Late last week, the 15 remaining students enrolled in the 2nd year program (shana bet) of the Pninim seminary controlled by Elimelech Meisels were notified that the seminary program was cancelled this year.
They were not offered any alternative placements. I do not know if they refunded the tuition payments, whether they plan to, and if so, on what schedule.
Last year, this same 2nd year program had approximately 35 students. I do not know if it was grossly under enrolled before the scandal broke, or whether some 20 other students already withdrew.
Meisels has been embroiled in the highly publicized “Seminaries Scandal” since July 10th when the Chicago Beis Din (CBD rabbinical court) advised against attending any of the four seminaries he operated because of the results of their investigation into allegations of “unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature” with his students. Pninim was the seminary where he was the principal and spent the most time.
Three days later an Israeli Beis Din (IBD) declared the seminaries safe because Meisels was gone. Some weeks later they claimed he had transferred all of his control to Mr. Yaakov Yarmush. However they have never offered any public proof and haven’t even named the officers who supposedly took over control.
The Chicago rabbis rejected the idea that the problem was over and raised the problem of other staff that enabled Meisels’ sexual activity with students. In response to the position of the Chicago Beis Din (CBD), Touro College and Hebrew Theological College suspended accreditation. Accreditation is necessary to get college credits which can be transferred for degrees and to get government grants, loans, and tax credits or deductions.
WHY WAS YEAR TWO CANCELLED?
I am not sure. My source heard it was because they do not want the 2nd year students around to talk about life with Meisels. I think it may have been done at the behest of Mr. Yarmush, the current controller of the seminaries according to the IBD. As someone with business experience in asbestos abatement, he knows his property is devalued by the toxic taint of the Pninim culture of charismatic flirting. If he should tire of this drawn out scandal he may want to transfer the seminaries to someone else and no new manager/proprietor will want the taint of the past.
WHAT LIES AHEAD?
The CBD will stick to its guns as will Touro and Hebrew Theological Colleges in suspending accreditation. Not a single American rabbinical figure of stature has challenged their judgment or qualification. Right now the seminaries have no future past this coming year. They are only holding onto some undetermined proportion of their students because they are withholding refunds and alternative seminary slots are hard to find.
Recruitment for next year starts in a few weeks and ends when applications get submitted to all the seminaries later in the calendar year. Unless the seminaries get cleared by the CBD, they are doomed to low applications and enrollment, probably so low that they will have to close shop. Some parents and students will not enroll because they are persuaded by the CBD. Others will just not want to risk the stink of scandal rubbing off on the reputations of their daughters.
The only way out is to find another party to take over the seminaries with a good independent reputation who cleans house of all staff implicated in ignoring or covering up abuse. At a minimum, there are some staff unqualified to be educators because they were unable to notice the problems. More likely, a number of them knew of and disregarded the fact that Meisels was violating rules of yichud (seclusion) and negiah (physical contact) with his students. Yet key administrators and staff (including Rabbis Kahane and Simon and Mrs. Ullman and Soloff) gave testimony claiming they saw nothing and knew nothing. Nobody can clean up the seminaries enough to get students for 2015-2016 unless they and other implicated staff are fired.
The seminaries also have enormous potential liabilities. They have already been sued for the return of tuition by five households. Others have already followed though they were not part of the suit. Eventually the suit will have to be settled because the alternative is a court battle in which all sorts of evidence of abuse and financial misconduct will be revealed and the suit will in any event prevail. If it isn’t settled, the RICO charges will lead to triple damages. I believe other suits are likely by other victims of sexual exploitation by Meisels this last year or in previous years. Those will be much more expensive to settle.
In a word, the Meisels seminaries are burdened with large potential legal liabilities and little prospect for successful recruitment this fall.
If the seminaries limp along the year, the operators will not invest in the future or even in the present. They will hold on to the tuition money and probably cut costs left and right to squeeze a little more money out of this cash cow before it dies without yielding any more milk.
The abrupt closure of the 2nd year of Pninim is the map for the future of the Meisels seminaries.
IF YOUR DAUGHTER IS ENROLLED FOR THE COMING YEAR
You are now at a critical point. If you put in for a tuition refund you will probably get it either directly or by joining a lawsuit and waiting about 6 months. If you go ahead and start your daughter, it will be much harder to later join the lawsuit. You may still lose your tuition money if the seminaries go belly up before the year is out. Attending in the hope of a successful year is a very risky strategy.
PS. This is my 1,000th post since starting this blog five years ago.