Australia's most powerful coalition of rabbis has for first time called for heads to roll at Yeshivah institutions, after damning findings in the royal commission exposed that child abuse was ignored and enabled by its leaders.
Executives at the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand, the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and the Rabbinical Council of New South Wales, have joined forces to take the strongest position to date on the need for reform in the community, which has been rocked by wide-ranging child abuse scandals.
The senior rabbinate called on leaders who intimidated victims to vacate their positions, claiming they have "lost their moral right to serve as leaders in our communities".
"We call on those who have been identified in the report as not fulfilling their legal obligations to protect children to stand down from their public positions," read the statement, released on Wednesday.
"We believe that those who denigrated or undermined the victims have lost their moral right to serve as leaders in our communities.
"The rabbinate must demonstrate that Judaism and the Jewish community will not tolerate child sexual abuse and those who perpetrate it, and must support those who have suffered.
"Child sexual abuse has caused unimaginable suffering to the victims in our communities ... we offer our deepest sympathies to the victims and commit ourselves to learning from the failures of the past.
"Victims were not always believed or supported, adding to the trauma."
The statement was released a day after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found paedophiles were given unfettered access to victims at Yeshivah Melbourne and Yeshiva Bondi, and victims were vilified for speaking out about abuse.
The rabbis did not name leaders at Yeshivah Melbourne or Yeshiva Bondi, leaving the charge open to those identified by the commission, but leaders singled out prominently by the hearing include:
Rabbi Pinchus Feldman
Photo: Andrew Meares
The Royal Commission heard that after child abuse allegations were levelled against a volunteer at Yeshiva Bondi, AVL, the volunteer left the country.
AVL said in a meeting before his departure with Yeshiva Centre's head rabbi in Bondi, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, that he was contemplating leaving Australia, the commission heard.
The commission found that Rabbi Pinchus Feldman and his son, Rabbi Yosef Feldman, who was also at the meeting, "did not take any steps to inform anyone that AVL was contemplating leaving Australia".
"Rabbi Pinchus Feldman told us that he 'did not believe that [he] had that obligation' to report to police that a complaint had been made and that he believed AVL might leave the country," the commission said.
Rabbi Pinchus Feldman told the commission in his testimony: "I did not act, I did not notify the police that he said that he may be going. As I say, if this was an error of judgment, then I apologise."
The commission noted, however, that according to evidence provided by a former Yeshiva College principal, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman had instructed the principal to "follow the procedures required by law" after it emerged that the volunteer had left the country.
Rabbi Yosef Feldman
Rabbi Yosef Feldman
The son of Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, who stepped down from his senior role at Yeshiva Bondi following his explosive public testimony in 2015, told the commission he "recently learnt of the serious criminal nature of child sexual abuse".
He said he 'didn't know much about sex abuse at all' and that 'it didn't enter into [his] mind the whole idea of what's considered a legal crime or not."
In 2011, Rabbi Feldman wrote an email to other rabbis questioning the need to immediately report child molestation to police.
In 2013, after his friend Hayman was charged with child abuse, he emailed a rabbi asking if he was "happy that your strong statement to musser in all instances may result in Hayman going to jail for a crime he committed 25 years earlier".
The commission said Rabbi Feldman supplied the Australian Jewish News with a false statement of his views to defend his reputation, and accused him of prioritising the "perspective of the perpetrator rather than that of the victim".
He also told the commission there was no "pressing requirement" for him to undertake training, as he viewed the approach to the issue to be "common sense".
Rabbi Zvi Telsner
The head rabbi at Yeshivah Melbourne, and son-in-law of the late Rabbi Dovid Groner, was highlighted for making public statements about the Jewish law against Loshon Horo (the act of gossiping about another Jew), which the commission said would have given people the impression that discussion about child abuse was "prohibited".
Victim advocate Manny Waks was portrayed as "sinful" after Rabbi Telsner admonished him for speaking to the media about abuse at Yeshivah, causing Mr Waks and his family to be "ostracised by many members of the Yeshivah Melbourne community", the commission found.
Rabbi Telsner addressed a rhetorical question to the congregants in his speech soon after Mr Wak's public exposure in 2011, posing: 'Who gave you permission to talk to anyone?'.
The commission concluded: "That rhetorical question could only have added to the impression in the community that discussing child sexual abuse was in breach of Loshon Horo and therefore a sin."
"We do not accept the evidence of Rabbi Telsner that the sermon was not about Mr Manny Waks and was not designed to limit public criticism of Rabbi Telsner's father-in-law, the late Rabbi Groner."
The commission also found Rabbi Telsner delivered another sermon in 2011, after an email was circulated urging people to speak to police about abuse.
The commission said the rabbi compared the "gravity of the sin of sending emails containing gossip or slander ... with the tragic Torah reading of the story of the spies".
Rabbi Boruch Lesches
The former senior rabbi at Yeshiva Bondi received complaints about Hayman in the 1980s but did not contact police, the commission reported.
In 1989, it was heard that a female victim told Rabbi Lesches that Hayman exhibited himself naked to her, but he accused her of "invent[ing]" the story and told her to "get over it".
He is now a senior rabbi in the US.
What the victims say
Prominent victim advocate Manny Waks said the joint statement by the coalition of rabbis was "powerful and moving" and commended them for taking a strong stance.
"It will be comforting for victims/survivors and our families - indeed, for the entire community. It will also help to restore the community's faith in the rabbinate."
However, a victim who did not want to be named, said the statement still let people off the hook.
They said the failure to name who should step down would cause people to say "not me".
"Reads well, but on a practical basis, will have ... nil effect," they said. "In my experience, rabbis protect each other. Always have. Always will."
It has also emerged that Yeshiva Centre Bondi accused the commission of inaccurately portraying its child protection policies as "unclear".
The centre said it had "rigorous" protocols and all staff were required to undergo training.
It also said the commission "does not make any findings of failures of governance at Yeshiva Bondi under the leadership of Rabbi Pinchus Feldman".
"Yeshiva is committed to studying this report along with other reports from the Commission into general standards and governance to ensure continuous improvement and enhancement of the community service that we provide.