Monday, July 14, 2014

Unwanted Physical Contact of a Sexual Nature

Elimelech Meisels
Rabbi Elimelech Meisels is a tremendous Talmid Chochom,  a co-author of Hashkafic works, and stemming from a distinguished family. He is an incredible Mechanech. Thousands of girls can testify to that.  He has the respect and admiration of many thousands of former students and their parents for being there for their daughters. He has helped girls get through many things and actually saved lives. Where would they be today if not for him? He is a special man who helped Klal Yisroel in countless ways. 

This is the problem with a serial sex offender like Meisels. They are often very accomplished and successful individuals that inspire many followers with their charisma.  And yet he is a sexual predator who preys on the vulnerable. He knows how to ‘groom’ his victims. Most of whom are in their late teens. How talented this individual is. And how sick. Yes, it is unfortunately possible to be a talented Mechanech who has saved many lives and at the same time be a callous sexual predator that can ruin many others lives – all for his own personal sexual gratification.

It is difficult to understand how it is possible for someone like this to have been preying on the vulnerable for so long. At the same time, it’s easy to see how he can get away with it. The accolades in the first paragraph are based on comments many of his former students made defending him on Yerachmiel Lopin’s blog. He is a beloved figure. For the many he helped – which is no doubt the majority, he is an icon. It is therefore impossible to believe someone like this could ever do anything so egregiously wrong. Not only is he a great Mechanech - he is also a happily married man. How could anyone dare say anything so negative about him?

It is this kind of thinking that a motivates the defenders of people like Nechemya Weberman… or Baruch Lanner. It is also the kind of thinking that causes rabbis of good will to say that abuse must be first reported to them before going to the police. The thinking is that people with such great reputations and so many accomplishments cannot possibly have done what they have been accused of doing. They must be given the benefit of the doubt. Allowing the police to get involved would instantly ruin the man’s reputation. So of course the rabbis must be consulted… God forbid that this man, his wife, and children suffer needlessly at the hands of a false accuser. That’s what good reputations will do for the predator.  Which of course allows them to continue their clandestine behavior while continuing to behave in an exemplary manner in public.

But at least in this case, justice seems to have prevailed so far. Victims of this guy have come forward and the rabbis believed them. A letter was published by the special Beis Din in Chicago created for exactly this purpose. Here it is their statement in its entirety:  
The Special Beis Din of Chicago has convened to address allegations of improper conduct, including unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature, between Elimelech Meisels and students of the following seminaries with which he is affiliated: Pnimim, Binas Beis Yaakov, Chedvas Beis Yaakov, and Keser Chaya.
Based on the testimony and documents received by the Beis Din, including testimony by the claimants and by Elimelech Meiels, the Beis Din believes that students in these seminaries are at risk of harm and it does not recommend that prospective students attend these seminaries at this time.
Because these seminaries and Mr. Meisels are located in Israel and not in the United States, a distinguished Israeli Beis Din consisting of Rabbis Menachem Mendel Shafran, Chaim Malinowitz, and Tzvi Gartner has assumed for this matter.
Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz
Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst
Rabbi Zev Cohen
There are many people who have suggested that this letter is fake and the signatures are a forgery. I personally spoke to Rabbi Fuerst, one of the signatories. He told me it is real and that he signed it as did the others.

For those who don’t know, Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst is the Dayan for Agudath Israel of Illinois. A Posek that was mentored by Rav Moshe Feinstein, he is the ‘go to’ Rav for many people in here in Chicago (and beyond) for just about any Shaila in Halacha one might have. He is also the Posek for NCSY Midwest.

Rabbi Gedalia Schwartz is the Av Bet Din (chief judge) of the Rabbinical Council of America (Bet Din of America) and Rosh Bet Din (Emeritus chief judge) of the Chicago Rabbinical Council Bet Din.

Rabbi  Zev Cohen is the Rav of Congregation Adas Yeshurun, a Dayan, Rosh Kollel of the Choshen Mishpat Kollel  and one of the most trusted rabbis in Chicago.

These three people do not usually cross paths. But they have come together here as one to warn the community about this guy. They do not even refer to him as rabbi, refusing to give him the title he earned (and now dishonored). Which is pretty amazing since Rabbi Fuerst’s mentor, Rav Moshe Feinstein used the title ‘rabbi’ in his Teshuvos when referring to Reform rabbis. Imagine how undeserving this fellow is of that title.

On his blog, Yerachmiel said that people close to that Beis Din told him that among his pickup lines were “my wife is boring….”. Imagine your daughter hearing things like that from her charismatic seminary head. I’m told that many seminary girls will develop a crush on their seminary heads.  That makes it easy for a dirtbag like Meisels to take advantage of them.

Yerachmiel was also told that the abuse involved many young women and was severe.

While this situation may or may not involved abuse of minors, there is no question in my mind that it involves some form of molestation or worse. If the students he abused were minors (usually defined in this country as under 18 if I understand correctly), he could be prosecuted for statutory rape if he had sex with any of them. I have no clue what the laws of the State of Israel are with respect to that. But my hope is that the distinguished rabbis in Israel who have accepted the task pursue that avenue if it is available to them.

The bottom line here is the following. If you have a daughter that will be studying in a seminary in Israel, stay far away from this man and any seminary with which he is connected.

Elimelech Meisels has been removed as head of the above mentioned seminaries. For details, see here.