Let’s Talk about Policy Instead of Whether Rabbi Shmuel Tal Did Teshuva

Context

asherlovy052

Asher Lovy

The guest post that follows by Asher Lovy is a response to the debate about whether Rabbi Shmuel Tal truly repented of his egregious manipulation of woman he was counseling to get her to divorce her husband so Tal could marry her. A beit din declared he could retain his position heading a yeshiva because he did repent. I posted about the episode (and included a statement by Rabbi Yosef Blau). Subsequently there were also posts by Rabbi Blau in the Times of Israel and by Hannah Katsman on her blog, A Mother in Israel. All of us utterly dispute the claim that he repented. 

Asher Lovy is the Director of Community Organizing at Zaakah, and an activist who played an important role in securing  in some legislative victories involving child abuse in New York State.

Guest Post
Let’s Talk about Policy Instead of Whether Rabbi Shmuel Tal Did Teshuva
by Asher Lovy

I respect Rabbi Blau and appreciate his his article, Rabbi Shmuel Tal’s Authority is Intact; Everybody Should Be Asking, Why? But, I feel like the discussion around this issue has been allowed to veer into the morass of our particular religio-communal-cultural discourse around sexual impropriety, and that we’ve lost objective focus of this issue.

Last week, Rabbi Elli Fischer wrote a post that generated an intense discussion. In that post he said that he felt the beis din was correct in not stripping him of his position because he could understand the possible frame of mind in which Shmuel Tal did this to that woman, and that since nothing else otherwise incriminating was found on his computer, and we don’t have a long record of Tal doing things like this, the conditions set by the beis din that Tal could no longer counsel women or claim to have Ruach Hakodesh, while still maintaining his position as rosh yeshiva, were fair. (Note- Rabbi Fischer has since removed his article from public viewing on FaceBook after a lot of online criticism). 

To me this whole discussion is missing the point. It’s not relevant whether or not he did teshuva. It’s not relevant whether or not stuff was found on his computer. We need to start looking at these cases not as individual cases to be adjudicated individually, but as broad matters of institutional best practice. Continue reading

Rabbi Yosef Blau Criticizes Beit Din Ruling Which Protects Cultist Marriage Wrecker, Rabbi Shmuel Tal

BACKGROUND

Rabbi Shmuel Tal had a scam. As head of Torat HaChaim yeshiva as well as several other religious institutions in the central Israeli town of Yad Binyamin he went around claiming ruach hakodesh (Divine or prophetic inspiration). Tal counseled a young married woman to get a divorce from her husband in order to marry him. Tal claimed he knew through ruach hakodesh that Yifat, his wife, would die shortly. He also claimed to know through ruach hakodesh that he was the reincarnation of King David and she was the reincarnation of Batsheba.

The woman got the divorce but the quite healthy wife didn’t die on the predicted date. Tal now tried to get his wife, Yifat, to agree to him taking this woman as a second wife but she refused this polygamous offer. So Tal ignored the woman. 

Realizing she had been taken, she remarried her husband. They both sued R. Tal for damages and got a hefty award (500,000 Shekels/$140,000) and Tal made a first partial payment toward the total. Based on that settlement, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu ruled that Tal had repented and could continue leading his yeshiva and other institutions. This all happened about 4 years ago and the public was left in the dark about this shady, manipulative, cultic, marriage-wrecking rabbi. (See Times of Israel for many more details).

It also turns out that Shmuel Tal saw himself more like King Solomon than David in his pursuit of multiple wives. According to the Times of Israel:

A former student of Tal’s by the name of Joe Axelrod posted on Facebook that the Torat HaChaim rabbi had tried to convince his wife — using the “holy spirit” — to divorce him in order for them to marry and have a child together who would go on to become the messiah.

There are allegations that Tal tried variations of this ploy on several other women. 

Besides being a manipulative sleaze, Tal is also a deadbeat. Tal made an initial payment and then stopped. That played a role in R. Eliyahu going public in May (5/29/19) about the scandal and calling on Tal to resign all his rabbinical positions. 

But cultist manipulators like Tal don’t surrender just because they have been exposed. They attack, defend, and rally their troops. So as the issue was to be arbitrated by a beit din, according to Kipa (6/11/19), Tal dismissed his Rosh Kollel, a Rabbi Cohen, who also called on Tal to resign and was, it seemed testifying, or going to testify, to outside rabbonim. This firing of course scared the heck out of others in the small community which Tal dominates. 

Rabbi Asher Weiss was brought in to arbitrate. Rabbi Weiss is a highly respected posek in both the Haredi and religious Zionist camps. Weiss started out by ruling that pending a final ruling Tal could continue in his positions since the complaints never involved allegations of physical contact with the woman and Tal was great scholar whose yeshiva promulgated and disseminated torah through its students. 

However, Weiss was soon forced to recuse himself from the case because he had previously been honored by Tal’s yeshiva to give guest lectures and had personally praised Tal.

So Weiss did the old hat trick of recusing himself but retaining control. He assigned the case to three rabbonim operating under the auspices of his beit din organization. The three were  Rabbis Michel Bleicher, Tzvi Gartner (of the Meisels Beit Din travesty), and Ovadiah Yosef Toledano. They issued a ruling under the “נשיאות” (leadership/authority) of Rabbi Asher Weiss. 

The gist of the ruling summarized on the Arutz Sheva newsite was that Rabbi Tal could continue to serve as Rosh Yeshiva of Torat Hayyim, but he would not be able to provide counseling on “family matters.” He was also admonished not to base halachic rulings on ruach hakodesh but there was no challenging his claim of ruach hakodesh except in the context of his dealings with this woman.

Rabbi Tal, according to Arutz Sheva regarded the ruling as a total vindication against slander, reached in spite of pressure by honest rabbis. There was singing and dancing in his community and not a hint of regret. 

RABBI BLAU CRITICIZES THE RULING

Rabbi Yosef Blau, Mashgiach Ruchani (spiritual advisor) at Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary is a long time anti-abuse activist and one familiar with all too many instances of rabbinical misconduct. He finds the ruling of the beit din absurd. In an email to me (7/5/19), which he asked me to post online, he wrote: Continue reading

Rabbis in South Monsey Asked to Take Steps to Protect Women and Girls from Bleich

Yesterday (6/6/19) an anonymous emailer writing on behalf of “Local South Monsey Area Women” sent a message to the rabbis and rebbetzins of four shuls and one minyan within a short walking distance of Rabbi Yaakov Bleich’s South Monsey (Airmont) residence asking why steps aren’t being taken to keep him out of all their shuls in light of serious allegations that he poses a danger to women.

They also addressed their message to the Executive Director of Agudath Israel of America (Agudah) Rabbi Leibish Becker who lives in the neighborhood. Finally they also emailed the Israeli muckraking blogger, Chaim Shaulson. All the addressees were in the “To” field and I have verified that all the email addresses were accurate and thus presumably reached the addressees.

Rabbi Yaakov Bleich is Chief Rabbi of Ukraine. But for some years now he has spent a lot of his time in the US, in recent years, living in Monsey. However, with the mounting clouds of scandal he has been spending more time in the Ukraine and has dramatically upped the visibility of his time in Kiev through Tweets, WhatsAp and other social media activity of him and his family, especially his daughters.

The message bases its allegations in part on the fact that the Conference of European Rabbis has forced his resignation as reported in an Israeli blog and on this blog. This happened in the aftermath of their investigation of allegations of sexual assault. Additionally, the letter references information about allegations moving inside their own networks and states: “Women talk, and I am sure you understand that the women feel very insecure knowing that the Rabbanim are not doing anything more to protect us.”

The email includes these pointed challenges to the rabbis: Continue reading

Bleich Resigns from Conference of European Rabbis after Investigation

Chaim Shaulson‘s Hebrew language blog, In the World of Haredim (בעולמם של חרידים) posted (6/1/19)

Rabbi [Yaakov] Bleich [Chief Rabbi of the Ukraine] resigned from the Conference of European Rabbis after Dayan [Menachem] Gelley [Av Beth Din of the London Beth Din of the United Synagogue] went to  America and examined the suspicions against him[Bleich].

Continue reading

Monsey Rabbis Restore Hashgachah to Vendor of Treyf Chickens (Satire)

Twelve years ago Moshe Finkel was caught selling treyf chickens as kosher.  It was truly a calamity. The community was thrown into turmoil, massive kashering and a torrent of explanations ranging from loshon horah to short skirts. Some rabbonim called for public fasts. He was kicked out of Monsey.

But now a panel of distinguished rabbis declared his teshuva is complete and he can return to selling chickens.

Some were surprised by the ruling of Rav Nistar Chelm. But his reasoning was solid and backed up by other rabbonim. Continue reading

Anti-Vax Rabbi Handler Also Played Defense for Weingarten, Convicted of Raping His Daughter

This post comes from my February, 2010 archives where it appeared with the title, “Rabbi Menachem Weissmandl, Why Are You Defending Yisroel Moshe Weingarten?” Weingarten in the article was serving a 30 year sentence based on his repeated rape of his teen daughter. Weissmandl is a prominent rabbi who was involved with many other Hasidic rabbis in supporting his appeals and insisting on his innocence. The popular Zev Brenner radio show ran an episode on the Weingarten case and Weissmandl chose Rabbi William/Hillel Handler to appear on the show defending Weingarten.


I have been doing a lot of research on Yisroel Moshe Weingarten (YMW). Every time I find something it leads to something else. I have learned about more boys and girls he is alleged to have molested. This week I spoke to people who alleged that he  raped Jewish and gentile girls. I discovered this by asking a few questions and listening to sad stories. I am not a genius; I do not have an army of investigators; I don’t have access to the files of the FBI and the Mossad. I have not bribed anyone to get information.

Some of the rabbis who signed the kol koreh (proclamation)defending Yisroel Moshe knew things that should have made them pause long and hard. One of the more prominent signers of the pidyon shvuyim (prisoner redemption) kol koreh in the summer of 2009 was Rabbi Menachem Weissmandl, Nitra Rav-Monsey, the youngest son of Rabbi Chaim Michael Dov (Michoel Ber) Weissmandl, ztz”l.

It gives me no pleasure to criticize Menachem Weissmandl for conduct that dishonors the name of his great father. Continue reading

A Meditation/Blessing/Kavanah for Vaccination

Hannah Katsman (חנה כצמן) of Petah Tikva recently composed this Meditation/Blessing/Kavanah to be said before vaccination. It has also been placed on the Open Siddur Project

Oh God and God of our fathers, may it be Thy will that the vaccinations that we are about to receive will bring health, blessing and redemption, and protect us from suffering and terrible diseases.

May this vaccination work quickly with minimal pain and side effects. Through this vaccine, may we merit blessing and protection for small children, the elderly, and the sick who cannot be vaccinated.

May the nurses and doctors who provide our vaccines enjoy long and peaceful life, financial security and success. May the merit of their preservation of our health stand in their stead until the end of their days.

Through the merit of observing the commandment, “you should guard yourself carefully,” may we be privileged to raise children to Torah, the marriage canopy, and good deeds. Blessed is the One who hears prayer.

In memory of my brother Dr. Sholom Wacholder z”l, who died on Hoshana Raba 5776. As a biostatistician for the National Cancer Institute, he was instrumental in the development of the vaccine to prevent cancers caused by HPV.

(Copyright belongs to Hannah Katsman but all are encouraged to use and distribute it non-commercially)


יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ Continue reading