See: Comment #3 on AJN (Australian Jewish News) website re: book that resembles allegations against Hershy Worch
#3 - Embi (12/05/2008 1:12:44 PM)
Hmm... the story sounds fascinating but also familiar to anyone who was active in the Melbourne Jewish university community in the 1990s. I don't think Hillel has ever recovered from that disturbing experience. Hope your book has been properly reviewed by the lawyers.
Jewish author connected to Rabbi Hershy Worch's former synagogue
(Hamakom Synagogue) in Australia writes a book about an abusive Rabbi
who is "a charismatic US rabbi who rides into town on a page of
Kabbalah, bringing with him an irresistible mix of personality,
mystical teachings and guitar playing".
Yvonne Fein blog (may 6, 2008)
Potent mix of charisma and Kabbalah
It is an ugly fact of life that the very nature of authority guarantees its abuse. And in too many cases, those who exert authority, along with those in whom it is invested will not only abuse it, they will also get away with doing so.
In Jewish life, the corrupt power-brokers have often been our rabbis.
Intended to be men of God, increasingly they have been exposed as having feet of clay.
And those who dare to unmask them risk community opprobrium along with personal discredit and humiliation.
I despise, and always have, those who manipulate others simply because they can. I despise their fraudulence and their cold-hearted abuse of the susceptible.
Yet even worse in my eyes are those who blame the victims, those members of the Beth Din, for example who, as was the case in the US not so long ago, forced victims to apologise to the rabbi who had wronged them.
It was not until the victims put their case before a criminal court of the land that the rabbi in question was found guilty and sentenced to several years’ imprisonment. His was not an isolated case.
This week, Hybrid Publishers will release my latest novel, The Torn Messiah.
Between its covers, I have told a strange and disturbing story about rabbis and students, masters and disciples.
The Torn Messiah is a psychological thriller set in contemporary Melbourne.
It centres on a charismatic New York rabbi who rides into town on a page of Kabbalah, bringing with him an irresistible mix of personality, mystical teachings and guitar playing.
Melbourne’s vulnerable Jewish youth flock to him, hungry for any teaching which will show them a way of identifying Jewishly beyond the narrow confines of Holocaust and Zionism.
And while the protagonists are Jews who walk our well-known, Caulfield streets, the tale inside the novel is a universal one, grappling with a global dilemma.
How should we respond to the enchantment of those who would fill our brains with exhilarating ideas, our hearts with music and pleasure and yet manipulate our consciousness for their own dubious ends -– sexual, spiritual or emotional?
What defence can we mount against such a profound abuse of power as well as against the potent seductiveness possessed by texts, ancient or modern, when they combine with bitter-sweet melodies filtered through generations of suffering.
The Torn Messiah reveals how an authority figure steeped in spiritual mysticism can endanger the susceptible and the defenceless and perhaps it asks more questions than it is able to answer.
I have always thought that the essence of being a Jew was to question and to argue. The humblest can challenge the greatest and all that matters is the truth. No one may be deferred to because of rank.
What is the Talmud, after all, if not one long, albeit incredibly mellifluous, argument down the centuries with scholars challenging scholars -– their peers and those long dead -– over their opinions ranging from the great questions of life and love, of death and the great beyond, to the most infinitesimal, microscopic examination of halachic minutiae.
Arguably, the greatest argument ever recorded.
How is it possible then that matters have come to such a pass that we defer to rabbis, beyond all reason, simply because they have laid claim to the power?
They are men of God, not God himself. And, thank God, Judaism has never subscribed to any sort of doctrine of infallibility.
Once we admit, therefore, to the risk of fallibility in our leaders, it behoves us to keep them honest by a clear-eyed, clear-headed assessment of their actions.
If they act improperly in any way, surely it is a greater crime against the God they claim to serve if we turn a blind eye simply because it is too painful to admit their frailty and their weakness.
The Torn Messiah took me more than five years to write and then another year to sell and bring to publication.
It is not, however, like giving birth to a child. If women had to gestate for five or six years to produce a single offspring, the human race would have died out long ago.
So why did I do it?
I want the story out there. As a Jew, I want people to be aware of the imperfections within a system that is at once flawed and splendid.
As a writer, I am compelled to put words to paper. There is no WA (Writers Anonymous) chapter I can attend, no 12-step program I can undertake to break my compulsion.
It is the hand I was dealt. It is the itch I am eternally compelled to scratch.
And along with it comes a desire to tell stories only I can tell because of the life I have led, to tell them with truth and integrity, to place them in the public domain and let the chips fall
where they may.
CONTACT Yvonne Fein
PHONE 03 9528 4382
Regarding Rabbi Jeremy Hershy Worch - While in Melbourne, Australia From a group of men and women in Melbourne Australia who wish to remain anonymous - December 6, 2004
Hershy Worch came to Melbourne, Australia with his wife and young family in 1995. He was initially employed by the Hillel Foundation.
As rabbi of the Hamakom Synagogue, he was then financially supported by members of his community from the years 1995-1997.
During this time both his behaviour and demeanour with his female students were consistently predatory, manipulative and abusive. He proactively sought 'romantic' and sexual relationships wtih many many women, specifically targeting those who were emotionally vulnerable and fostering acute dependency. He consistently used his role as counselor to make sexual advances towards those who came to him in need. He had 'romantic' sexual relationships with married and unmarried women who ranged in age from 20 to 50.
His inappropriate behaviour towards female students included:
- Physical sexual interactions
- Predatory behavior in the pursuit of women: e.g. late night phone calls and invitations to teach women privately.
- Using the teaching of Torah as a tool of seduction.
- Using group situations with himself at the centre - that utilized his musical, vocal and narrative 'talents' - to manipulate individuals and create a cultic environment around 'Kabbalah' classes.
- Using his relationships with students to influence them to 'rescue' him by financially and publically supporting and defending him.
- His abuse of his position as rabbi, chazzan and counselor traumatized this community leaving wounds that took and are still taking many years to heal. Reputations were publicly compromised and personal lives were taken over.
4) Sample pages from book
5) Interview scheduled in June