Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Of Batei Din, Girls Seminaries, Vulnerable People and the Internet, Part 2

Guest post by RaP

The war of words between formerly cooperative bloggers who worked against child abuse in the Orthodox world has reached a feverish level. There are accusations flying back and forth that it's becoming like a convoluted legal battle where people lose sight of who the original victims and villains really are.

The online cyber-battle via self-appointed "designated hitters" has devolved to accusations and counter-accusations primarily between two batei din and their online advocates. On the one hand is the original bais din in Chicago ("CBD") that heard and investigated the charges that there was sexual malfeasance at four Orthodox seminaries in Jerusalem by the owner Elimelech Meisels. The CBD issued an official advisory that it was not safe for girls to continue attending these seminaries because of questions about the seminaries ownership and management by people connected to Meisels. 

On the other hand, on the other side of the Atlantic is a group of American-born and educated rabbis constituting an Israeli bais din ("IBD") originally appointed by the CBD to deal with financial issues on the ground in Israel. Somewhere along the way an explosively volcanic rupture ripped the formerly cooperating CBD-IBD apart!

Why and how that is so remains unclear as various accusations, counter-claims, official letters and halachic rulings have come zooming out of each bais din at deafening speed. At one point the IBD,with the "agreement" of R Aron Feldman from Baltimore, (or some firmly believe instigated by Feldman for his own personal reasons, nothing to do with the truth or justice - Moshe Eisemann is still living on the Ner Israel campus), that they were fully handed and empowered to be the sole ones to deal with the case via a "shtar berurim" (a "clarification document" claiming that CBD handed the IBD "power of attorney" or even full "rights" to deal with the "entire" case) that has also become a bone of contention between the CBD and IBD as to how far and comprehensively it goes. While the CBD has consistently stuck to its advisory against attending the seminaries, however the IBD based on its own findings has declared them "safe"!

To make things even more complicated, and with the backing of the CBD, a group of parents of girls who had given deposits to the seminaries have launched a combined class action and RICO legal case in the USA against all four seminaries, their owners, partners and anyone with a hand in their past and new ownership. This has enraged the IBD, not to mention that one of its dayanim (judges) R Tzvi Gartner has been named as one of the co-defendants as well. 

All this has become the grist for the mill of a number of bloggers, namely fighting vociferously for the side of the IBD R Daniel Eidensohn (RDE) versus the blogs of David Morris, Harry Maryles, and mostly against the "Yerachmiel Lopin" blog who are on the side of the CBD. It is not pleasant to watch four blogs that are usually on the same side of sexual abuse issues and usually supporting the same type of victims all of a sudden get into a cannibalistic civil-war "World War Three" mode as RDE fights to the death to defend the point of view of the IBD to the tee, as if he were one of them or as if they could be ghost-writing their responses for him to post.

One question is why RDE is so much on the side of the IBD, to the point that he has abandoned virtually all of his former online blogging allies with put-downs that they are, simply, not up to the level of the IBD and the point of view that he and the IBD are maintaining. It goes further than that, because RDE and the IBD have directly attacked the CBD and its rabbis with the type of accusations one would use for the bitterest of enemies. 

While the CBD has mostly remained silent, issuing letters to affirm their ongoing warnings about not attending the four seminaries, and supporting the legal case against the seminaries and its ownership.

Lost in all this bitter squabbling and personal attacks is what this case is all about, the poor victims, and of course their monstrous tormentor, the disgraced head Elimelech Meisels. One way that the IBD side has been demoting and chipping away at the credibility of the victims, the teenage girls who were allegedly serially sexually molested by Meisels, that RDE has allowed these type of attacks to be posted on his blog, is that the victims were over eighteen years old and therefore "of the age of consent" and hence acted as "consenting adults" when succumbing to the sexually predatory behavior of Meisels.

 In fact, what is being said is that in Israel the "age of consent" is sixteen years of age, implying that the victimized girls have even less of a case were it to be held in Israel. This type of crooked "reasoning" based on legalistic loopholes is purely diabolical.

 In Halachic terms it would rightly be called "menuval birshus haTorah" -- someone who abuses the loopholes in Torah law for their own self-gain, in this case Meisels who not only groomed his vulnerable victims but also knew full well that he could always rely on "loopholes" such as that in the USA the "age of consent" is 18 while in Israel it is 16.

 How reptilian can one get, especially a head of not one but four seminaries for religious Jewish girls! And the IBD seems to be in the fighting corner of this "school of thought" as well, because in addition, in pure Jewish Law the testimony of women is not truly acceptable in a bais din and therefore by calling for the young teens' testimony to be sent to them, and given the IBD's ability to rely on the strictures demoting and pushing out the status of female testimony, it is a sorry state of affairs as the CBD does not want to forward such evidence as this case has become radioactive and to watch the IBD give its "hechsher" based its self-justifying assumption not shared by the CBD or by anyone else, besides the lone voice of RDE -- all this is a hair-raising lose-lose scenario for all concerned!

On another note, another aspect of this battle between the CBD and IBD is that it's about two groups of American Haredi/Orthodox Jews: Those in the USA and a growing contingent of American Haredi Jews in Israel. The rabbis of the IBD are American rabbis who have moved to Israel and set up their power bases over there. And of course at the center of all good fights is who has and controls the money because American seminary girls in Israel @$20,000 - $25,000 per year adds up to a lot of money. Thus, 100 girls per year at one seminary @ $20,000 equals $2,000,000, now that is a lot of money. Imagine four seminaries each with 100 girls in them, that $20,000 x 400 = $8,000,000 which is an awful lot of loot and no wonder it is something that the Israel-crowd is fighting for so vociferously.

 Bottom line, who controls these funds and who gets to benefit from them is now clearly on the table. Until now the Israeli émigrés were not questioned but now that Meisels who was one of their lead tycoons is banished in shame, there has to be accountability and responsibility. The CBD has authorized that the money spigot be cut off for these four seminaries and no wonder people in Israel are screaming and tantruming and deploying every last Halachic legalism because a lot is at stake!

A word about the rotten apple who started all this: Elimelech Meisels who has just disappeared from view when the attention of all should be on him and what he did. He was forced to resign not because he was a "hero" or a "victim" there are horrible allegations against him. But instead of focusing of what went wrong, how it was allowed to happen and who enabled it and covered up for him, according to the CBD it involves staff at the four seminaries, while IBD has not named anyone, the arguments now all function as huge red herrings and online tangents newly reframed as a battle between batei din and rabbis while the teenage girls victims and their tormentor are hardly mentioned.