Rabbi Telsner’s tenure ends at Yeshivah

Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Telsner. Photo: AJN file

YEARS of controversy surrounding Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Telsner’s employment at Melbourne Yeshivah Centre have finally come to an end today (Thursday).

Four years after officially resigning as the centre’s senior rabbi, and two years after Chabad Institutions of Victoria (CIVL) board member Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner assured the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that Rabbi Telsner does not “still occupy a position of leadership”, he was still taking on leadership roles and was still employed by CIVL.

But in May this year the CIVL board, which is an arm of the Yeshivah Centre, wrote to the community announcing that it would not renew Rabbi Telsner’s contract when it ended in August and that it had “appointed a committee to take the task of searching for a rabbi of Yeshivah Shule”.

Some within the community fought against the decision, but despite pressure from supporters of Rabbi Telsner the board stood by its decision and confirmed to The AJN that today is his last day.

“This letter is to notify the community that the CIVL board has decided not to renew Rabbi Telsner’s contract,” CIVL said in a letter to the community today.

“As such, as of the 22nd of August (today) Rabbi Telsner will no longer be employed by CIVL or any of its affiliated entities.”

The board thanked the rabbi and his family for his 12 years of contribution to the community.

“Since moving with his family from London in 2007 to act as the community’s Dayan, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Telsner have dedicated themselves to the community.”

When Telsner previously resigned he noted, “I recognise that my conduct towards victims and their families did not demonstrate these values or behaviour to the extent necessary of a rabbi in my position. Accordingly, I have decided to stand down from my position as rabbi at the Yeshivah Centre, effective immediately.”

Manny Waks, who was the victim of child sexual abuse at the Yeshivah Centre, welcomed the decision.

“During his time as Head Rabbi of the Yeshivah Centre, it was revealed that countless children had previously been sexually abused by multiple perpetrators and that the Yeshivah Centre had covered up these crimes and protected the perpetrators while enabling the sexual abuse of more children in Australia and overseas,” Waks said.

“Rather than offer support to victims and their families as would be expected of a religious leader in his position, (Rabbi) Telsner turned on victims and on numerous occasions attacked victims and their families, both personally and from the Yeshivah pulpit, characterising our legitimate pursuit of justice and engagement with civil authorities as actions designed to harm the Yeshivah Centre and the reputation of his late father in law, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, who was principally responsible for our abuse.”

Waks revealed that in recent months he has been part of a Restorative Justice process with Rabbi Telsner, which gave him an opportunity to articulate to the rabbi the impact of his conduct so that Rabbi Telsner would gain a better understanding of his actions, accept some responsibility and demonstrate commitment to reform.

“Disappointingly, following our initial, lengthy session, (Rabbi) Telsner failed to engage in follow-up with the facilitator as they had committed to do,” Waks said.

“Numerous attempts by the facilitator to chase him for responses were ignored. Once again, this was another slap in the face to me and other victims of child sexual abuse whom I represent.”

“(Rabbi) Telsner has not only brought shame on himself, but also on the Chabad movement, the Groner family, the Yeshivah Centre and its community, and the broader Jewish community. He owes each of those an apology.”

Rabbi Telsner’s role came under scrutiny at the Royal Commission in relation to treatment of victims, and their families, who publicly revealed their abuse.

Rabbi Telsner told The AJN that he didn’t want to comment.

JOSHUA LEVI