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:
- 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.”
- Chicago has not withdrawn its ruling. If it changes its ruling it will announce it publicly. Until then, Chicago is standing its ground.
- R. Hoffman says Chicago acted with the haskamah (approval) of leading gedolim (Torah sages) though he does not name them.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
The 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.