By Barney Zwartz (The Age)
January 31, 2013
A leading rabbi who compared child sex abuse to diarrhoea - ''it's embarrassing but nobody's business'' - will be sued in Jewish courts by a victim advocacy group that wants him to stand down.
In a lecture posted on YouTube but later removed, Rabbi Manis Friedman says that not reciting a blessing after eating cake is worse than being sexually abused, that victims learn ''an important lesson'' from abuse, and suggests victims ''are not that damaged, cut it out''.
Rabbi Friedman is an emissary at large from the Chabad Lubavitch headquarters in New York, and has been generally regarded as a serious and moderate figure in the Orthodox movement. That movement, and particularly its Melbourne Yeshivah centre, has been embroiled in child sex abuse controversies.
Manny Waks, an abuse victim at Yeshivah himself in the 1980s and founder of the Tzedek advocacy group for Jewish abuse survivors, said on Thursday he had launched lawsuits against Rabbi Friedman in the Jewish court or Beth Din in Sydney and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York. The courts would decide which of them had jurisdiction.
In the YouTube video, in which Rabbi Friedman is talking to male students, he is asked about a man whose girlfriend dropped him when he told her he had been abused. Rabbi Friedman replies: ''What's wrong with him is that he mentioned it. Do I have to tell that I was molested? Do you have to tell that you once had diarrhoea? It's embarrassing, but nobody's business.
''There's collateral damage. It's not the event itself, it's the loss of trust, the feeling of weakness or vulnerability. Those issues are issues even if you weren't molested. But the event itself - 'I'm damaged from the molestation' - no, you're not. In fact you've learnt that not every uncle is your best friend, you've learnt an important lesson.''
In another recording, Rabbi Friedman tells a girl from a Russian family: ''What! You think you were the only one molested? You think your mother and grandmother back in Russia made it through their teenage years without being molested?''
Mr Waks says in his application to the Jewish court that Rabbi Friedman is ''doing untold damage to the entire Jewish community. As a global leader, he is damaging the reputation of the Jewish community broadly. He is also perpetuating the negative perception many have of the ultra-Orthodox community.
''Most concerning, he is having a direct, damaging impact on victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and their families. [His] remarks may give succour to elements within the Chabad-Lubavitch Yeshivah community in Melbourne, who have responded abysmally to the serious allegations of abuse within their institutions.''
Mr Waks wants the court to make the rabbi retract his remarks and apologise. He told Fairfax Media that victims might be deterred from reporting abuse to police or from seeking therapy by the rabbi's ''deeply hurtful and offensive'' comments, and that the rabbi should stand down from every leadership position.
Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, president of the Organisation of Australasian Rabbis, said in an email to Mr Waks that Rabbi Friedman seemed to trivialise and minimise the damage sexual abuse caused victims.
''It is simply ignorance to say we are all 'damaged' in the same manner as victims of sexual abuse and it is the height of insensitivity to suggest the treatment for a victim is just to perform additional mitzvois [good works].''
Fairfax Media could not contact Rabbi Friedman.