Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Removing the Evil from Their Midst

Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz
Clarity. That is the beauty of the fine mind of Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, the Zaken Ha’ir – Chicago’s rabbinic elder.  Not only is his mind perfectly clear, he has the character to match. He is fearless in his determination to protect our daughters and see justice done. Smear campaigns by people with agendas other than the justice at hand - do not faze him. He does what is right. He stands up and tells it like it is.

This is what he has done in a letter he wrote and signed (on behalf of the Special Chicago Beis Din) to Aaron Twersky, the attorney for the four seminaries trying to get their name back; reinstate the accreditation so necessary to attract American - tuition paying - students; and restore the approval needed to receive various types of federal funding which requires compliance to its rules regarding sexual abuse. That letter has been made available to the public. Information contained therein sheds new light on this case and will be incorporated in the words below. My thanks to Yerachmiel Lopin for disseminating it on his blog.

As most people who read this blog know by now, Rabbi Schwartz is the Av Beis Din of the RCA and the Rosh Beis Din of the CRC.  He is part of the Special Beis Din here in Chicago (CBD) set up for the exclusive purpose of dealing with cases of sexual abuse. There are four prominent and highly respected Rabbonim available to serve on this Beis Din: Rav Schwartz; Agudah Moetzes member and Telshe Rosh HaYeshiva, R’ Avrohom Chaim Levin, Agudah of Illinois Dayan  and Talmid Muvhak of R’ Moshe Feinsten, Rav Shmuel Fuerst, and Rabbi Zev Cohen, Rav of Congregation Adas Yeshurun and Rosh Kollel of the Choshen Mishpat Kollel that grants its graduates the advanced Semicha given to Dayanim called ‘Yadin Yadin’.

As most people also know, this Beis Din convened over allegations that the Elimelech Meisels, owner and head of four seminaries in Israel, had ‘physical contact of a sexual nature’ with some of his students. Rav  Levin recused himself from that Beis Din because of a conflict of interest. The remaining 3 Rabbonim convened and heard testimony about sexual abuse from multiple victims. And then from Meisels himself. He admitted his guilt in writing adding additional acts some of which most likely constituted the legal definition of sexual violence. From the letter:
The Beis Din also received evidence – which included documentary proof and admissions that some staff members were (i) both aware of specific instances of misconduct and, (ii)more generally, gross violations of the norms of behavior in seminaries and enabled this behavior by failing to stop it. The disturbing facts supported by this evidence include but are not limited to, the following:
* Meisels repeatedly visited dormitories late at night, to the knowledge of certain staff.
* Meisels repeatedly took female students for car rides alone with him late at night, often to secluded destinations, to the knowledge of certain staff.
* A parent of a victim of unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature by Meisels reported the misconduct to a senior administrator, who summarily dismissed the report as false.
* Another staff member was aware of multiple instances of unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature by Meisels, but did not take action in response.
* A student reported misconduct to another senior administrator, who responded that the student should remain silent lest Meisels ruin her Shidduch prospects.
* A senior instructed others that it was forbidden to discuss Meisles’s  misconduct or believe it to be true.
* A staff member who was aware of multiple instances of unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature by Meisels instructed the victim not to tell her parents.
On July 1st Meisels agreed in writing  to relinquish financial  control of the four seminaries to appointees of an Israeli Beis Din (IBD) that had agreed to assist the CBD in implementing the Psak Din issued by them. It also agreed to a Reorganization Officer that would oversee the the reorganization of the staff.

And then all hell broke loose. The IBD did not fully implement the Psak Din. The CBD then reluctantly  published a warning to potential parents that Meisels 4 seminaries were not considered safe because of Meisels sexual abuse and  predatory behavior. Had the Psak Din been fully implemented, exposing them to undue negative publicity in this way would not have been necessary.

The CBD did so in order to avoid a cover-up of Meisels misconduct - and to avoid a cover-up of the complicity of certain staff members. There was no desire by the CBD to hurt those staff members who were innocent of any involvement.

The CBD had issued requirements for the seminaries in order for them to continue to function, which included hearing additional testimony from certain staff members. As Rav Schwartz clearly states, staff members who knew about the Meisels behavior and did nothing must be removed. They violated their most fundamental responsibility to protect their students. As Rav Schwartz so succinctly puts it:
Absent extraordinary circumstances, such persons must be removed from the seminaries, just as any reasonable person would insist on the removal of a Mashgiach who knowingly permitted a cook to serve Treif food to consumers.
Although there has been much talk (mainly from the Israeli Beis Din and their supporters) about the supposed sale of those seminaries by Meisels, it is far from certain that Meisels has relinquished all financial control. Any such control would ‘disincentivize’  teachers paid by those schools from confronting him. 

As of yet, there have been no assurances from the Israeli side that this is now the case. Until these conditions are met, the CBD will not rescind its warning and continue to recommend that Yeshiva type colleges not restore accreditation. The sale of those seminaries is dependent on contingencies that have not yet been fulfilled.

It should be obvious to all that IBD’s quick restoration of ‘Kashrus’ has not taken steps to determine which teachers and administrators enabled the abuse, protected their jobs at the expense of their students, and even tried to cover it all up. They instead granted every staff member a Chezkas Kashrus. Proclaimig them all innocent of any wrongdoing - knowing that there was evidence to the contrary.

Not knowing which teachers did or didn’t know, does not absolve them of their responsibility of finding out before giving them their OK. Their decision to restore the reputation of those schools anyway does not serve the interests of the students currently attending nor does it serve justice. Their claim that the CBD has not been forthcoming with information about the guilty parties rings hollow in the face of the evidence seen by the CBD combined with the refusal of certain staff members to testify before the CBD.

Why did they do it? Why Kasher a school where sex abuse was enabled by teachers still working there? There is only one explanation. I’ve said it before. And now more than ever -  based on conversations I’ve had with knowledgeable people -  I believe it to the reason.

The IBD are part of a system in Israel that is currently under tremendous financial stress. The structure of the Kollel system is highly (albeit not exclusively) dependent upon the income of Kollel wives. The closing of those seminaries will create untold hardship the families of the Kollel wives who teach there. Not to mention that their reputations will be ruined when people realize why those schools closed. The IBD was not about to let that happen. So instead of ‘removing the evil from its midst’ they allow it to remain in place and declared them Kosher.

Thank God the CBD is not fooled. Until they listen to the admonition from God Himself to ‘remove the evil from their midst’ those schools remain unsafe.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz asked me to add the following addendum to this post. I am pleased to do so.

Dear Readers:

It is important to note how careful CBD was to limit collateral damage by initially speaking in subdued language hoping everyone would understand -- and only released these details at this point under duress. 

There is an extraordinarily important take-away message here, namely that people who commit wrongdoings of this nature are far, far better served to come clean right away. 

Please note that I tried to do the same in commenting on what ought to be done without mentioning names in these two posts


Just imagine how it would have been better for all parties involved had the tempered p'sak of CBD and the advice in these columns been followed.

Yakov Horowitz