Thursday, July 31, 2014

Standing by Their Convictions

Bnei Brak Beis Din Head, R' Menachem Shafran
A lot has happened since I last wrote about Elimelech Meisels and his 4 seminaries.

By now most people know that Meisels had physical contact with some his students that was of an ‘unwanted sexual nature’.  This was determined by the Special Beis Din in Chicago created for this purpose. After months of due diligence examining the facts, interviewing victims, and interviewing  the accused (who made a partial admission to the accusations) they sent out a letter warning parents not to send their daughters to any of Meisel’s schools.  The sexual acts were serious.  The Special Beis Din determined that not only was Meisels guilty of doing them, his teaching staff failed in their responsibilities to their students.

This Beis Din is not a shoot from the hip type Beis Din. They are very careful not to make accusations that could hurt a person for life until they are certain of the facts. So when they published their warning to parents, we can be sure that their conclusions are justified.

They then called upon a prestigious Beis Din in Bnei Brak to handle the situation form there. Rabbi Aharon Feldman, Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Israel was tasked with bringing this matter to their attention. They sat for 8 hours listening to testimony from everyone involved, came to their conclusion, and issued a document in Hebrew stating them. The following is Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn’s translation of that document: 
1) There is absolutely no danger to students to be educated in these four seminaries.
2) The staffs of these schools are incredible and they have done their work with mesiras nefesh, faithfully and with yeras shamayim. They have succeeded in producing a large number of students over the years who have produced distinguished frum homes that are faithful to G-d and His Torah and they are capable of producing more.
3) We request that Touro certify these seminaries for past credits
4) It is prohibited for any other school (either preexisting or newly established) to attempt to recruit students - either directly or indirectly - who have been accepted in these seminaries for the coming year. This is prohibited by a number of halachos and we are sure no one will try to do such a sin.
5) It is prohibited to defame or slander these seminaries in any manner
6) There are those who have intervened without authority who haven't heard all the facts and should be ignored. 
As indicated Touro – had  severed their relationship with them and no longer gave college credits for their courses. HTC did the same.

The Special Beis Din has not accepted the recommendations of the Bnei Brak Beis Din. They continue to insist that parents not send their daughters there.

It is rare for a Beis Din in America to reject the psak of a respected Beis Din in Beni Brak. But that is exactly what they have done. Remember that the Special Beis Din consisted of some of the most respected Rabbonim/Dayanim in all of Chicago. Their Hashkafos run from Centrist to Charedi. An Agudah Dayan, the Av Beis Din of the RCA, and the Rosh Kolllel of the Choshen Mishpat Kollel here in Chicago were the 3 Dayanim on this case. And they all rejected the conclusions of the Bnei Brak Beis Din in a published letter. From Yerachmiel Lopin’s blog, here is what they said: 
We stand by our July 10 statement that we do not recommend prospective students attend these seminaries, and also note, based on evidence including testimony by victims and staff and admissions by Elimelech Meisels, our conclusion that certain senior staff members failed in their responsibilities toward students. 
This statement was not written by some hot-headed blogger with an anti Charedi agenda. It was written by some of the most respected Rabbonim in America.

The Bnei Brak Beis Din has said not to listen to the ‘naysayers’ since they do not know all of the facts. The problem is that the Chicago ‘naysayers’ not only know the facts, but spent an enormously greater amount of time studying them. I think we must all conclude that the Bnei Brak Beis Din has grievously erred here. Here is a point by point refutation of their ‘Psak’:

1) It is unclear as to whether these seminaries are safe even now after Meisels has sold them to one of his friends.

2) The staff may be incredible but despite their many legitimate successes with vast numbers of students, they nonetheless failed some of them miserably. They can no longer be trusted with the safety of their students.

3) Touro (and HTC) should not restore their relationship with these seminaries.

4) Since these schools are no longer recommended, other schools have a right, and perhaps a responsibility to recruit students from those schools. The claim by the Bnei Brak Beis Din that it is forbidden by Halacha to do so is based on their erroneous conclusions.

5) Slander and defamation is normally prohibited, unless there is a Toeles… a purpose that will protect people from harm. In the case of these seminaries, it is fair to say that the teachers who allowed this kind of thing to go on by looking the other way even though they suspected something are not the kind of teachers you want teaching your daughters anything!

6) Those that have intervened – specifically the Special Beis Din - should most definitely NOT be ignored. They not only have the facts, but they know them better than the Bnei Brak Beis Din does.

I realize that the Bnei Brak Beis Din wants to protect the livelihoods and reputations of those teachers. I’m sure those teachers are all fine people who otherwise deserve the accolades they have gotten in the past from students, parents, and now the Bnei Brak Beis Din. But the judgment of these teachers on this issue was at best foolish and at worst self centered.

By saying that these teachers failed in their responsibilities to their students - the Special Beis Din determined that these teachers did not do or say anything about their suspicions. Why? Who knows... but it is not a stretch to believe that they were quiet because they did not want to rock any boats.  Whistle blowers tend to get fired very quickly. Losing their jobs by reporting suspicions about their boss was certainly something to worry about. So they ignored the suspicious scenarios they saw.  Ignoring suspected sexual abuse because of the fear of losing one’s job does not deserve to be rewarded.

This is a very significant development. The 3 Chicago Rabbonim have decided to speak truth to power. They have stood on principle and sided against the conventional wisdom of sympathy for the institution and protecting the reputations of their staff.  Yes those teachers will be hurt. Sadly so will their families who are innocent of any wrong doing. But they will all survive. These 3 Rabbonim have instead sided with justice for the victims and the protection of our daughters. God bless them.