Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Message to Elimelech Miesels: Time to Come Clean

Meisels (top left) pictured in a flyer together with R' Matisyhau Salomon
The rockets are still flying from Gaza into Israel.  And our brave soldiers have entered Gaza risking their lives for our people. May God protect them. As of right now 28 Israeli soldiers have been killed by Hamas. May God Avenge their blood. The situation is very serious. I pray that it ends soon and that Hamas is either destroyed or made impotent. 

As we await a positive outcome to this situation there is another horror story coming out of Israel. One that I wrote about last week. This too has destroyed some lives. Until yesterday, I did not know just how sick the sexual encounters Elimelech Meisels had with his victims were.

To briefly review - Meisels who was for many years the head of four seminaries was judged to be a danger to the young women that attend them. The Special Chicago Beis Din created to deal with these matters made that determination in a published letter. That Beis Din consisted of three of the most prominent Rabbonim - all Poskim and Dayanim - in the city.

As I said, I did not until yesterday know the nature of his illicit sexual encounters. Grounds for removing him from any association with those seminaries can range anywhere from simply putting his arm around a girl in need of emotional support which is highly inappropriate but perhaps understandable  - to activities that are far more serious. Based on the wording of the original letter calling it ‘unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature’ I strongly suspected it was the latter.

Yerachmiel Lopin posted about the matter immediately and was inundated with comments. I weighed in shortly after my own verification about the validity of the Chicago Beis Din’s proclamation. The accolades about Meisels poured in. Comments ranged from denial and disbelief  - calling the Beis Din letter a forgery to saying his accusers were unstable girls  that lied because of some sort of personal vendetta. Others said it was impossible to believe since the behavior they always saw in him was inspiring and beyond exemplary.

Then there are all those who say that a man is innocent until proven guilty. We should give this wonderful man with so many accomplishments under his belt – the benefit of the doubt. We must be Dan L’Kaf Zechus.

After doing a little bit of research on the nature of his acts, I have found out exactly what he did. To call it unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature is an understatement. I am not at liberty to say what it was. But suffice it to say it was disgusting by any standard - even if he were not done by a respected seminary head.

The problem now is the following. Elimelech Meisels has not come forward publicly to admit he sexually abused some of his students. And that increases the Chilul HaShem immensely. The fact is that he not only violated the victims he had sexual contact with. He violated the entire rest of his student body who still believe in him and defend him.  By not admitting what he did publicly, the myth of his righteousness will continue to be perpetuated. They will continue living in denial and disbelief.  That the man who so strongly inspired them is an innocent man having been falsely accused by some very convincing liars claiming to be victims.

Elimelech Meisels must come clean and tell the truth. He must completely sever his relationship in every way to those seminaries, and not simply  just stop teaching there. He should then seek professional help.  

I strongly disagree with the Israeli Beis din that restored the reputation of these seminaries by simply removing him from the premises. It appears I am not the only one. My Alma Mater, HTC is severing their relationship with them too as is Torah Umesorah.

The fact is that a public admission of guilt is part of the Teshuva process. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz has written two wonderful posts (here and here) on the subject that should be read by all.

As a footnote, I would add that the Gemarah’s principle of Ayn Apitopus L’Aryaos (there is no guardian for sex) is as applicable today as it ever was. And it applies to everyone, no matter what his station; no matter how respected; no matter how popular.

There have been many great people including great rabbinic figures, popular Kiruv rabbis, Poskim,  and Roshei Yeshiva that have fallen into this trap. They have allowed themselves to be put into situations that led to behavior they never thought themselves capable of.

I have never been more supportive of the Hilchos Yichud than I am now.  Any seminary head or individual that secludes themeslves with a woman for whatever reason puts himlsef at risk. Male psychotherapists, psychiatrists, rabbis, and counselors of any kind should never lock any doors when treating a woman. There should always be an open door with another person close by and the ability to enter the room at will.

I don’t know whether Meisels was a sexual predator whose ulterior motive was to set up seminaries for purposes of finding vulnerable females to satisfy his aberrant sexual needs… or if he was L’Shma from the beginning and just fell into a trap while seriously trying to help a troubled girl one on one late into the night. It really doesn’t matter to the victim. It should have never happened. If there are troubled young women that need counseling, he should have sent them to professionals.

In almost every case the perpetrator was  charismatic individual. The behavior of a charismatic leader is well described by Yerachmiel Lopin about Meisels in response to comments made in a recent Facebook post
Amazing", "friendly, "always available," and "fun" came up over and over in comments from many of the Meisels students. It is also clear that he was in the seminary at all hours and took girls out for "drives" or "coffee" in the early a.m. hours. Unfortunately, so many of them were besotted by him to the point that they would not let themselves admit the pattern or recognize how far along they were in themselves being potentially seducible. 
My advice to parents contemplating a seminary experience in Israel for their daughters is to stay away from charismatic seminary heads. Young women are too easily drawn to them which can lead to an intimacy from which they will never recover.