A Father’s Complaint about the Priorities of Seminaries

By Yerachmiel Lopin (Frum Follies blog)
July 18, 2014

BACKGROUND

Last Thursday (7/10/14), the Chicago Special Beis Din, which has existed since 2000 to deal with sex abuse, declared that students “are at risk of harm” in the seminaries owned and run by Elimelech Meisels because of “unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature” by Meisels. The Chicago rabbis took the dramatic step of saying, “It does not recommend that prospective students attend these seminaries at this time.”

Jumping in to respond, on Sunday (7/13/14), an Israeli Beit Din announced that Meisels was no longer teaching there (though he still owns the seminaries) and it was fine to attend them. Chicago did not agree. In fact Hebrew Theological College (HTC) which accredits the seminaries for purposes of government financial aid is suspending its endorsement pending the decision of the Chicago rabbis.

The seminaries (Pninim, Binas Bais Yaakov, Keser Chaya, and Chedvas Bais Yaakov), eager not to lose their students sent out a letter to parents assuring them that everything was hunky dory. They conveniently spoke of new management without being able to name it; Meisels still owns the seminaries and signs their paychecks. They tried to reassure parents that Torah Umesorah was involved in the ongoing resolution. They failed to mention that these days Torah Umesorah is more invested in the interests of the owners and operators of yeshivas and seminaries than in the students.

THE LETTER

One father of a seminary girl was outraged by the message from the seminary and shared his thoughts with Hannah Katsman’s blog, A Mother in Israel. Below, with her gracious consent, is the full text of that letter as it first appeared on her blog.

I’ve been waiting the past few days for a call from my daughter’s high school.  I wait and I wait, but I fear none will be forthcoming.

An administrator with ties to four well-known Beis Ya’akov post high school seminaries (Elimelech Meisels) has been accused of  molesting students.  A beis din (rabbinical court) in Chicago, composed of some of the leading Rabbonim in that community (and in the entire U.S., for that matter), wrote a letter stating that the charges are credible and warning girls against attending those seminaries.  They turned the case over to another beis din in Israel for further investigation. That beis din issued its own letter indicating that since the individual in question has agreed to sever all ties with those schools, girls should feel secure in remaining enrolled. Then the seminaries in question issued their own letter, claiming the individual in question has “resigned” and that they are open for business as usual. Yet, the Chicago dayanim (judges) have not retracted their original warning to avoid these institutions.

Did others in these schools know of this individual’s behavior?  Can they be trusted?  What are we to make of the differing letters issued by the batei din?  And even as these investigations and charges were unfolding, the seminaries apparently took payment for the upcoming year as if nothing was amiss.

Dear high school principal/administrator: I don’t need you to call me immediately if my child does poorly on a test or brings an internet-enabled cell phone to school.  She will live and get over these challenges.

I do need you to call me when seminaries that girls from your school are set to attend prove to be havens for sexual predators.  I do need you to be involved in setting up safeguards to ensure this behavior is not repeated elsewhere, under any circumstances.  I do need to hear from you to reassure me that my daughter will be safe when she spends a year away from home.  The school should have held an open meeting for all parents to address the issue directly and to speak about safeguarding our girls in future.

Despite the fact that schools now do speak about what constitutes improper behavior and warn students to report it, lectures do not replace action.  The silence of the schools before and after the Chicago beis din spoke out, the silence of many if not most of the frum press, the silence of websites such as Yeshiva World and Matzav, indicates that we prefer to look away, to sweep the issue under the rug, and not address these types of problems when they present themselves in our midst.  Meisels should not have been given the opportunity to “resign” – he should have been fired and barred from entering the building.

It’s easy to expel a young girl because her skirt is a little too short or her cell phone has internet access enabled. However, when those behaviors are shown no tolerance when behaviors of a far more serious nature are not responded to appropriately, rather than teaching respect for the standards of halacha and modesty, the lesson learned is hypocrisy.