New Developments in Meisels Scandal
After a lull of three months in the public sphere, regarding the Elimelech Meisels seminaries scandal, three important publications have taken place, in rapid succession.
1st December, 2014 - Haaretz published an article by Alona Ferber, which uses the reported settlement of a civil suit to provide considerable background on the Meisels seminaries scandal. The civil suit by parents of girls who had registered at the seminaries, and whose tuition fees had been held by the schools, was apparently settled with payments by the seminaries to the parents.
The article also publishes information about a process of continuing investigation by the two Batei Din involved, the Chicago Beit Din (CBD) and an Israeli Beit Din (IBD).
"According to sources close to developments, last month students gave testimony regarding the allegations of assault against Meisels in a teleconference between rabbis from the rabbinical courts in Israel and the U.S. that have been involved in the case, and representatives of the seminaries, in an effort to break the impasse between the two rabbinical courts."
2nd December, 2014 - Daat Torah blog published a one sheet letter signed by a 7 person expanded Beit Din, dated 1st December, stating: "...what needed to be rectified - has been rectified, adequate safety policies are in place, and guidelines and safeguards for interactions between staff and students have been implemented. In light of the above there is no danger or problem with sending students to study in these seminaries."
This letter also refers to a Partial Judgement of 27th November, 2014. This has not yet been published.
3rd December, 2014 - The Jewish Week published an article by Rachel Delia Benaim. This includes new information that "two former students of Rabbi Meisels who are residents of New York and New Jersey brought charges against him to a federal court here in October. He is accused of rape, attempted rape and other forms of sexual assault."
The article, for the first time in the public sphere, directly quotes an alleged victim of Meisels:
And, furthermore, regarding allegations of staff complicity:
"Jane Doe said she told two staff members at the seminary, and an educator at a Modern Orthodox seminary, about her case of sexual assault but was told not to pursue it and that no one would believe her."
1. The settlement of the civil case represents substantial progress.
2. The ongoing dialogue and joint investigation by the two Batei Din (CBD and IBD) is also a positive development.
3. The assertion by the 7 judge expanded Beit Din (CBD + IBD + 1) that "what needed to be rectified has been rectified" is reassuring.
4. The fact that any kind of joint statement is now possible, shows that rabbonim of previously opposing approaches (read: "warring") have successfully found common ground. Achdut/unity on such an important and sensitive issue is itself an important statement.
5. The news that there is a new court case in the USA, aimed at bringing Meisels and the seminaries to justice for their alleged crimes, is a positive development.
6. There is recognition across the board that the seminaries have now put protocols in place to avoid repeating similar violations in the future, and staff training, and this itself is an important breakthrough for improving student personal safety at seminaries for overseas students in Israel. Hopefully other seminaries will follow this by introducing protocols and staff compliance training, at least to the level required by US Title 9 and by Israeli law.
However, as I understand the situation, these four seminaries have still not been re-instated for accreditation, although I understand progress has been made in this regard.
To my mind, the remaining concern is that the Expanded Beit Din's assertion that "what needed to be rectified has been rectified" is too flimsy to adequately address the very strong allegations, reinforced now by The Jewish Week, that key members of staff were complicit in the alleged crimes of Meisels and yet remain in their teaching positions.
Without introducing transparency on this issue, public confidence in these seminaries is unlikely to be restored.
Furthermore, the seminaries themselves, more than half a year after the initial public exposure, have still not come clean.
Victims, and the public at large, still awaits a formal statement from the Batei Din/Seminaries.
Such a statement needs to include:
* acknowledging the nature and scope of the crimes and failings of the past,
* offering & expressing unreserved regret,
* reaching out to and showing compassion for the victims,
* adoption of appropriate disciplinary measures against those involved,
* offering full restitution to all those impacted.
Without such a step, a coming clean, "vidui", the forward-looking protocols and staff training, while positive in themselves, still appear to be merely band-aids covering up potentially septic lesions.