Rabbi Faces Up to Facebook

by J-Wire
June 13, 2012

Melbourne Yeshivah Rabbi Tzvi Telsner has spoken to J-Wire about his congregation's decision not to give an Aliyah to a man who celebrated a birthday and the birth of a grandaughter...and whose son claims to be a victim of an alleged sexual abuse offender at the Yeshivah College.

Manny Waks posted the following on Facebook: "Following on from Rabbi Telsner's recent Psak Din (Rabbinic edict) banning my father (Zephaniah Waks) from getting an Aliyah (getting called up to the Torah during the prayer service), today (Sabbath) my father was prevented from receiving this honour on the occasion of the week of his birthday (customary within the Yeshivah community). He was not given this honour during the morning prayer service, and subsequently, despite specifically requesting to undertake this annual ritual, was also denied this opportunity during the afternoon prayer service. Hence, due to Rabbi Telsner's religious edict, for the first time ever my father has been prevented from carrying out a basic annual ritual. Apparently, at least one prominent member of the Yeshivah community attemped to intervene, but to no avail. Another member, too frightened to be named, asked Rabbi Telsner why my father could not receive an Aliyah, to which the Rabbi responded "he [my father] besmirched me and the Yeshivah".

In around two months' time is my paternal grandfather's Yahrzeit (anniversary of a relative's passing). This is another annual custom when people receive an Aliyah. My grandfather, Leib (Lion, in Yiddish), whose name I carry (middle name), remained in Berlin even after Hitler came to power, in the top engineering university. In fact his degree bears a swastika. Even though he understood what was coming, he would not be cowed and discussed with his professors why they raised their hands every year exponentially higher (Heil Hitler salute), mocking them.

My father is certain that his late father would not want me to stop what I am doing, or for him to move synagogues (my father has been a member of this synagogue for around 25 years), even at the expense of him not getting an Aliyah on his father's Yahrzeit (or being prevented from leading the entire service as is customary on this occasion).

Anyone within the Yeshivah community who either supports Rabbi Telsner or is simply a bystander in this sordid affair can hold their heads in shame. It is time to speak up!"

Rabbi Telsner told J-Wire: "There is no obligation to grant someone an Aliyah. The decision is made in our congregation by the rabbi and the gabais. To give Mr Waks an Aliyah was not deemed appropriate."

Zephania Waks, who has 17 children and 29 grandchildren, told J-Wire: "A number of people were honoured for their birthdays or the birth of a grandchild—I had both a birthday and a grandchild and was deliberately not given an honour, not during the morning service nor during the afternoon service. All of this after I was specifically told by Rabbi Telsner that he gave a Psak (religious edict) not to give me an Aliyah. He refused to give me a reason for this. There can be absolutely no doubt that I was deliberately targeted."

Rabbi Telsner is the Dayan of the Yeshiva Centre.