The Chicago Tribune published a story about the Meisels seminaries scandal (8/27/14), “Ultra-Orthodox rabbi accused in sex assault suit” by reporter Ron Grossman. Much of the article’s content is old hat to readers of Frum Follies, and it got a few subtleties of the Haredi world wrong.
However, Grossman has correctly fastened onto the importance of the shidduch (matchmaking) system in this whole story. But for the critical importance of seminaries for shidduchim in the Yeshivish (non-Hasidic ultra-orthodox) world, seminary attendance in Israel would not be close to compulsory. But for those pressures, and the pressure to find a match quickly before “girls” lose their desirability in their low twenties, many more parents would have withdrawn from the Meisels seminaries, sued for refunds, and waited to the next year when there would be more openings in other seminaries.
The choice quote in the article comes from Michael Salamon, an orthodox psychologist in the Five Towns of Long Island, and author about both the shidduch system and sexual abuse.
“The social bonds of the ultra-Orthodox community are loshan hara [gossip prohibition], the seminary and the matchmaker… Parents are convinced a daughter must go to the right seminary.”
According to the article:
Meisels is accused in the lawsuit of “developing mentor-mentee relationships with girls,” taking them on late-night coffee meetings and sexually assaulting them.
The lawsuit alleges that Meisels “threatened his victims that if they shared their story he would draw upon his vast contacts within the Shiduch system to ruin their reputations and ensure that no viable candidate would want to take their hand in marriage.”
The article mentions the competing views of the Chicago Beis Din and the Israeli Beis Din and accurately quotes their main positions.
Missing entirely from the article is any reference to blog coverage by Frum Follies, Daniel Eidensohn on his Daas Torah blog and many others. This is a significant aspect of the story. Never before has the Yeshivish world known so much about such a controversy. My first report of the Chicago Beis Din ruling has been viewed over 32,000 times. Both Eidensohn and I experienced dramatic increases in readership. Blogs are a game changer. Until now such stories were censored in the Haredi media and ignored by the mainstream media (MSM). Combined with the Chicago Beis Din description of Meisels, blogs have made this a major story even though no criminal charges were filed, and even before the lawsuit brought the story into coverage by JTA and Vos Iz Neias.
Update – See the Jerusalem Post (8/28/14), American ultra-orthodox charge sexual abuse at Israeli seminaries. This story focuses on the question of student safety as the bone of contention dividing the CBD from the Israeli rabbis trying to undermine it.
According to [David] Morris, [the founder of Magen, an Israeli NGO focused on abuse within the ultra-Orthodox community], the Israeli rabbinical court… “Interviewed some staff (but no victims), declared the seminaries safe, and hurled invective at anyone and everyone who they see as challenging them. According to the Chicago beit din that interviewed the alleged victims, it was not just Meisels but members of the staff who also participated in the cover-up.”