Rabbi Hoffman Strengthens the Chicago Case against the Meisels Seminaries

Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Rabbi Yair Hoffman, a Haredi Rabbi from the Five Towns, has written an important essay, The Seminary Scandal and Halacha. Anyone aware of the Chicago Special Beis Din’s psak (religious court ruling) knows that they ruled that one should not send one’s daughters to the seminaries, Pninim, Binas Bais Yaakov, Chedvas Bais Yaakov and Kesser Chaya which are owned and were run by Elimelech Meisels. They based that ruling on their investigation into unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature by Meisels toward his female students. Touro and Hebrew Theological College are abiding by that ruling and will not accredit study at those seminaries. Without accreditation, students will not be eligible for US government grants and loans. According to a Bais Yaakov guidance counselor cited by R. Hoffman, the seminaries will lose approximately 40% of their funding and be forced to close.

The Chicago ruling is terse and leaves out the details and reasoning behind their findings. Moreover, an Israeli Beit Din headed by Rabbi Mendel Shafran proceeded to contradict that ruling. It claimed the problem was solved when Meisels agreed to no longer be at the seminary (though he retained ownership). (See here, here, and here for reactions by others to that reasoning)

Rabbi Hoffman makes the following points:

  1. The Chicago investigation was extremely thorough, stretching over 3 months, with interviews in four locations, investigations in Israel, extensive reviews of documents (including emails and text messages), and consultation with experts.Meisels testified before them and there was “an admission of critical facts.”

    Elimelech Meisels

    Elimelech Meisels

  2. Chicago has not withdrawn its ruling. If it changes its ruling it will announce it publicly. Until then, Chicago is standing its ground.
  3. R. Hoffman says Chicago acted with the haskamah (approval) of leading gedolim (Torah sages) though he does not name them.
  4. Meisels continues to own the seminaries and thus has ongoing influence. It is “necessary to make sure that any new owner not be tied to the offending party in any manner or form.”
  5. Even if Meisels were to sell them, we need assurances that the new owners are truly independent and willing and able to “clean house.” That will mean confronting, retraining and even dismissing other staff who refused to listen to student warnings about the problem.
  6. R. Hoffman writes about a number of halachic reasons to be stringent about preventing sex abuse. These concepts were probably considered by the Chicago Beis Din but they did not include them in their terse English ruling.
  7. He concludes with powerful words. “In kashrus, when an owner is caught selling tarfus (unkosher products), changing the management is not adequate… Shouldn’t our children be treated with at least as much dignity as our meat?

To Read This Article

Yo yoThe article first appeared here in the online edition of the 5 Towns Jewish Times on 7/17/14. It then gotten taken down on 7/20/14 and reappeared in revised form on 7/21/14 and then got taken down again. The editor of the 5TJT, Larry Gordon, is notorious for pulling articles up and down like a yo yo. One can speculate about external pressures, but it is hard to figure out why the article came back sporadically.

As of Tuesday, 7/22/14 it is available in revised form on the Daas Torah blog of Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn. The original version can be found here, on FaceBook as text and images, and on Google+. Go here for a Tweet with a link which you can reTweet.

This absurd posting and deleting illustrates why the readers of the Haredi media have to rely on blogs to get the full picture, especially when it involves internal scandal and corruption.

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18 thoughts on “Rabbi Hoffman Strengthens the Chicago Case against the Meisels Seminaries

  1. Yerachmiel, I don’t know how many hits your blog has been getting lately, but it’s all everyone is talking about!
    Yasher Koach!

  2. This is great.

    I will repeat to ALL PARENTS who are unsure of sending their daughter to the schools-

    Call up main staff members and ask them what their stance on this issue is. If they answer that they “refuse to discuss”, or even defend Meisles- DO NOT SEND THEM TO THOSE SCHOOLS.

    This is my opinion. The fact that the seminaries refuse to sympathize with the victims and almost pretend that the scandal never happened CLEARLY SAYS that they perhaps even back Meisles.

    Until the seminaries approach the sex abuse in the appropriate way/ or until certain teachers apologize for “shushing” the complaining students of the past, you need to do what is BEST for your daughter.

    Aka- find a new seminary.

    The way the schools have been handling this situation clearly states they have no interest in saying that Meisles was guilty. Protect your daughters.

    Hatzlacha everyone,
    TruthSeeker

  3. Just wondering, is there anyone other than truthseeker that can attest to the accuracy of all of this?

    • Curious-

      There are MANY.

      I was just thinking this myself why I seem to be the only alumni commenting and telling her experiences.

      There are many (I know them and are friends with some of them) who can attest to all the Meisles flirting and inappropriate-ness. Including some very very bad rumors that were always going around the school of Meisles and some girls (for tznius purposes, and the fact that I don’t know if they were 100% true- although it wouldn’t shock me if they were- I will not name what these rumors were.)

    • Curious, if you read thru all the posts you will see a few other first hand accounts and that the Chicago beis din thoroughly investigated and there were several witnesses etc. I personally called a teacher at the school in a very high position to discuss my concerns about meisels late night rides with the girls that I had heard about because I was very worried about my daughter’s safety at the school. The teacher flatly told me she could not discuss that the girls were over 18 so it didn’t matter. I have no doubt some of the teachers/administrators covered for Meisels and did not do what they could to keep the girls safe. Also. Keep in mind that many of the abused girls Are from haredi families and they do not use the internet and are not at all aware of this blog.

      • Those who are in contact with potentially affected students have my full consent to paste my article into emails or to print them out for distribution to those who only use email or don’t at all use the Internet.

      • Just curious- do u know for sure the victims were from chareidi homes?

        Pninim takes pretty non- Bais Yaakov type as well. I’m sure not all the victims grew up traditional yeshivish.

        • The Chicago beis din referenced the four seminaries he owns 3 of the 4 are yeshivish is my understanding. It was not just Pninim girls. I personally think the more “yeshivish” the girl the greater the vulnerability because these girls are not “street smart” like a more modern girl might be and they are trained to unquestioningly esteem rabbaim. Many of them don’t even know what sexual abuse it – much less sex – before their Kallah classes. They are easy prey for abusers.

          • Yes. I re-read the Bais dins letter.
            Mentions all the school for the abuse. Although no one knows details.

            I’d say that the majority of the victims were from pninim bc that this Meisles main school and the oldest. Kesser Chaya and Binas are very very new.

            • All allegations of abuse I’ve heard so far happened to pninim students. However, some staff at other seminaries were approached and turned a deaf ear or worse. Remember that many of the staff of the other 3 seminaries did periodic short appearances at Pninim becasue the pninim curriculum included a lot of guest lecturers.

              Thus, a revamping of the culture of enabling will have to take on the other 3 seminaries.

            • Agreed, Lopin.

              I also originally thought it was only pninim. Also, pninim DOES have a rep for “troubled girls”. Meisles would get away with his sick desires there the most than in a Bais Yaakov with “top girls”.

              The abuse was on-going throughout the years. That is why it prob was mainly/only pninim students.

          • I don’t know…

            Unless you specifically know the details of the victims backgrounds etc, I generally do not like assuming which frumkeit level the victims were at.

            Let’s stick with sure-known facts, everyone.

            If we can, at least.

            • Truthseeker, I have to politely disagree. I think above you are implying that “troubled” girls are the most likely victims. But based on my research and experience as an attorney familiar with a a abuse and rape cases ordinary girls can also be victims, especially when they are being charmed by a charismatic manipulator. In fact many good kind hearted people simply are not street smart and don’t have good radar to detect evil. Let’s not blame the victims. Whether victims were “troubled” or more “modern” should make no difference. Meisels was 100% at fault either way especially because he used his role as a “charismatic rabbi” and his position of authority.

  4. As pathetic as it is, the Agudah has been holding Larry Gordon over a barrel with a laughable threat, either explicit or implied, that if he publishes something they don’t like, they will pull Avi Shafran’s syndicated column from his paper. It was over exactly the molestation issue that the Agudah pulled Shafran’s column from the competing 5 Towns newspaper when they covered the Kolko scandal. Larry was left “unmolested” because he wouldn’t mention anything Kolko related. Larry is a bread & butter kind of guy. He knows exactly who butters his bread and will do all kinds of acrobatic acts to keep all sides from rising up against him. Larry knows that Shafran’s inane column is just the tip of the iceberg of what the Agudah can do to retaliate. Larry has kowtowed to the Agudah to in other areas as well, sometimes with Rabbi Hoffman himself as an accomplice, though Rabbi Hoffman does deserve a lot of credit for taking a courageous stand in this instance. Because Larry is also worried about a backlash from the large & powerful modern orthodox population in the 5 Towns and other interest groups that include decent people of all stripes who are appalled by molestation & cover ups, Larry either feigns taking their sides in some ways when necessary or just plays neutral.

    I think that Rabbi Hoffman’s denial that the Israeli beis din is a Torah Umesorah one is misleading at best as they still had a lot of input into it.

    The original article from Hoffman was also pandering to discredited positions from Scheinberg & the like as if they ever had a basis in halacha, which they never did.

  5. Does anyone know what part of the article was taken out? Has Rabbi Hoffman made any statement about this?

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