Friday, August 29, 2014

The Courage of their Convictions

Letter by American rabbis endorsing controversial seminaries
I cannot think of two more establishment Rabbis in the Charedi world than Rabbis Shmuel Fuerst and Zev Cohen. Both of them are steeped in the culture of Daas Torah. This means that when their Gedolim speak, they listen. At least that’s what I thought it meant.

This does not mean to say that they can’t disagree… or think for themselves. But what it does mean is that when their Gedolim make a statement, they will not publicly contradict them. One need only listen to every single Agudah banquet where at least one speaker will talk about how Charedim are defined through their fealty to Daas Torah as espoused by the Agudah Moetzes. 

The passage in the Torah that Charedim use to justify this attitude is taken from this week’s Torah portion (Devorim 17:11): Lo Sasur Min HaDavar Asher Yagidu Lecha Yemin U’Smol. (That which you are taught according to the Torah - you shall do.) Do not veer away from what you are told – to the right or to the left.

Lo Sasur is what gave Chazal their biblical authority to create D’Rabbanans - Halacha beyond that which the Torah mandates.  Many of these D’Rabbonons were established by the Sanhedrin HaGadol - the ‘great court’ that was extant during the 2nd Temple era. The 70 Members of this great court were called the Anshe Kenesses HaGedolah – the men of the great assembly.

Charedim apply Lo Sasur to our own day as well. They tell us that current Gedolim are to be treated with the same degree of authority.  Lo Sasur means that you heed rabbinic authority to such an extent, that (as Rashi says) even if they tell you right is left and left is right, you must nonetheless obey them. Rabbis Fuerst and Cohen are strong proponents of this interpretation of Daas Torah. These same two rabbis made up 2 of the 3 Dayanim (Judges) of the Chicago Beis Din that adjudicated the Meisels seminaries case. The 3rd Dayan was the highly esteemed (in all circles including Charedi ones)  R’ Gedalia Dov Schwartz.

Which is why I was astonished yesterday by a letter signed by several Rabbis that make up part of the Agudah Moetzes. It was published on Rabbi Eidenshon’s blog. In essence these distinguished Rabbonim gave their full endorsement to the seminaries that were headed by Elimelech Meisels. 

Recall that Meisels was accused of sexually abusing some of his seminary students. The Chicago Beis Din (CBD) had publicly discouraged parents from sending their daughters there – even after Meisels had transferred ownership. They (rightfully in my view) held that the seminaries were still not considered safe since there were teachers still there who knew about the abuse (via students who confided in them at the time) and did nothing – thus enabling Meisels to continue his abuse.

Originally after they made their warning to parents - the CBD deferred further action to an Israeli Beis Din (IBD) that consisted of distinguished rabbinic jurists of their own. After they quickly got rid of Meisels, they immediately restored the reputation of those seminaries. They further forbade any other seminary from accepting students that were already registered there. Letters were then sent out by at least one of those schools touting their renewed approval by the IBD.  But the CBD stood their ground.

It appears that the CBD is still doing so despite the new letter by the esteemed cosigners of the new letter that have also endorsed the schools as safe and wonderful environments for growth in Torah and Yahadus. Apparently Yerachmiel Lopin has verified that this is indeed the case. The CBD is standing its ground. From Yerachmiel’s blog
I have received reports from people who have spoken to the members of the CBD. All of them are staying the course, advising against attending until they are convinced that all staff guilty of enabling Meisels are removed. Touro and HTC will abide by the rulings of the CBD. Naturally the CBD is unhappy about the letter by the roshei yeshiva, but they are staying the course. 
For Rabbis Fuerst and Cohen to stand their ground here takes a lot of courage.  I give them tremendous credit for that. They apparently feel that the issue will not be entirely resolved until the enabling teachers are dealt with. I agree with them.

Here is how I feel about it. I have no clue if these seminaries are safe, despite assurances by distinguished American rabbis that they are.  They base these assurances on the prestige and reputation of prominent rabbis in Israel that will be monitoring those schools. But if I were a parent considering sending my daughter to a seminary in Israel, I would never send my daughter to any of these seminaries.

I wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole. I don’t care how many assurances are given – or by whom. As long as there are people teaching there that put their own welfare and that of the school ahead of their students, those schools are Tameh – spiritually impure! Enablers must be expunged.  

Furthermore, if I were one of those parents suing those schools in a class action suit in order to get my deposit back, I would continue doing so with all my might. Because even if those schools were now the safest schools in Israel, they have no right to keep those deposits under these circumstances. It isn’t as though they changed their minds on a whim. May God help these parents prevail in court.