A Father’s Complaint about the Priorities of Seminaries

A father lambasts seminaries for obsessing with minor details and ignoring great dangers threatening their daughters

BACKGROUND

protection iconLast Thursday (7/10/14), the Chicago Special Beis Din, which has existed since 2000 to deal with sex abuse, declared that students “are at risk of harm” in the seminaries owned and run by Elimelech Meisels because of “unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature” by Meisels. The Chicago rabbis took the dramatic step of saying, “It does not recommend that prospective students attend these seminaries at this time.”

Jumping in to respond, on Sunday (7/13/14), an Israeli Beit Din announced that Meisels was no longer teaching there (though he still owns the seminaries) and it was fine to attend them. Chicago did not agree. In fact Hebrew Theological College (HTC) which accredits the seminaries for purposes of government financial aid is suspending its endorsement pending the decision of the Chicago rabbis.

Elimelech Meisels

Elimelech Meisels

The seminaries (Pninim, Binas Bais Yaakov, Keser Chaya, and Chedvas Bais Yaakov), eager not to lose their students sent out a letter to parents assuring them that everything was hunky dory. They conveniently spoke of new management without being able to name it; Meisels still owns the seminaries and signs their paychecks. They tried to reassure parents that Torah Umesorah was involved in the ongoing resolution. They failed to mention that these days Torah Umesorah is more invested in the interests of the owners and operators of yeshivas and seminaries than in the students.

THE LETTER

One father of a seminary girl was outraged by the message from the seminary and shared his thoughts with Hannah Katsman’s blog, A Mother in Israel. Below, with her gracious consent, is the full text of that letter as it first appeared on her blog.

I’ve been waiting the past few days for a call from my daughter’s high school.  I wait and I wait, but I fear none will be forthcoming.

An administrator with ties to four well-known Beis Ya’akov post high school seminaries (Elimelech Meisels) has been accused of  molesting students.  A beis din (rabbinical court) in Chicago, composed of some of the leading Rabbonim in that community (and in the entire U.S., for that matter), wrote a letter stating that the charges are credible and warning girls against attending those seminaries.  They turned the case over to another beis din in Israel for further investigation. That beis din issued its own letter indicating that since the individual in question has agreed to sever all ties with those schools, girls should feel secure in remaining enrolled. Then the seminaries in question issued their own letter, claiming the individual in question has “resigned” and that they are open for business as usual. Yet, the Chicago dayanim (judges) have not retracted their original warning to avoid these institutions.

Did others in these schools know of this individual’s behavior?  Can they be trusted?  What are we to make of the differing letters issued by the batei din?  And even as these investigations and charges were unfolding, the seminaries apparently took payment for the upcoming year as if nothing was amiss.

Dear high school principal/administrator: I don’t need you to call me immediately if my child does poorly on a test or brings an internet-enabled cell phone to school.  She will live and get over these challenges.

I do need you to call me when seminaries that girls from your school are set to attend prove to be havens for sexual predators.  I do need you to be involved in setting up safeguards to ensure this behavior is not repeated elsewhere, under any circumstances.  I do need to hear from you to reassure me that my daughter will be safe when she spends a year away from home.  The school should have held an open meeting for all parents to address the issue directly and to speak about safeguarding our girls in future.

Despite the fact that schools now do speak about what constitutes improper behavior and warn students to report it, lectures do not replace action.  The silence of the schools before and after the Chicago beis din spoke out, the silence of many if not most of the frum press, the silence of websites such as Yeshiva World and Matzav, indicates that we prefer to look away, to sweep the issue under the rug, and not address these types of problems when they present themselves in our midst.  Meisels should not have been given the opportunity to “resign” – he should have been fired and barred from entering the building.

Tznius poster 1aIt’s easy to expel a young girl because her skirt is a little too short or her cell phone has internet access enabled. However, when those behaviors are shown no tolerance when behaviors of a far more serious nature are not responded to appropriately, rather than teaching respect for the standards of halacha and modesty, the lesson learned is hypocrisy. 

——

For a links to all Frum Follies posts about Meisels click here. The listing will be in reverse chronological order and is best read bottom up.

See most recent post: Israeli Beit Din’s Problem Isn’t Naivete, It’s Narcissism

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10 thoughts on “A Father’s Complaint about the Priorities of Seminaries

  1. As I wrote before, Meisels’ actions were reprehensible but there were teachers who must have seen inappropriate or too friendly contact with him and a student(s) and they did nothing while sitting by idly and cashing their paychecks. That disgusts me more. Stop preaching and start leading!

  2. From what I know about Peninim, Elimelech Meisels had an enormous (and dangerous) advantage over rabbis working in other types of seminaries. Remember — many Peninim students faced difficult emotional challenges and/or were uninspired to Judaism. Therefore, students, outsiders, and naïve teachers likely construed Meisels’ casual manner and intense relationships with certain students as one or more of the following:

    1) Knowing his customers and adjusting to their needs (as in “how else is he supposed to inspire a bunch of cynical kids? Of course he’s fun/cool/friendly/with-it!”)
    2) Just doing what his job requires (as in “Nebach, the tzaddik has to step out of his comfort zone and actually be friendly to the girls! It’s the only way to help these wayward souls.”)
    3) Getting through to the girls when no one else can (as in “Rabbi Meisels may be friendly and casual, but that’s why he is so successful at what he does! He is the first rabbi that she ever liked/respected/quoted. His zechuyos are incredible!”)
    4) Helping girls with their problems (as in “It certainly makes sense that he spends so much time with that girl, because after all, she has so many issues!”)

    In other words, people dismissed questionable behavior because they interpreted it as adapting to the population he was working with in order to best serve them, rather than taking advantage of the population he was working with in order to best serve himself.

      • Why is this such a big shocker. Isn’t this the whole point of a mechiza, to keep men and woman separated because men have a nature that needs a mechiza!? Maybe these seminaries should try at all cost, to have only maybe one or two Rabbi’s under supervision when they are in the company of girls/women. Like the doctors in the U.S. are required to do with female patients.
        Diane Polonsky

  3. This letter from a father is excellent. It is too bad other parents do not voice this to administrations. Parents are so concerned about their daughters shidduchim, they are afraid to open their mouths about anything. The schools need to know how parents see things. It is also too bad that unfortunately, most people care more about appearing to be “frummest” or “frummer” or “frum enough” than about real values and avoiding hypocrisy.

  4. There was a very interesting essay by Rabbi Yair Hoffman which was posted on 5tjt.com. For reasons unknown, it was taken off the website. However, a cached copy was located and can be found at the following links:
    Text:

    Screenshots

    • Thank you – I saved myself a copy. It’s a very good article, and should not have been taken down. Those who must have pressured Rabbi Hoffman to take down the article should know that they are part of the problem.

      • From R’ Hoffman’s piece: “The efforts of the Chicago Beis Din, however, with the haskama of leading Gedolim, represent a sea-change in how we are dealing with these types of scandals internally.” Apparently it takes some time for the tide to reverse. Why do you say R’ Hoffman must have been pressured into taking it down, instead of it having been deleted by the editor without his consent?

          • Of course, and I don’t claim to know either way. I’m just suggesting it’s a question of character as to who bowed to the pressure, and one shouldn’t assume it was R’ Hoffman.

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