Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Meisels Seminary Saga - Does This End it?

Rabbi Gedalia Dov Scwartz addressing a conference on sex abuse a few years ago
If Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz has signed off on it, I support it.  And in fact he did – along with Rabbis  Shmuel Fuerst and  Zev Cohen, the 2 other members of the CBD (Chicago Special Beis Din for handling claims of sexual abuse).

The CBD has reinstated the status of 4 seminaries formerly owned and operated by accused sex abuser, Elimelech Meisels. The stipulations they had asked for have apparently been satisfied.  The schools have now been deemed safe for young women to attend.

One may recall that there was a dispute about that with the IBD (Israeli Beis Din) that was asked by the CBD to carry out its directives with regard to rectifying the situation there.  They were tasked by the CBD to see to it that Meisels sell the schools and remove his presence from them permanently. 

Additionally they required the removal of teachers and principals that acted irresponsibly. Either by turning a blind eye to claims of abuse by students; witnessing inappropriate behavior by Meisels and ignoring it; or by actively or implicitly threatening students with terrible consequences if they went to the police or in any way made their accusations public. Furthermore new guidelines were to be established to prevent any abuse in the future - and a commission established to oversee and enforce them.

After a brief review of the case handed to them by the CBD, the IBD quickly had Meisels removed and made him sell the schools. And if I recall correctly they also implemented new guidelines and an oversight committee. The IBD then declared the schools to be safe and wonderful institutions for young women to attend. The CBD rejected the IBD’s hasty decision declaring those schools to still be unsafe.  The enabling teachers and principals had not been removed.

After a few months of disputing the matter, it was finally settled last month. The two Battei Din met and hashed things out. Apparently all matters of dispute were settled.

Additionally a lawsuit was brought against the schools by parents who paid tuition for their daughters in advance and demanded their money back after news of the abuse hit the fan. After at first refusing to pay them based on a pre-existing agreement that there would be no refunds if a parent changed their mind about sending their daughters, they now issued full refunds.

So as I said earlier the schools have now been deemed safe. Or so it seems. According to Yerachmiel Lopin there are some troubling aspects to this settlement. Among them the following:
While both of the original battei din had rules allowing witnesses without the presence of the accused (as is now established halacha for sex abuse cases) they forced the witnesses to give testimony in front of the accused staff, who interrupted, screamed and heaped abuse in a desperate attempt to intimidate the witnesses.
Yearchmiel’s sources were 2 of those witnesses. I am indeed troubled by this. And yet I trust Rabbi Schwartz. I do not believe for a moment that he would have given his imprimatur on something as shabbily conducted as this.

Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn has added his own commentary to Yerachmiel’s post wherein he accuses him of lying. He furthermore claims the following:
It is clear that the original claims of the Chicago Beis Din - that he constantly repeated in his condescending and derogatory attacks on the Israeli Beis Din -  have been shown to not be supported by the facts. This agreement could have been obtained a long time ago.
I have no clue what he bases this upon. There is no information available that I am aware of that substantiates this claim. I don’t know if the CBD capitulated to the IBD or if there were the additional steps asked for by the CDB were implemented by the IBD.

Where the truth lies, I don’t know. But as I said, I trust Rabbi Schwartz’s judgment. He is nobody’s patsy. He is an astute jurist that is not influenced by extraneous factors unrelated to the issue at hand. Whether teachers will lose their jobs is immaterial to his determination to say and do the right thing. He is fearless about truth, justice, and fairness – regardless of the consequences.

I just want to add a personal note here. Even though I trust the judgment of Rabbi Schwartz that the schools are now safe, I wouldn’t send my own daughters anywhere near those schools. There was a lot of trouble gone to by all involved to try and salvage them. Because they provide jobs and a decent source of income to the teachers that teach there.  

In some cases they were the sole support of their families. I get that. No one should lose their means of support if they were innocent of any wrongdoing. Aside from the perpetrator and his enablers, the rest of the faculty that knew nothing about any of this are innocent. They do not deserve to be punished for something they had absolutely nothing to do with. If the problem can be solved while saving their jobs, why not?


Nevertheless, if I ruled the world, I would shut those 4 schools down. They have the taint of abuse and I would not want any of my daughters to set foot in them.

What about those innocent teachers that would lose their jobs? I believe that good teachers will land on their feet. There is something called the law of supply and demand. The young women that would have attended those schools will find other seminaries. Most seminaries operate to full capacity. Many young women that apply are not accepted because there is simply no room for them. That means that new seminaries need to be created to handle them. I am convinced they will be.

Teaching positions will eventually be filled by talented teachers with proven track records – among them those that taught at Mesiels’ seminaries. In the meantime the innocent teachers of those 4 seminaries that have stellar reputations will find jobs. Those whose reputations are not so stellar shouldn’t be teaching anyway.

Just my two cents.