Why did this article disappear from the 5TJT?
The Seminary Scandal and Halacha
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
By now, many people are aware of the very unfortunate scandal in some of the religious seminaries for women in Israel.
The seminaries involved included Pninim, Binas Bais Yaakov, Chedvas Bais Yaakov and Kesser Chaya. There seems to be e-mail evidence, phone text evidence, and testimony from young ladies that gravely inappropriate things have been happening over several years by Rabbi M., who has run these four seminaries. It also seems that when victims did come forward to staff members within the seminaries, no steps were taken to rectify the situation. An independent investigation conducted by this author with multiple sources has shown that there is serious substance to what has been alleged.
Some of the students did consult with their Rabbis at home as to what had transpired. One such Rabbi stated that the threshold of “Raglayim l’Davar” delineated by Rav Elyashiv zatzal in his January, 2004 ruling to Rav Feivel Cohen, has certainly been passed in this case. Ultimately, the issue was investigated by the Chicago Beis Din.
After its interviews and investigations, the Chicago Beis Din made up of Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst, Rabbi Zev Cohen and Rabbi Gedalya Schwartz, issued its ruling on July 10th. On July 12th , they sent a letter to the various high schools that send their students to seminaries in Israel and recommended that the students not attend those seminaries. This was in light of the fact that the Beis Din deemed that the environment posed risk.
The matter, however, did not end there.
The case was then taken up with Rav Mendel Shafran’s Beis Din in Bnei Brak, Israel. Initially, the Beis Din was misidentified as an official Torah UMesorah Beis Din. This is not accurate, however, as Torah uMesorah has no jurisdiction or affiliation with post high school seminaries in Israel. Regardless, this distinguished Beis Din did ensure that the offending party was no longer involved in the education of the seminaries, and declared that the seminary environments were now safe.
The Chicago Beis Din still had some serious reservations about how the matter was being handled.
Generally speaking, when an untoward situation exists, it is necessary to completely “clean house” and ensure that there is absolutely no control or influence of an offending party over students or staff. This would include even being in charge of the building facilities, educational programming, and financial responsibility. It is also necessary to make sure that any new owner not be tied to the offending party in any manner or form. These criterion were not met to the degree that the Chicago Beis felt necessary.
Regardless, a call placed by this author to Rabbi Fuerst in Chicago revealed that as of Thursday, July 17th, the Chicago Beis-Din stands fully by its statement of July 12, 2014.
The Rabbonim of the Beis Din have spent more than three months conducting intensive investigations both here in the United States as well as in Eretz Yisroel. In fact, it held multiple hearings in four different locations. The Rabbonim also interviewed multiple complainants, and numerous other witnesses. They both consulted with mental health professionals and reviewed many documents. These documents included e-mails and text messages. They also heard testimony, including admissions of critical facts, by the defendant.
The Chicago Beis Din is certainly aware of the letters written by the Beis Din in Eretz Yisroel, stating that these schools are currently safe environments for our children. They believe, however, that under the current conditions, the environment is not yet fully safe.
I have further been assured that if and when the conditions do change, the Chicago Beis Din will inform the public.
The initial letter of the Special Chicago Beis Din has prompted the Hebrew Theological College to suspend its affiliation with these seminaries. This is crucial because FAFSA funding is dependent upon recognition by an American institution that is accredited by an agency affiliated with the Department of Education. Other institutions may soon follow suit.
A guidance counselor associated with a New York based Bais Yaakov estimated that these seminaries can stand to lose up to 40% of their funding if the Chicago Beis Din’s requirements are not met, and can possibly even close. “Many of the other girls who have attended these seminaries have grown remarkably there because of the wonderful staff, and it would be a shame if they lost any girls, or if they were to close on account of this terrible development,” remarked the guidance counselor.
In the past, we as a Torah community have not been very good at effectively preventing such abuse within our ranks.
There is no question that there are halachic authorities that sanction the past methods of minimal and quiet intervention where we handle all such matters internally. However, experience has shown that this either doesn’t work anymore, or never even worked in the first place.
There are numerous Mitzvos involved in taking decisive action to ensure that future victims are protected. The verse in Parshas Ki Taytzai (Dvarim 22:2) discusses the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveida – returning an object with the words, “Vahashaivoso lo – and you shall return it to him.” The Gemorah in Sanhedrin (73a) includes within its understanding of these words the obligation of returning “his own life to him as well.” For example, if thieves are threatening to pounce upon him, there is an obligation of “Vahashaivoso lo.” The psychological repercussions that victims develop often causes them to, r”l, ideate suicide and also to abandon Judaism. This can be confirmed with experts in the field.
Lo Saamod Al Dam Rayacha
There is a negative Mitzvah of not standing idly by your brother’s blood as well. This is mentioned both in Shulchan Aruch (CM 426:1) and in the Rambam.
Lo Suchal l’hisalaym
There is yet another negative commandment associated with the positive commandment of Hashavas Aveida, and that is the verse in Dvarim (22:3), “You cannot shut your eyes to it.” This verse comes directly after the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah. The Netziv (HeEmek Sheailah) refers to this Mitzvah as well. We as a community cannot shut our eyes to this type of activity anymore.
V’Chai Achicha Imach
The Sheiltos (Sheilta #37), based upon the Gemorah in Bava Metziah 62a, understands these words to indicate an obligation to save others with you. The Netziv in his He’Emek She’ailah understands it as a full-fledged obligation according to all opinions. He writes that he must exert every effort to save his friend’s life – until it becomes Pikuach Nefesh for himself. Thus, even when faced with intense pressure, it is our communal obligation to stop this type of activity within our midst.
V’Ahavta l’Rayacha Kamocha
The Ramban, Toras haAdam Shaar HaSakana (p42-43) understands the verse of “And love thy neighbor as yourself” as a directive to save him from danger as well. Although he discusses the issue of medical danger, it is clear that this is an example, and it would apply to danger from activities of molestation as well. Even without the Ramban, however, it is clear that defending and protecting someone from danger is a fulfillment of this Mitzvah.
The repercussions of our ineffectiveness have led to four very unfortunate situations. It has led to untold suffering on the part of the victims themselves and on the part of other students who have attended these seminaries and now are at a loss because their spiritual guide has fallen. It has also led to a situation where the public has lost much of their trust in their teachers and Rabbis. And finally, it has led to untold suffering and embarrassment for the families of the perpetrators themselves.
The efforts of the Chicago Beis Din, however, with the haskama of leading Gedolim, represent a sea-change in how we are dealing with these types of scandals internally. The Beis Din has handled the situation with a strength and sensitivity that, unfortunately, in the past has been rarely seen.
The growth we have witnessed in how these matters are handled involves a greater sensitivity to the needs of the victims in terms of both closure as well as counseling and a firm commitment to ensure that the situation not repeat itself again. This can only happen if we adopt the idea that “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
Which approach is most ideal when dealing with such a horrific topic? Do we follow the lead of the Chicago Beis Din where we need to completely “clean house?” Perhaps the field of Kashrus may be instructive here. In kashrus, when an owner is caught selling tarfus, changing the management is not adequate. Recent events have born that out. Shouldn’t our children be treated with at least as much dignity as our meat?
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg at 7/22/2014
אותיות פורחות - Flying Characters
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg