As of last week, Touro College (and its affiliate, Hebrew Theological College) still hasn’t restored accreditation to the four seminaries, Pninim, Chedvas, Keser Chaya, and Binas. According to a source who spoke to Executive VP, Rabbi Moshe Krupka, Touro is waiting for proof that Elimelech Meisels, no longer has ANY possible control over the seminaries. Without accreditation, your daughter won’t qualify for FASAP grants and loans or college credits.
According to Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn, Touro is also demanding that a staff member be fired (probably the principal of Binas, Hindy Ullman). This would be consistent with the statement by the Special Beis Din of Chicago (CBD) in September:
Staff members who knew of Meisels’ misconduct, yet did nothing to stop it, violated their most fundamental responsibility-protecting the bnos yisroel entrusted to their care. Absent extraordinary circumstances, such persons must be removed from the seminaries, just as any reasonable person would insist upon removal of a mashgiach who knowingly permitted a cook to serve treif food to consumers.
Those who now control the seminaries continue to refuse to give refunds to parents who withdrew their students for the 2014-2015 year. The parents involved either get no answers or they get sent running from one party to another. The only parents who got refunds were those who joined a lawsuit. If an individual seminary decides to close shop because enrollment is too low, don’t count on getting your tuition deposits back. Even if you are willing to sue, there may be no assets to back up a judgment. Officially, the seminary does not own real estate. They rent, according to their Israeli amutah reports on Guidestar.
Meisels Still Controls the Seminaries
Nobody has confirmed in writing that Meisels has given up control of the seminaries. In September, the CBD wrote:
Meisels’ control of staff members’ livelihoods necessarily would have been a factor in their unwillingness to confront him… In a July 30 conference call, Rabbis Tzvi Gartner and Chaim Malinowitz stated to the [Chicago] Beis Din that the publicly-reported purchase of the seminaries was subject to as-yet unfulfilled contingencies, including enrollment targets and financing.
Translated into English, there is a “catch 22.” Meisels would like the full business value of the seminaries. The buyer, Mr. Yaakov Yarmush, wouldn’t commit to that because there are unpredictable financial issues. No one knows whether enough students will enroll. No one can be sure of how many more alumni will sue the seminaries because they were sexually assaulted as two already have (alleging rape and attempted rape). It seems the deal is structured so that Meisels gets his money if the seminaries succeed in meeting the financial goals. But if they don’t, the seminaries go back to Meisels. The deal could have been structured differently, but I believe Meisels is determined to eventually get back into the seminary business.
Misleading Safety Statements
A lot of paper has been issued claiming the seminaries are now safe. All of them have problems. When the CBD declared the seminaries were not safe on Thursday, July 10th, the Israeli Beis Din (IBD) or Rabbis Shafran, Gartner and Malinowitz issued a statement on Sunday, July 13 saying the seminaries were safe. They said that even before Meisels sold the seminaries to Mr. Yarmush.
The Moetzes (Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America) never took a position on the safety of the seminaries. Instead a letter was signed by five members but Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, the Moetzes member most involved in issues of sex abuse, never agreed to sign that statement. Ask yourself why? Surely they would have wanted his signature on such an issue. The letter by the Moetzes members was in part instigated by R. Avrohom Chaim Levin (RY Telz-Chicago). But R. Levin is nogeih bidavar (has a conflict of interest) arising from his close personal friendships and marriage connections to the two generations of the Meisels family. That is why he recused himself from participating in a Beis Din hearing charges against Meisels.
You have been told that there is a supervising committee (vaad) headed by the Rosh Yeshiva Asher Weiss. But when asked, R. Weiss says he only agreed to answer shailos (Jewish law questions). Rebitzin Birnbaum has been talked about as the spiritual principal (מנהלת רוחני) but she has no direct authority over staff. The principals that ignored the grooming and abuse are still in charge.
Do you want to risk the safety of your daughters relying on the same people who failed under Meisels? Do you want to hope that they have all been adequately retrained? Do you want to gamble on the seminary getting accreditation? Do you want to risk the seminaries closing and not getting a refund? I think, not.
Postscript – No One Has Exonerated Meisels
Rumors are circulating that Meisels was exonerated. However, the Chicago Beis Din still stands by its conclusion that Meisels engaged in unwanted sexual contact with students and “sexual violence.” Together with the IBD under the leadership of Rav Eliezer Brudny, they have issued a statement allowing the schools to recruit, but they are still finalizing a longer statement (supposedly 4-5 pages) which is expected to deal some more with the previous failings. The Chicago Beis Din is expecting Touro to do the job of either getting persistent problems solved or forcing the failure of the seminaries by denying them accreditation. This is nice for staff eager to save their jobs. But why should you risk your daughter’s future on seminaries that may go bankrupt.
I repeat, in spite of rumors, no one can show you a single signed piece of paper stating Meisels was exonerated. All the battei din accept the guilty verdict of the Chicago Beis Din which conducted an extensive investigation. The issue is now being downplayed to save jobs and businesses. But as parents, you should be more concerned about your daughter’s wellbeing than about the jobs of others. Why be strict about hashgachos but lenient about the safety of your daughters?