Rabbinate reform

A BODY known as the New Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (NORA) was established on Tuesday night as senior rabbis across the world insisted the current structures in Australia must change.

NORA, which was formed by the executive of the existing Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA), says it would be unlikely to accept rabbis who were disgraced at the Royal Commission as members.

Sydney’s Rabbi Selwyn Franklin, who was rabbi at Central Synagogue in the 1990s and was the founding president of ORA, was appointed as interim president.

Rabbi Franklin told The AJN that in the wake of the Commission, the rabbis need to regroup, re-establish and have stricter guidelines.

“We have created a membership committee under NORA and we will establish preliminary guidelines and criteria for members this Thursday,” he said. “All members will have to apply to join NORA.

“In reference to the Royal Commission – clearly we would like to move beyond that and anyone tainted by that process we would have significant reservations about accepting them as members.”

NORA was created amid calls from across the world for rabbis in Australia to take action.

Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said that the Royal Commission has “sent shock waves throughout the Jewish world and well beyond it”.

“Whilst the past cannot be changed, now is the time for the necessary positive steps to ensure that responsibility is taken, lessons are learnt and that every schoolchild and parent can feel secure in the knowledge that everything is being done to tackle this and to provide appropriate support,” he said.

Mount Scopus Memorial College principal Rabbi James Kennard and Blake Street Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Ian Goodhardt said in a joint statement that the Royal Commission “must be a catalyst for change”.

“The future must be different from the past.

“The Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) and the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia are currently failing in their task.”

They called on rabbis leading organisations to ensure that they are each accountable to a board that is empowered to investigate policies and procedures.

“An entirely new culture, and new structures of accountability and leadership are needed if we can truly move forward.”

And they called on more people to resign.

“Those whose testimony at the Commission created a chilul Hashem (desecration of God’s name), who exacerbated the pain of the victims of abuse and who brought the community into disrepute should relinquish their communal positions with immediate effect.”

The sentiment was echoed by the RCV itself which stated in the wake of Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant’s resignation, “We call upon others, rabbis and lay leaders alike, who were implicated in the testimony presented at the Royal Commission to follow suit and take ultimate responsibility for their actions.”

The RCV also said it would “use this opportunity to improve its membership criteria and to introduce better forms of accountability and governance of our members.”

In a letter to The AJN this week, Rabbi Shamir Caplan from Melbourne’s Beit Aharon congregation wrote, “Big questions have been asked about whether the existing rabbinical organisational infrastructures as currently constituted are able to provide unbiased and stringent oversight on this issue … what is absolutely clear to me is that the status quo is unacceptable. It simply is too painful.”

A group of Orthodox rabbis in Sydney released a video prior to last Shabbat apologising to victims, telling child abusers they will not be shielded by the community and pledging to put victims ahead of institutions.

“Where there is darkness, you can be sure we are going to fight it. For your children, for my children, for all of our children’s sake,” they said.

JOSHUA LEVI

Rabbi Selwyn Franklin (centre) at the Walk for Israel in Sydney.