Agudah Is Recycling Old Rhetoric about Combating Fraud

Periodically, Agudath Israel of America (aka Agudah) makes a show of concern about scandals and chilul hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) but then nothing changes. When it comes to financial scandals, denial sets in for big givers. After all, how can a baal tzedakah (big charity giver) be a gonif (crook). Nobody even acknowledges they were probably donating stolen money.

Spinka Rebbe - Naftali Tzi Weisz

Spinka Rebbe – Naftali Tzi Weisz

Their last big show in 2009 coincided with the conviction of the Spinka Rebbe (Naftali Tzi Weisz) for money laundering. In a spectacular display for the outside world there was a Haredi-sponsored event complete with an American flag on the podium.

However, it is common knowledge that many Haredi institutions exploit their tax status as religious organizations to launder money. As religious organizations they are exempt from having to report their income and expenditures on IRS 990 forms. So the government has no easy way of discerning irregularities. Some not-for-profits (NFPs) voluntarily provide that information to the IRS (and thus to the public). It is the gold standard for transparency and accountability. But nobody in the Haredi world exerts any pressure to do that because money laundering is woven into the texture of Haredi life. Before anyone starts howling, let me be clear, I absolutely know that there some Haredim who will not do it either as a matter of conscience or good judgment. However, hardly anyone will publicly pressure other organizations to become more transparent.

Consider for example an old case of the Rabbi (sic) Mahir Reiss and others who were convicted of laundering millions of dollars for Colombian drug dealers. In return, they got to keep 15-18% as money laundering fees. The vehicles they used included the Bobov Yeshiva Eitz Chaim.

The five years following the Spinka scandal should have given the Agudah plenty of time to make serious progress in combating lawlessness. Yet the latest convention made it sound like they were just now discovering the problem and beginning to address it.

Novominsker Rebber Rosh Moetzes

Novominsker Rebbe – Yaakov Perlow

Fifteen years ago there were also promises to confront the problem while in fact, the Novominsker Rebbe (Yaakov Perlow), the Agudah’s Rosh Moetzes (Head of the Council of Torah Sages).

That scandal involved a group of Haredim using Haredi NFPs to launder millions of dollar for Colombian drug dealers. One of the convicted defendants was Mahir Reiss. According to Jewish Week’s reporting of the sentencing:

Mahir Reiss’ attorney, Nathan Lewin, paraded witnesses onto the stand to testify about his client’s charitable and financial support of the Orthodox community in New York and Israel……

Perhaps the most stunning testimony came from Rabbi Perlow, also known as the Novominsker rebbe, who is a member of the influential seven-member Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America, the ultra-Orthodox advocacy group. Rabbi Perlow revealed that he was sitting shiva or in mourning — his wife had died several days ago — but he left his house because of the importance of pleading for leniency in Mahir Reiss’s case. Continue reading

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A Rape Victim Explains Why She Didn’t Go to the Police

Liz Spikol explains:

I was raped at 17. My rapist was not a powerful celebrity. He was a nobody. But I didn’t go to the police. I didn’t go to a hospital.

Why don’t we tell…? Because our skin burns with shame. I thought my body would never get clean, not only from him but from my own stupidity and weakness. The minute after it ended I felt like I was being torn into pieces, like I was on fire, and I just wanted to shower. I felt crazy, confused, angry, beaten, lost, like I had a zipper running from throat to naval. I felt more alone than I’ve ever felt before or since. I felt like the severed pieces of my body were floating in darkness. I felt savaged. I felt terrified. Here’s what I did not feel: Continue reading

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Agudath Israel Sort of Addresses Meisels and Other Sex Scandals

David Zweibel of Agudah and Cardinal Dolan "Our rabbis are as bad as your priests"

Dovid Zweibel of Agudah and Cardinal Dolan lobbying together

Agudath Israel of America (aka Agudah) held its annual convention over the weekend of November 13-16. Executive Vice President Rabbi David Zwiebel delivered a keynote speech in which he bemoaned the way scandals undercut Agudah’s ability to be an “eight-hundred-pound gorilla” with politicians and government agencies.

This was slight progress. He did not scream “Innocent until proven guilty.” Nor did he complain that the media were unfairly focusing on orthodox Jews.

Avrohom Nesanel Zucker

Avrohom Nesanel Zucker

There was a more substantial response in their session, “Surrounded by Scandal.” The topic was assigned to the time slot with the lowest attendance, Friday morning (11/14/14). There were no stars on the panel. All of the panelists discussed chillul hashem (desecration of G-d’s name). Only one speaker talked about necessary changes other than greater awareness and dedication to Torah principles. He too avoided naming the culprits or specifying their acts. Yet, any astute observer could discern his references to scandals involving Rabbi Dovid Weinberger, Rabbi Elimelech Meisels and Rabbi Barry Freundel. Instead, in his talk about chilul hashem he devoted almost five minutes to highly specific recommendations. It was a breath of fresh air.

Below is a transcript of that portion of Rabbi Avrohom Nesanel Zucker’s talk (14:49-19:20): Continue reading

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Meisels’ Staff Could Learn Menschlichkeit From Oregon State University

Petition for seminary apology for MeiselsIn 1998 Brenda Tracy was gang raped by Oregon State University (OSU) athletes. She reported her assault to the police and cooperated with them. The police gathered enough evidence to charge defendants. But Brenda then lacked the emotional strength to follow through on prosecution.

Now she has come forward, sharing her identity and story. She was heartened by the belated response of OSU and the coach of the team. Ms Tracy  is willing to do public talks to the football team and others at the university.

OSU President Edward J. Ray issued the following statement of apology:

I learned the details regarding this assault on Friday. Apparently, statements were taken from Ms. Tracy and the suspects, two of whom were on the Oregon State University football team at the time.

We are told that law enforcement officials in 1998 were not able to bring criminal charges because Ms. Tracy did not wish to participate in a prosecution.

OSU cannot control the criminal justice system, but I have asked university staff to obtain the police reports for the case and to determine if there are any actions we can take now under OSU’s code of student conduct. There may be no formal course of action available to us but we must try. While legal minds could no doubt explain how it makes sense to have a statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes, I find that appalling. Hopefully, justice delayed is not justice entirely denied in this case.   We are currently trying to get the facts regarding OSU’s handling of this matter in 1998, including what efforts were made then to reach out to Ms. Tracy to help her deal with the terrible physical and emotional harm she suffered. If a case of this nature was reported to the university today, OSU’s Office of Equity and Inclusion would work to stop the sexual misconduct, assist the survivor and prevent a recurrence.

Ms. Tracy’s journey has been simultaneously heart-breaking and inspiring because of her own capacity to reclaim her sense of self-worth and pursue her education so that she can help others through her work as a nurse.

There is no statute of limitations on compassion or basic human decency. I understand that Mike Riley, who was our football coach at the time, has offered to meet with Ms. Tracy and would like to have her speak with the football team if she wishes to do so. The immediate response from us to Ms. Tracy is to ask how we can help her address the effects of this violence. It is our hope that any role she is willing and interested in pursuing to help educate our community on the horrors of sexual assault by sharing her story could bring some healing.

This would be of great interest to us, but only if it is helpful to Ms. Tracy in continuing to deal with all that she has suffered.

We cannot undo this nightmare. I personally apologize to Ms. Tracy for any failure on our part in 1998 in not helping her through this terrible ordeal. This is a moment from which each of us can learn. But it is mostly a moment for us to help Ms. Tracy heal.

Elimelech Meisels

Elimelech Meisels

As Jews who teach about teshuva (repentance), the staff of the Meisels seminaries should also have apologized. Instead they pervert the meaning of teshuva by thinking it is enough that Meisels entered therapy. The seminary staff preach midos (ethical conduct) while OSU just demonstrated them in practice. They preach emes (truth) but they are telling lies to their alumni denying Meisel’s abuse and their culpability for knowing about his misconduct and doing nothing.

Because they didn’t step up to the plate, a petition appealing to them to apologize was posted and submitted by Michal Ben Baruch (aka TruthSeeker).  I hope they come to their senses though I doubt they will. My remaining hope is that most of the administrators and others are fired soon. If that doesn’t happen, I hope the school goes bankrupt. Other seminaries will take up the slack and will be mindful of the risks of ignoring abuse.

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Rubin May Go Back To Jail for Violating Probation

Abraham Rubin

Abraham Rubin

Abraham Rubin who was arrested on Thursday (11/13/14) for mortgage fraud was also serving a five-year probation sentence for offering a half million dollar bribe to witnesses against child rapist Nechemya Weberman. His probation started when he was released in March, 2014 and runs until March, 2019.

Getting arrested for another crime is a probation violation and it can land him back in jail. The presumption of innocence pending disposition of his mortgage fraud charges has no bearing on whether he violated his bribery probation. Depending on the sentencing order, the decision is either in the hands of the sentencing judge, the Honorable Danny Chun, or the NYS Probation Board. Either way, he can expect a Violation of Probation (VOP) hearing sometime in the next few weeks. He is gehackte fleish (dead meat) if his probation is under the control of his sentencing Judge. The Honorable Danny Chun is fair but super tough and he already treated him leniently at sentencing, giving him only 10 weeks (after time off) for four felonies and one misdemeanor.

Before being sentenced, Rubin said, “I’ve made a terrible mistake, I feel very sorry and, trust me; I’ll never do anything against the law again.” Oops! He is going to have to eat those words.

Continue reading

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Update on Call for Apologies from Staff of Meisels for Ignoring his Sex Abuse of Students

Michal Ben Baruch (aka TruthSeeker) informs me that the petition was closed and over 162 names were sent off with the petition to the office of the seminaries. I do not know how they will respond, but a message was broadcast that others expect an apology. The signers came from around the globe with addresses in Israel, France, the UK, Canada, the US and Australia, among others. The American signers came from Brooklyn, Lakewood, Monsey, Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Miami among the many places with larger orthodox communities.

I hope they apologize, though I fear most of those staff still lie and deny their culpability. They seem to still claim there was no way they could have known anything was going on though a number of victims and other students have testified that they informed staff of suspicious patterns and behavior by Meisels clearly out of line with both professional relationships with students and orthodox standards of modesty. Mrs. Soloff saw girls coming and going with him for long van rides long after curfew. Rabbis Kahane, Simon and Mrs. Soloff, and others were told about these things.

Even if we believe no one said anything or they did not believe it, how could they deny what they could see with their own eyes?

Continue reading

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A Reply to Satmar Defenders

Donating stolen moneyFourteen people were arrested yesterday for a series of fraud charges spanning welfare, mortgages, rigged appraisals, and evading repayment of loans. It was organized by, and included, many members of Rubin family, prominent members of Satmar.

The Satmar PR machine went into full gear with “You should not paint with a broad brush” type of claims, and “Don’t judge a community for the actions of a few” etc. They basically throw their hands in the air and say “It is not like WE control what they do.”

This is absurd. We are talking about one of the most dictatorially controlled religious communities in the very controlled ultra-orthodox Jewish world.  They control every action from what makeup women wear (little to none); to what literature they read (punishment for reading People Magazine meant spending time in a locked in a room with a “Torah Therapist” & rapist Nechemya Weberman); what kind of phone can be used (smartphones are confiscated by the Modesty Committee); and how one must behave as a rape victim (shut up!).

Imagine what would happen if they put up the following sign: Continue reading

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