Is It Time For The Australian Government and The Jewish Community to Overthrow Chabad Religious Cult Leadership?
Manny Waks, who was the lead victim in the Melbourne Chabad child sex abuse scandal, writes about the new letter (and the 1973 letter it is based on) from Chabad’s international leadership.
That letter essentially bans transparency and democracy. It also treats the massive Chabad child sex abuse scandal as a bother and inconvenience for Melbourne Chabad’s trustees while offering no support at all for the victims of those trustees’ mismanagement and neglect.
More than all that, the letters make clear that while Chabad-Lubavitch’s Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was alive, he took a special interest in and even controlled what happened in Melbourne. That means many of the child sex abuse coverups took place under Schneerson’s active and engaged watch.
The letters also show that the idea that Chabad worldwide is made up of independent franchises with no hierarchical control based in Chabad’s Brooklyn headquarters is false – something Chabad child sex abuse victims who are thinking of suing should take note of.
Manny Waks’ response to these letters:
I have deliberately stayed silent on the proposed governance ‘reforms’ that have been recently disseminated by the Melbourne Yeshivah Centre in response to last year’s Royal Commission. Some of the proposed ‘changes’ are concerning and appear no more than an attempt by the existing trustees to entrench their power when the only proper course of action is for them to resign. But rather than criticise, I wanted to afford the Yeshivah Centre the opportunity to properly consider its position and, to the extent that they’re prepared to speak up, to hear what the rest of the Yeshivah/Chabad community had to say.
However, it now seems that the Yeshivah Centre has been vetoed by the organisation that apparently has always had ultimate power, authority and responsibility: Chabad Headquarters, which is based in Brooklyn New York. It is important to note that since this scandal became public in 2011, Chabad Headquarters have remained silent for the most part, other than a solitary statement issued following the Royal Commission.
The intervention by Chabad Headquarters raises a number of questions about their responsibility for the child sexual abuse cover-ups within Yeshivah and their failure to speak out against the leadership and communal bullying and harassment of child sexual abuse victims, their families and supporters. At the same time, it again exposes the incompetence of the Yeshivah leadership who can’t even seem to clean up their own mess properly. I have briefly addressed each of these issues below, and reproduced the letter from Chabad Headquarters and the 1973 Merkos Guidelines they reference in their letter.
The Role of Chabad Headquarters
As is clear from the Chabad Headquarters letter, in their view at least, the Yeshivah Centre has at all times functioned under the ‘overarching authority’ of ‘the Rebbe zy”a and his representatives at Lubavitch World Headquarters in New York and in Melbourne’. The questions that need to be asked are: What did they know about the sexual abuse of so many children at Yeshivah? What did they know about the cover-ups? What did they know about the ongoing intimidation of victims, their families and supporters? Why have they waited until now to intervene? Were they comfortable with the way Yeshivah responded to victims of child sexual abuse or did they simply not view child sexual abuse as an issue worthy of their intervention?
As far as I’m concerned, they have had plenty of opportunity to have a positive impact on the Yeshivah Centre and community. Instead, they seemingly chose to stand idly by and allow the ‘Chabad ethos’ to be trampled. And now that their power risks being taken from them, they have intervened at the last minute. From my perspective, and that of the victims I’ve spoken to, it is too little too late.
During the Royal Commission, the global Chabad leadership were apparently too busy to speak to journalists. Perhaps now they can start answering questions about the responsibility of Chabad Headquarters for the sexual abuse of children seemingly within their institutions, the subsequent cover-ups of these crimes, followed up by the campaign of intimidation of victims, their families and supporters.
The Role of the Melbourne Yeshivah Centre Leadership
There has been much talk about changes occurring in the Yeshivah leadership since the Royal Commission. While there has been some positive change, including the installation by the trustees of an alternative Committee of Management and the resignation of some trustees, the reality is this: Every trustee who is running Yeshivah today was also running Yeshivah at the time of the abuse, cover-ups and intimidation. They are the same people who led Yeshivah to a Royal Commission and then promised to resign by the end of 2015. They are the same people who, rather than acknowledge their failures and move on, have seemingly proposed to entrench their power for an extended period. And a year after the Royal Commission, Yeshivah is still far from having good governance in place. The position in which they now find themselves is entirely of their own doing – rather than addressing the conflicts, acting transparently, honouring their past commitments and listening to some within their own community (and beyond) – they have carried on as they always have, as if a law unto themselves. After this latest debacle, hot on the heels of their broken promise to implement new governance by the end of 2015, they must all resign without delay.
That is not to say that the answer is for Yeshivah to again be accountable to a select group of Chabad Rabbis, as would seem to be the position of Chabad Headquarters. That model has been tried and has failed spectacularly. But it is to say (indeed to repeat) that those trustees who, by virtue of their leadership role there, have been responsible for what has transpired at Yeshivah cannot be part of the solution.
I believe the time has come where serious consideration needs to be given by the broader Jewish community and government as to whether it is appropriate for Yeshivah to continue under its current administration and in its current form. It is easy to forget amid all this chaos that victims are still hurting and seeking justice by way of holding to account those trustees who remain in power, and that the safety of children within the school is paramount. I concur with another Yeshivah victim who recently said publicly that he does not believe that safety can be guaranteed in the environment that currently exists. I would urge the community to give serious consideration to forcing the trustees to hand the Yeshivah Centre over to capable and independent trustees who can administer the Centre professionally until such time as the community has developed the appropriate structures to have it back. Ultimately it’s the safety and wellbeing of our children – past and present – that we are dealing with. And this must always come first.