The New York Jewish Week just posted an excellent article by religion reporter Rachel Delia Benaim about the Meisels scandal. Here are some excerpts.
“He tried to connect with us by flirting,” a 2008 alumna said. “It was weird, but I didn’t say anything,” said the young woman, who is now married. This characterization of flirtatious behavior was heard most often among those interviewed, like always telling them they were pretty. A 2010 student said “he would use curse words in front of us,” and another former student said the rabbi told her about a student “who was addicted to calling sex lines — that’s just inappropriate to talk to me about.” A former Peninim student said the rabbi asked her, and other young women, about their sexual history. But “he was trying to help us,” she maintained.
Beyond allegedly crossing verbal boundaries, former students said the rabbi drove alone with girls late in the evening, drank with them on occasion and smoked a hookah, or water pipe, with them in his office. At the same time, the women described Rabbi Meisels as a mentor who encouraged them to dress modestly in long skirts and tights.
One former student, who became a whistleblower and brought her case to the Chicago beit din, clearly was tense and spoke quickly when she recounted the rabbi’s alleged sexual advances toward her at the end of the school year.
“He said he wanted to give me a hug goodbye,” she said. “He was crying. He said he was going to miss me.” She asked him about shomer negiah, the Jewish prohibition against touching members of the opposite sex other than one’s spouse. Didn’t that matter?
He responded that he was her “Tatte,” using the Yiddish word for father, and it was OK. No, she told him, it wasn’t OK. He continued to advance. The whistleblower was frozen in her seat. What was happening? There he was, inches away. She curled into a ball in the chair in his office. Suddenly, Rabbi Meisels collapsed onto her body, sobbing uncontrollably, she said. He hugged her from behind, caressing her and kissing her head. “Why wasn’t she hugging him back,” she recalled him asking her. When he finally moved away, she bolted for the door. He let her go.
Some time later, after this student had already left seminary and had settled in New York, Rabbi Meisels, who was in the U.S. for official seminary work, asked her to get together. She said she accepted, never considering the possibility of another episode. But as he was driving her to where she was staying in Brooklyn, he brought up their last encounter. “He told me it was my fault, that I was a bad girl, that I made him attracted to me,” she said. Facing her, “he said it was allowed for men to have more than one wife,” she remembered. (He is married and has many children.) According to her account, the rabbi pinned her to her seat in the car, she told him to get off of her, and when he didn’t, she screamed and pulled away. He kept on grabbing her back, she said, and then “I scratched him, and ran out of the car.”
In spite of these and many other shocking behaviors Meisels still has many defenders among the staff, students and alumni of his seminaries. They defame his accusers as dishonest attention seekers and insist, that at worst, he hugged a few students. They utterly deny that anyone else at the seminaries could have known about his misconduct.
There is more to this article by Ms. Benaim. She is to be commended for her success in connecting to many former students and getting their accounts. Please take the time to read the entire article along with a valuable article by Alona Ferber in Haaretz. The media onslaught is going to accelerate.