The four Jerusalem-based, post-high school girls seminaries (Pninim, Chedvas, Binas, and Keser Chaya) once controlled by disgraced sex abuser Rabbi (sic) Elimelech Meisels may have their accreditation restored, allowing for US financial aid and transferable college credit. This may end a half-year impasse that started with a July 10th ruling by the Chicago Special Beis Din for sex abuse (aka CBD) ruling that the Meisels seminaries were not safe for students because of Meisels misconduct. That Beis Din consisted of Rabbis Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Shmuel Feurst and Zev Cohen. In a later ruling they also accused other staff of enabling or covering up abuse. On that basis they convinced Touro College and Hebrew Theological College to deny them accreditation. This in turn prevented students from getting US government aid and college credits.
In contrast, the Israeli Beis Din (IBD) of Rabbis Mendel Shafran, Chaim Malinowitz and Tzvi Gartner claimed that with Meisels departure there were no problems and that additional safeguards had been installed.
The Chicago Beis Din insisted they could not clear the seminaries until accused staff agreed to be interrogated. They also reported, that contrary to IBD claims, Meisels retained control.
The impasse between the two battei din was resolved through a joint Beis Din whose members included the dayanim of both battei din and a seventh member, R. Eliyahu Brudny (Rosh Yeshiva of Mirer Yeshiva in Brooklyn). They met in the Manhattan building of Agudath Israel of America on Thursday, November 6th from about 3 p.m. till past midnight and had subsequent interactions culminating in their Dec 1 ruling. However, to date, there is no confirmation that that Touro College and its subsidiary, Hebrew Theological College, have restored accreditation to the seminaries.
The Beis Din made heavy use of video- and tele-conferencing.
Two of the rabbis (Schwartz and Gartner) participated from Chicago and Israel. Witnesses of abuse and enabling participated either in person or by phone. In an incredible breach of judicial procedure, the accused were all in the same room able to hear and echo each others claims. Meisel’s guilt was taken as a given and he was not part of the session. They also did not allow any rabbinic pleaders (toanim). This prevented Mrs. Hindy Ullman from using her father, famous toen, Shmuel Fried. While both of the original battei din had rules allowing witnesses without the presence of the accused (as is now established halacha for sex abuse cases) they forced the witnesses to give testimony in front of the accused staff, who interrupted, screamed and heaped abuse in a desperate attempt to intimidate the witnesses. Some the dayanim conducted a number of other interviews with the staff.
A number of the dayanim were convinced that the scandal at these seminaries involved some of the worst staff enabling of abuse they had ever encountered, both in ignoring the obvious signs and in rebuffing reports. Seminary principals Rabbi Meir Kahane and Mrs Hindy Ullman are expected to suffer some consequences such as a demotion or reprimand but this will not be stated officially.
According to some sources, formal control of the organization which was previously in the hands of Elimelech Meisels and Mr Yaakov Yarmush will fully pass to a new party. Though other sources deny this is going to happen. According to the first set of source, the terms for transferring control are settled but the legalities are not completed. New protocols are being installed at the initiative of the Beis Din. A new training was conducted at Peninim by Mrs. Debbie Gross of the Israeli organization, Tahel. Rabbi Moshe Krupka of Touro College was also in Israel to meet with all the seminaries they accredit to advise them on new standards and requirements for avoiding abuse and dealing with it. I also expect to see a shift in seminaries away from male staff and administrators (as advocated by Rabbi Zucker at the recent convention of Agudath Israel of America).
So, now at the end of this process, the seminaries are allowed to live on though they are likely to decline in size. Insiders say five new seminaries are recruiting for the 2015 year both because of growth in this market and the expectation that the seminaries that Meisels used to control will never be as large as they used to be. It does not matter that they have now been proclaimed kosher. The stench of scandalous misdeeds hangs over them. Kosher is not good enough and many parents are not willing to believe they are mehadrin.
I am disappointed that some truly outrageous staff misconduct did not lead to anyone being fired. However, no one should mistake this joint ruling for an innocent verdict on staff. Daniel Eidensohn’s Daas Torah blog leaked the last page of the ruling favoring the restoration of the accreditation and claiming that new controls will make the seminaries safe. He used the misleading headline: “It is official!: Chicago Beis Din and Israeli Beis Din agree 4 seminaries are o.k.
He makes it sound as if there was never a problem. However, he only posted the final page of a longer statement of approximately five pages which I am told is not so rosy. I have heard some of the content and will post it when I get a copy.
The Beis Din is relying on new training. I think the previous conduct of staff suggests they are too indifferent or too stupid to recognize ugly realities being played out in front of them. I for one don’t think these staff should be trusted. Stupidity and indifference cannot be cured by retraining.
It is good that there is a new consciousness about the need to train staff and confront abuse. It is especially good that seminaries realize such scandals can cost them accreditation. But once again the frum world has shown that protecting institutions is more important than protecting victims and punishing culprits. We all know about the problem of financial institutions that can be reckless with our money because they are “too big to fail.” The Haredi world suffers from institutions “too frum to be shut down” because Torah families depend on them for livelihood.
The biggest problem with this resolution is that many staff of the seminaries are still claiming that the allegations against Meisels are either false or grossly exaggerated. Unfortunately, the Beis Din, has done nothing to correct that falsehood. They have not let the public know that they heard clear evidence that Meisels sexually assaulted girls.