By Yerachmiel Lopin (Frum Follies blog)
June 20, 2016
An Israeli rabbinical court issued a ruling (6/14/16; 8 Sivan 5776) denouncing 46-year-old Rabbi Meir Pogrow for sexual misconduct with women (see image below). The court ruling which I hope to translate [translated] in full was signed by Rabbis Menachem Mendel Shafran (Bnei Brak, Israel; a Hasidic posek on the Bais Din of R. Karelitz), Chaim Zev Malinowitz (Beit Shemesh, Israel; the dominant Yeshivish rav in Beit Shemesh), and Gershon Bess (Los Angeles, CA; a product of the Lakewood BMG constellation of yeshivas). The ruling was written as a set of directives to Meir Pogrow about restrictions the Beit Din is imposing on him.
The ruling was followed by a Public Danger Warning with a synopsis of the ruling in Hebrew and English telling the public to avoid Pogrow in all sorts of roles. The advisory to females focused on any sort of interaction. The advisory section addressed to males spoke of not using his website or learning from him. He was explicitly called a rasha (evil person), a status with halachic implications. For example, one does not console a rasha in mourning.
The danger warning is undated but was in circulation by 6/20/16, within about a week of the original ruling.The warning was signed by two members of the rabbinical court (Rabbis Malinowitz and Bess) and three additional signers:
Rabbi Mordechai Willig (a prominent member of the faculty of the RIETS rabbinical seminary of Yeshiva University),
Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits (Sanhedria, Jerusalem and Previously with Aish Hatorah as Rosh Kollel), and,
Rabbi Elimelech Kornfeld (Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, the son-in-law of the Ner Israel Rosh Yeshiva, R. Aaron Feldman).
Below is the English text of the summary and warning. Items in rectangular brackets were inserted by Yerachmiel Lopin for clarification or annotation.
Public Danger Warning
Upon issuance of the decision of the Bais Din [rabbinical court] that determined with absolute certainty and established by reliable and credible witnesses and other proofs (all conducted in a manner which leaves no room for doubt), regarding the most severe sins involving issues of [sexual] immorality and the like,
Heaven protect us by Meir Pogrow (of Beit Shemesh and America) and hearing about the damages that he inflicted on women (including single, married, Jewish and otherwise) who were under his influence (many of whose lives he destroyed) [but] due to modesty, we are unable to describe his actions in detail [though] the details are held in confidence under seal by the Bais Din;
After the Bais Din heard his (Pogrow’s) responses;
It is our obligation to notify and warn women and girls in the strongest and most urgent terms to distance themselves from any interaction from this individual as well as from his presentations [through Master Torah, etc.] or from any sphere of his influence in any possible manner.
It is our opinion that men who listen to his lectures and/or follow his learning program, are absolutely obligated to cut off all personal interaction with him, as our rabbis warned us: “Do not associate with an evil person.”
His supporters must understand that they are enabling Pogrow to continue his above-referenced activities.
May Hashem [G-d] protect his nation from breaches of morality and the men and women of Israel from stumbling due to individuals (such as Pogrow) of whom it is stated: “Torah when studied improperly becomes a deadly poison.”
What Was Left Unsaid
It is not clear that they are asking men to stop using his programs and materials. They are just saying not to interact with him. And yet they have called him a rasha. I can think of no other person designated a rasha by Haredim whose materials are deemed OK to use. Heck, they sometimes ban materials just because they come from authors with a modern orthodox hashkafa.
Pogrow’s misconduct was known or suspected for many years by many parties.
YULA: In Fall 1995, the Ohr Somayach alumni newsletter, B’Yachad, announced that Meir Pogrow, an alumnus of their Ohr Lagola program, started teaching at the Yeshiva University Los Angeles high school, YULA. He was forced out after girls complained he was creepy.
MICHLALAH: In 2001 he was forced out of employment by the Michlalah Seminary in Jerusalem because of authoritarian-cultist control of students and extensive off-hours interactions with students. His wife was kept on and she kept bringing home students and she was kept on for quite a few years. But nobody else was publicly warned.
AISH HATORAH (JERUSALEM & AUSTIN:After six years of working for Aish Hatorah including one running their kollel in Austin, Texas, he was forced out around 2007 for sexual misconduct with women.
MASTER TORAH: In 2007 he announced a new program for teaching methods of learning and reviewing talmud. He got rave reviews in the Dec 5, 2007 issue of Hamodia. At the time he claimed he was phasing out his work in Austin to concentrate on Master Torah for which he already had an URL. He piloted his program giving lectures in Beis Tefillah Yonah Avraham Aish Kodesh shul of Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz (a member of the beis din that denounced him. He was a member of that shul until some months ago. It is not clear when if ever he stopped being allowed to teach there. This makes one wonder. If he was allowed to continue until recently, why was Rabbi Malinowitz not more diligent. And if he forced him out, what if anythig did he do to warn others.
I believe he formed Master Torah because nobody would hire him. Over the years he had fewer and fewer speaking engagements in mainstream orthodox settings because word kept spreading about him and he was largely confined, if hired, to work with males. The last significant engagement I can find was 2011 with a male audience of Chabad. Yet the broader public was not warned.
His main sources of income were enamored donors including a very significant grouping in Toronto, some of whom also gave to Aish Hatorah. Had Aish warned those donors he would have had less travel and hotel budget for his misdeeds. But Aish took a pass.
BEIT DIN 2016: The Beit Din and the signers of the warning did a good thing, as far as it went, but they are almost all of the school of avoiding the police, at least in practice, if not in theory. Two of the dayanim of the Beit Din, Rabbis Malinowitz and Shafran, were involved in the shameful protection of employees of Elimelech Meisels’ seminaries who ignored abuse by Meisels and refused to respond to students reporting sexual assaults, and in at least one case, rape. I documented this in posts on Frum Follies. For example see, Whitewashing the Meisels Seminaries and Their Principals
At the end of the day, the deep flaw of the Haredi system is that it only exposes molesters late, very late, way too late to save many victims years and decades of suffering. Pogrow should have been turned in for prosecution years ago. In Israel, even his adult relationships could have been prosecuted even if legally consensual. That is because, under Israeli law, all sexual contact between a teacher or rabbi (or imam or priest) is illegal with individuals they see in their professional capacity. This is similar to American laws that bar “consensual” sex between patients/clients and psychiatrists or other mental health professionals. The reasoning is that these roles encourage trust in the professional and leave the other party vulnerable to manipulation.
If by some chance Pogrow could not have been prosecuted, he should have been publicly denounced the first time an institution felt the need to force him out.
Pogrow’s paternal grandfather was a YU man and his father went to Harvard, but by the time Meir was sent to school it was Haredi schools such as Bais Mikroh in Monsey, and then Mesivata Bais Sharaga and Yeshiva Torah Temimah.
While Pogrow was in high school he spent his summers in a bungalow colony in Tannersville. Rabbi Hershel Schachter, the great talmid chochom of YU tutored him, something he only did for extraordinary talents. But he dropped that connection and great opportunity at the urging of his Haredi mentors because it would hurt his standing and career in the Haredi Yeshivish world. I have many complaints about how the modern orthodox world handles abuse. But the Haredi world is worse. Or from the point of view of a serial abuser, better. Better because Haredim are way less likely to crack down on abusers like Pogrow.
So with mixed feelings I conclude that I am glad about this action, this time, by this Beit Din and those who signed onto the warning. But also sad about how much needless destruction preceded this action, and how many other abusers are known but not outed.
I will be posting more revelations and analyses about this scandal in the coming days.