A senior Chabad rabbi in America apologized on Friday after being blasted for comments he made comparing the effect of child molestation to the “embarrassment” of diarrhea.
Rabbi Manis Friedman, a co-founder of the Beis Chana educational institute, was asked advice about whether to admit child sex abuse to a girlfriend in a video that was posted on YouTube last week.
Rabbi Manis, of St. Paul, Minn., said: “He said: 'Do I have to tell [my girlfriend] that I was molested?'. I said: ‘Do you have to tell that you once had diarrhea?’ It’s embarrassing but nobody’s business.”
Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, president of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, issued a statement Thursday condemning the comments, saying the clip “appears to theologically trivialize and minimize the physical psychological and spiritual damage caused to the victims of sexual abuse.”
Rabbi Gutnick, who is also a judge on the Sydney Beth Din, added: “Child sexual abuse is one of the most heinous crimes that can be perpetrated and it is aggravated by the lasting injurious affect it has on the victims.”
In a letter Thursday to the Beth Dins of Crown Heights and Sydney, Manny Waks, the head of Tzedek, an advocacy group for victims and survivors of child sex abuse in Australia, asked the Jewish judges to sanction Rabbi Manis and called for an “unreserved public apology” to victims.
“As a former victim of this heinous crime, I am appalled and disgusted by Rabbi Friedman’s ignorant and insensitive comments about the issue of child sexual abuse,” said Waks, who says he was abused at Yeshivah College in Melbourne in the 1980s.
Following the backlash, Rabbi Friedman posted a second video clip on YouTube conceding child sex abuse was a “crisis” in the Orthodox community. But he didn’t retract his initial comments.
Rabbi Friedman later apologized for his “completely inappropriate use of language when discussing sexual abuse.” In a statement to JTA, Friedmand wrote, “I have always believed in the importance of empowering victims of all kinds to move forward in building their lives. In my zeal to reinforce that belief, I came across as being dismissive of one of the worst crimes imaginable.”
Friedman also wrote that he believes “[p]erpetrators of molestation should be reported to the police and prosecuted appropriately. Any person, organization or entity that stands by silently is abetting in the crime.” He added that he hopes “over time to earn the forgiveness of those who were hurt” by his words.
Melbourne’s Chabad-Lubavitch movement has been plagued by allegations of sexual abuse. Two former staff members of Yeshivah College, David Kramer and David Cyprys, will face trials later this year on multiple counts of child sex abuse.
In 2009, Rabbi Manis was also mired in controversy following comments he wrote in Moment magazine suggesting it was acceptable for Jews to kill civilians and bomb religious sites during wartime. He later apologized “for any misunderstanding.”