Melbourne, Yeshivah-Beth Rivkah Colleges, the Yeshiva Center Chabad of New South Wales and Yeshiva College Bondi were all to be investigated in the commission. Many of those institutions are part of the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

The commission announced its intention to investigate the Jewish schools two months ago, requesting information and relevant documents and alerting the institutions to the possibility of public hearings.

The Australian Jewish community was rocked in 2013 when security guard and youth leader David Cyprys was arrested and pleaded guilty to five counts of rape, five counts of indecent assault, attempted indecent assault, and two counts of gross indecency. Cyprys is serving an eight-year sentence for his crimes.

One of the aspects that was said to interest the commission in the Jewish institutions’ sexual-abuse scandals is the insular nature of the Jewish community as a whole and the Chabad community in particular.

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