A lawsuit was filed in a US federal court on Monday August 4th by five families who registered their daughters to attend the post-HS, Jerusalem-based, ultra-orthodox but non-Hassidic seminaries operated at the time by Elimelech Meisels. Meisels has since confessed to sexually abusing students to a Chicago rabbinical court (aka, Special Beis Din, Chicago Beis Din, or CBD).
The parents of the prospective students paid hefty deposits and tuition toward the 2014-2015 tuition of over $21,500. The CBD revealed the abuse and recommended not sending students to these seminaries in a ruling released on July 10. The CBD subsequently declared on July 30th:
We stand by our July 10 statement that we do not recommend prospective students attend these seminaries, and also note, based on evidence including testimony by victims and staff and admissions by Elimelech Meisels, our conclusion that certain senior staff members failed in their responsibilities toward students.
The CBD issued that statement because an Israeli Beit Din (IBD) attempted to whitewash the seminaries and declare they were sold, Meisels was out, all the other staff were good and no other seminary was allowed to accept students who were registered with Meisels.
The lawsuit states:
From approximately 2004 until the present date, defendant Elimelech Meisels engaged in a fraudulent and unlawful scheme to induce Orthodox Jewish parents from across the United States to send their daughters to various seminaries in Israel that he controlled under the guise of educational and spiritual development,” the complaint states. “In truth, defendant Meisels’ true aim was to fraudulently and unlawfully take thousands of dollars from each of these parents and to induce these girls, by telephone, mail, wire and other means, to travel thousands of miles outside the United States and away from their parents for the purpose of sexually assaulting these vulnerable young girls……
Defendant Meisels, like many other sexual predators, preyed on the vulnerable. He did this by developing mentor-mentee relationships with girls and exploiting these relationships to lure the girls into late night coffee meetings and other private settings and then sexually assaulted them.
Once the sexual assaults were complete, upon information and belief, defendant Meisels would intimidate his victims by telling them that no one would believe that a rabbi and author with his reputation would have done such a thing.
…Meisels would threaten his victims that if they shared their story with anyone, he would draw on his vast contacts within the Shidduch system to ruin their reputations and ensure that no viable candidate would want to take their hand in marriage.
It was widely known within the administrative staff of the seminaries that defendant Meisels was regularly taking students to late night private meetings – a fact itself that is forbidden and known as ‘yichud’ according to the Orthodox Jewish law and tradition. However, certain still unknown co-conspirators within the seminaries were also aware that defendant Meisels was sexually assaulting the girls and assisted defendant Meisels by actively and passively concealing the assaults.
Here are some noteworthy aspects of the suit:
- It alleges that one of the co conspirators in blocking refunds is a member of the IBD, Rabbi Tzvi Gartner, who supposedly controls the funds.
- The plaintiffs ask to be certified as a class action suit in which case they would be acting on behalf of all other similarly situated parents, except those who explicitly declined to participate.
- They are claiming the defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering conspiracy as defined under the US RICO law. If the RICO allegation is accepted by the court, plaintiffs are entitled to treble (triple) damages and the defendant has to pay the attorney fees. For just these defendants alone the assessment could easily run into close to a half a million dollars. I have been in touch with a few other prospective defendants who may well join.
My advice to parents with daughters registered in any of these seminaries for 2014-2015
Many of you are worried about whether you can get your money back and whether your daughter can get into another seminary. Many are worried that if your daughter sits out a year it will slow their entry into the marriage market. I urge you to remember that the safety of your daughter is paramount. A seminary which has not yet admitted it enabled abuse is staffed with people who cannot be entrusted with your daughter’s protection.
There are many factors at play which may force these seminaries into bankruptcy before their academic year is over. They will have to pay legal defense fees, even if they prevail. They also face lawsuits from sex abuse victims, where settlements can run into the hundreds of thousands or millions. I am very confident one or more suits will be filed in the coming weeks. Finally, even if they largely fill up this year, they are entering the critical recruitment season which starts in September. I highly doubt they will come even close to getting enough students for 2015-2016 to stay alive. If the seminaries go bankrupt the public will regard it as confirmation that they deserved to go down (rightly or wrongly, that is how people think). In that case, your daughters will be stuck with the stigma of having gone to a problematic group of seminaries. Even if you are willing to surrender their safety to the allure of shidduchim, DON’T! It won’t even be good for shidduchim.
If you withdraw, I encourage you to consider joining this or other lawsuits to get your deposit back and maybe even get much more than your deposit. I have heard rumblings of other attorneys considering entering the arena including some firms with outstanding track records. I will keep readers advised of other options as I become aware of them. You can make your decision to withdraw now and select your law firm later.
A full copy of the lawsuit can be downloaded .
See also latest post by Rabbi Harry Maryles on his blog Emes Ve-Emunah, Four Seminaries and Two Rabbinic Courts. He makes some compelling arguments for not sending students to those seminaries and for not accepting the assurances of the IBD that these seminaries are hunky dory. They are not and Rabbi Malinowitz has a bad history of protecting sex abusers.
David Morris has written an excellent synopsis of the essential traits of the lawsuit focusing on it legal logic and translating some of the jargon into English. check it out on Morris’ blog, Tzedek-Tzedek.