Batei Din Clash on Handling of Sex Abuse Seminaries

[Part One of Two Articles] 

In the continuing saga of Rabbi Elimelech Meisels, the seminary-mogul who is suspected of "unwanted sexual contact" with his students, two new letters have been published, which make fascinating reading, and show a bitter struggle of different approaches to managing sexual abuse.  For the story-so-far, please refer to my previous article and the detailed coverage at Frum Follies.

Letter 1 - from the Ad-Hoc Israeli Beit Din under Rav Shafran

This is my best-efforts translation. The original Hebrew can be found below (by kind permission of Daat Torah).

I have inserted my comments [DM....].

Subject: The Seminaries

  1. Pnimim
  2. Chedvas Beis Yaakov
  3. Binas Beis Yaakov
  4. Keser Chiya

Hereunder "the Seminaries"

After the principals of the Seminaries and the Gaon Harav Feldman Shlita on behalf of the students of the seminaries 

[DM: Batei Din in Israel operate under Israeli law as "arbitrators". They therefore need to be appointed as arbitrators by the parties in a dispute. In this case this ad-hoc Beit Din has been appointed arbitrator by the Principals of the Seminaries, on the one hand, and Rabbi Feldman of Baltimore, on the other hand. Rabbi Feldman is claiming to represent "the students of the seminaries". This is, um, an awkward arrangement, as I don't know if all or even a significant proportion of past, current and newly accepted students have appointed Rabbi Feldman as their legal representative. Frankly, I find this doubtful, and therefore the premise of the legal standing of this Beis Din is not even a legal fiction; it is simply a fiction.]   

signed on a binding Arbitration Agreement, in order to look into the issue from all angles, and after we heard the principals and some staff 

[DM: But not the students, the victims of the alleged offenses and potentially witnesses of a cover-up or cooperation by some of these same principals and staff]

of each of the seminaries separately for many hours, we reached a decision which we hereby bring to public notice, hereunder.

  1. There is no cause for concern regarding students from chareidi schools studying in the Seminaries. [DM: According to their own admission, this Beis Din has not heard the allegations - indeed, were they to interview the victims, they may face criminal prosecution for corrupting evidence of a crime. This declaration that the seminaries are safe contradicts the findings of the Chicago Beit Din, who HAVE heard the allegations. There are apparently no grounds for the Israeli BD making such a sweeping declaration, given the recent failure of the same Principals and Staff to protect their students while under their charge.  PS. The use of the word "Chareidi" is peculiar here - can anyone help explain the significance?].    
  2. We were impressed that the educational staff are wonderful and they perform their responsibilities in a God-fearing and self-sacrificial manner, and for years they have raised legions of students who have established exemplary and kosher homes that are faithful to God and his Torah, and this continues. [DM: Whereas I am confident they indeed have had many educational successes, some or all of them seem to have failed in a very basic requirement both morally and under the law to protect and promote the safety of their students. Furthermore, at least one of the four principals, Rabbi Meir Kahane has recently written a letter to his students which appears to show him to be meglomanic, manipulative and delusional - anything but "wonderful"].  
  3.  We are turning to the organization Touro and TI to authorize the seminaries for Credits, as in the past. [DM: The honourable rabbonim can of course turn to Touro and TI as much as they please, but Touro and TI are responsible to their own directors and students - and are in no way beholden to this Beit Din; indeed TI is a Chicago based institution which I understand feels bound to honor the recognized beit din of their city, and would no longer be able to recruit students if it were to defy the Chicago Beit Din].
  4. It is strongly forbidden for any institution (existing or newly established) to approach students in any way who were accepted by the Seminaries for next year in order to persuade them to join their institutions, and this is forbidden by halacha (Ani Hamhaphech Becharara, Hasagat Gvul and Yeridah Leomanus Chavero) and we are confident that the Jewish people will not trespass in this way. [DM: I would not deign to question the Dayanim's understanding of halacha. Of course, other seminaries, beyond these four, are not party to this Arbitration, and so I don't understand on what authority this Beis Din is addressing them. Each of these other seminaries has their own halachik authority, and they will presumably seek their council and psak. This seems to be a clumsy attempt to close the exit doors on newly enrolled students. In any case, there is no claim here that the PARENTS cannot move their girls to other seminaries and that those seminaries cannot passively enroll them].   
  5. It is hereby forbidden to speak badly and spread slander about the Seminaries in any way. [DM: Surely so. As indeed about anybody else. Unless there is toeles, such as raising legitimate concerns about the safety of the pupils, and obtaining justice for past victims...] 
  6. People who have involved themselves in this without authority, with the backing of a chareidi lawyer, did not hear the version of the principals and staff in an organized fashion and did not receive first hand impressions of their personalities. [DM: This is interesting that there is now a "chareidi lawyer" involved, and he is unwelcome. I understand this is referring to R.Shlomo/Ronald Gottesman, who is connected to Torah UMesorah, and is apparently representing two of the the victims. Indeed this case has the elements of both criminal and civil proceedings, perhaps a class suit of deceived parents, against Rabbi Meisels and against the seminaries themselves - parents would be well advised to seek legal counsel, as some seem to have already done]  
  7. The other aspects of this issue are not referenced here and will be looked into in the future.[DM: Perhaps this is referring to the allegations themselves against Rabbi Meisels and those who may have enabled him. Someone should caution this Beit Din, which is operating under the laws of arbitration, from investigating and prosecuting a criminal case, over which they have no jurisdiction, authority nor qualification]. 

By these the undersigned on Thursday night 27th Tamuz 5774 (25.7.14)

Rav Menachem Mendel Hacohen Shafran, Av Beit Din
Rav Chaim Zeev Lalevi Malinowitz, Dayan
Rav Zvi Gertner, Dayan

CONCLUSIONS: 

a. The Beit Din has made efforts to distance Rabbi Meisels from the Seminaries, and this is indeed a sensible, elementary and necessary precaution against further endangering the students. Kudos where it is due. 

b. However, this is a one sided-Beis Din which has solely heard the defendants (the Seminaries) and have (apparently) falsified the status of Rabbi Feldman as a "representative of the students". 

c. Their letter is solely directed at protecting the ongoing and lucrative businesses of the Seminaries, with no word about regret, sympathy, reaching out to the alleged victims, in a genuine seeking for truth, healing and justice.  

d. They are effectively blocking off the exits from these seminaries for parents who enrolled their daughters for this coming academic year, or who already have girls studying there. 

e. Many parents enrolled and paid expensive down-payments, even during the period that the seminaries and the Israeli Beit Din knew of the alleged nefarious activities of R.Meisels, but hid this information from the parents and students. This may constitute receiving/soliciting payment under false pretenses, intent to defraud, etc. A good lawyer should be consulted by any parents in this situation. (Those seeking reliable legal advice in Israel can contact me for a referral offline).

f. The Beit Din is addressing, chastising and preaching to third parties (Touro, TI, other seminaries, the parents who went to the lawyer and most importantly and intrinsically, the Chicago Beit Din...) who are not a party to this arbitration - in effect, ranting.

g. This Beit Din's assurances that these seminaries are in "wonderful" hands and are safe, in opposition to the findings of the Chicago Beit Din who heard the evidence are, at best, premature - and at worst an irresponsible white-wash. 

Regretfully, the culture of this Beit Din is the Old Way of "dealing with" allegations of sexual abuse. 

Quietly, in-house, deny, minimise, intimidate, counter-attack - protecting the establishment/institution at all costs. 

"For goodness sake...Hushhhh."   

[Part Two will examine the latest letter from the Chicago Beit Din]
The Psak of the Israeli Beit Din - by kind permission of Daat Torah

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