Guest Post by “Kevin in Chicago”
I don’t want to discourage anyone from recounting her experiences with Elimelech Meisels, as Yerachmiel Lopin has requested in a prior post, but I question whether these anonymous accounts will have any effect on the Israeli Beit Din. Lopin believes that “The great flaw of the Israeli Beit Din … is thinking they are dealing with isolated violations arising from spontaneous lust for which Meisels has repented.”
Unfortunately, the failure to acknowledge the predatory, sociopathic personality of serial abusers is more than an error of fact. If it were, a little reading in the psychological literature of the last 30-40 years would dispatch it. It would be better called a prejudice, which might be defined as a verifiably false belief that costs too much to give up.
The prejudice has theological roots, as Dr. Nachum Klafter acknowledges in the linked article. Deeply-rooted principles, such as the presumed character-building effect of Torah study, the ability to overcome temptation, and the possibility of teshuvah lead to wishful (if not magical) thinking. Furthermore, rabbis judging rabbis are inclined to focus on the accused rabbi’s lapse of moral control, rather than on his utter insensitivity to his victim.
Corresponding prejudices go a long way toward explaining why the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) has also handled sexual abuse so badly. Some within the RCC are recognizing that the real problem is not deviant priests so much as a culture of clerical narcissism that shields priests and silences or shames their victims. Ironically, obsession with a highly restrictive sexual morality contributes to the sexual immaturity of priests who inappropriately “act out” their sexuality with minors, as well as the shamed silence imposed on their victims, and the hierarchy’s urgency in concealing abuse.
Uncomfortable as it may be to consider similarities between orthodox Judaism and the Catholic Church, there is something to be learned here. Rabbinic narcissism well describes the ruling of the Israeli beit din formed at the request of Torah Umesorah and headed by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shafran. Accepting the translation from Hebrew to English as accurate, allow me to translate the Israeli Beit Din’s language into tachlitese (results-oriented language), slicing away the verbiage to reveal its vacuity.
“The problem … reached resolution through the removal of the party responsible from every function and connection with the seminaries.”
Translation: “We won’t look past the perpetrator and ask whether anyone turned a blind eye or ignored complaints.”
“The beit din will shortly sit to clarify the complaints themselves and the implications at different levels to add financial and educational clarification of the controlling staff that are said to be customarily in place in such seminaries and the correction of that which needs to be corrected.”
Translation: “We have as yet no real idea of what we are dealing with, what safeguards are supposed to be in place, or what needs to be done.”
“In light of what is said, there is no cause to refrain from sending girls to study and dorm in these seminaries. It can be confidently assumed that the distinguished staff does its work trustworthily and it will continue to educate Jewish daughters for Torah and purposefulness.”
Translation: “Although we know little, not having investigated, and have told you nothing, we nevertheless urge you to share our apparently ungrounded assumption that despite the likelihood that staff members aided, or at least ignored, Meisels’ egregious breaches of trust, the ‘distinguished staff does its work trustworthily’ and your daughters will be safe.”
“We turn to the community of school principals and parents [to advise them] not to give credence to various pronouncement by those who are either anonymous or use fictitious names. These pronouncements are motivated by intentions that are argumentative and by agendas different from those they claim.”
Translation: “Whatever bloggers say, we won’t bother to respond, because agendas are more important than truth, we know the agendas that motivate them, and although we won’t say what they are, we know they differ from whatever agendas they claim motivate them. Our ignorance of the facts perfectly matches our omniscience concerning the intentions of those making accusations.”
In short, they are saying, “Trust us, we’re rabbis with authority.” Given that the source of the problem is that seminary girls trusted Meisels because he was a rabbi with authority, this Beit Din’s pronouncement is neither helpful nor encouraging. The Beit Din is saying not only that they don’t get it, but that they don’t intend to.