Thursday, August 07, 2014

Four Seminaries and Two Rabbinic Courts

Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz
As of yet, the Elimelech Meisels saga is unresolved. Far from it.

There are lawsuits taking place on behalf of parents who signed up their daughters before news of this scandal broke. They are demanding refunds of their deposits.

The 2 Battei Din (Rabbinic Courts) that have adjudicated this case are at virtual war with each other. One can see just how contentious the war is by reading letters and responses in 2 blogs: Daas Torah and Tzedek Tzedek. The former seems to side with the Israeli Beis Din (IBD) and the latter seems to side with the Chicago Beis Din (CBD).

Add to that the apparent outrage that Ner Israel Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Aharon Feldman had at how the Israeli Beis Din has handled it - and that Beis Din’s reply – and one can easily see that this is not a simple matter. That Rabbi Feldman tends to lean toward Israeli rabbinic authority in many matters, tells you quite a story.

I should add that a series of posts have subsequently written by Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn attacking both the CBD and Rabbi Feldman. They can be found on the Daas Torah Blog. The anger and the accusations are not pretty.

Based on my reading of the situation so far, I tend to side with the Chicago Beis Din for several reasons.

I am not going to go into the details.  But briefly the point of contention seems to be whether the removal of Meisels from his 4 seminaries and the subsequent sale of them to a friend of his qualifies as enough for the IBD to once again recommend that school for female seminary students.

They said that these new conditions restore the once fine reputation of these schools. Parents can feel assured that their daughters will be safe and experience Chinuch by some of the finest teachers in Israel.

The CBD has said that the school is still not safe since the teachers there knew what Meisels was doing. They knew because the girls he sexually molested or abused confided in them. And they basically ignored it. They therefore do not recommend the schools.  The schools are not yet safe environments for young women – as long as any of those enabling teachers remain in the school.

I don’t see how the IBD can recommend this school. Even if Meisels is gone and these teachers have learned their lesson - the mere fact that they sacrificed the welfare of their students for fear of losing their jobs makes their values questionable. Who would want their daughters to be educated by such people? It should also not be lost on anyone that the CBD spent a great deal more time examining all the evidence and the people involved. Including Meisels who admitted to some of those accusations. Which is why I stand with the CBD.

But there is another reason why I am suspect of the IBD. It is Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz, the very member of the IBD whose umbrage was strongly expressed in response to the critical letter written by Rabbi Feldman. In that letter Rabbi Feldman strongly criticized the IBD for their decision to Kasher the school - without examining all the evidence. And basing their decision solely in the interests of the seminaries.

Rabbi Feldman clearly expresses in his letter a truth that the right wing has not fully come to grips with. Young women (or men) who have have been sexually abused have a very high percentage of losing their faith in Judaism… or even if God. I’m happy to see that Rabbi Feldman realizes that now and in a sense has become a victims’ advocate. There is nothing like first-hand knowledge of the facts to change an Erliche person’s mind in that way. All the talk about protecting the reputations of innocent people accused of these crimes and therefore taking extra precautions about reporting abuse to the police seems to have gone out the window. And saving the institution at the expense of a victim that was sexually abused stops being the paradigm. This seems to be what happened with Rabbi Feldman.

I don’t think the IBD has had any personal experience with victims. Certainly not in this case. And Rabbi Malinowitz is first in line to protect the reputations of accused sex abusers. He practically put into Cherem David Morris who founded the organization Magen which protects his community’s youth from sexual predators. Rabbi Malinowitz branded him a Rasha (an evil person) and told him so to his face. He also forbade the charity he founded, L’Maan Achai, from leaving their charity boxes in his Shul.

This is not someone I would want on any kind of Beis Din making decisions about sexual abuse in seminaries. And yet he is the one speaking on its behalf accusing the CBD of lying!

If this episode weren’t so tragic, Rabbi Malinowitz’s accusation would make me laugh out loud. The rabbis on the CBD are some of the most trusted rabbis in the world. And they cross the spectrum of Orthodoxy -  right to left.

Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst is the Dayan of Agudath Israel of Illinois is an internationally renowned Posek and a Talmud Muvhak of Rav Moshe Feinstein. To think he would lie about anything, not to mention something as serious as this is beyond ridiculous.

Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwatz is the Rosh Beis Din of the CRC and the Av Beis Din of the RCA. He is a Dayan and Posek for a wide spectrum of rabbis under his tutelage and is respected even by members of the right. I recall Telshe Rosh HaYeshiva and Agudah Moetzes member who spoke at their first Chag Semicha  (Yadin Yadin – which  the grants the title of Dayan)  referring to Rav Schwartz as far more knowledgeable than him. 

Rabbi Zev Cohen has been a Chicago fixture for decades and was one of the pioneering Avreichim at the Chicago Community Kollel. His  reputation grew quickly and widely as did his popularity. He was a widely sought after speaker and Magid Shiur (Torah lecturer). His talents were sought after by many an institution. He became a Rebbe at HTC and developed a lifelong following there of students who still consult him on matters of Halacha and Hashkafa. 

He was hired by Congregation Adas Jeshurun, (a Shul whose membership leans heavily Centrist sociologically) well over 20 years ago and has been their Rabbi ever since. He founded the aforementioned Choshen Mishpat Kolllel from which he received his own Yadin Yadin. He also joined forces with RCA President Rabbi Lenny Matanky to build the controversial West Rogers Park Eruv. Rabbi Cohen is a man of conviction with a prove track record. He does not shoot from the hip. He makes decisions with great deliberation. And he certainly does not lie. Not even his biggest detractors would say that he did.

It’s really sad. I once considered Rabbi Malinowitz to be a hero. Aside form his magnificent job in being the general editor for much of the ArtScroll Shas, he took the lone position of support for Rabbi Natan Slifkin when his books were deemed heretical and banned by Rav Elyashiv. And his fellow Charedi Rabbonim practically ostracized him for doing that. But he stood his ground. Since then however, he has made some very questionable decisions and has been just as stubborn about the bad ones as he was about the good ones.

The ending to this saga has not yet been written. It is my sincere hope that the IBD realizes the error of its ways and reconsiders its decision. Until then, they are in my view a stumbling block to the potential students whose parent s rely on them. And the results of that could be tragic.