Monday, September 08, 2014

Of Batei Din, Girls Seminaries, Vulnerable People and the Internet, Part 5

Guest post by RaP

An open letter to Jewish parents of daughters in North America, more: 

Dear parents, like many people with seminary-age girls you must be very worried, anxious, puzzled, confused, betrayed, angry, resentful maybe even in a gambling mood that all will be well, or you have made a paradigm shift in your thinking and have come down on the side of sanity by not sending your daughter away to far off Israel when she could accomplish everything you want for her in safety closer to home. Whatever your choices have been or will be you are not to be envied.

On the one hand is the reality that you are up against a craze that has taken hold of the yeshivish and even not so yeshivish communities whereby young post-high school girls feel it is their "right" to have an all-expenses-paid year of fun-time in Israel with multiple trips back home for Yom Tov and Simchas as the need may be. What a life that is! What a way to rip off parents by kids who have never had to work hard for a dime in their lives. They live with the expectation that you "owe" them this year of fun in the Holy Land as if was free time on your expense account at the Riviera or Disneyland.

You ask yourself, if you even have a moment to catch your breath, how did we ever get here? How did this type of thinking ever set in? Was it brought over from the old country in Europe by the Bubbies and Zeidies? Was that how frum Jewish life was lived for so many decades with an explicit assumption that your daughters would "demand" to be part of mass waves of migrating nightingales after their oh-so "difficult" years of fun and games at the best summer camps, winter vacations, fancy Pesachs, and trips galore all over America and the world for all sorts of brief breaks between this and that? After all, being spoiled takes lots of effort and practice and needs its rewards! For girls it is not easy modeling themselves on carefree celebrities and egoistic entertainment icons.

And the biggest question of all, how did a year in Israel for frum girls become a "pre-requisite" for shidduchim as if without it a girl would be looked at as "missing" her nose or her brains? You may rightly ask those kind of questions, that is if your kids even give you the time to think about life as you slave away to earn a living to support the kind of royalty and celebrity lifestyle that you probably never had yourselves!

The following may save you the time to think about all the above, as it would in any case depress you if you got to think about it too much. You have bigger things to worry about, like paying your mortgage and bills, tuitions, Yom Tov expenses, car rentals, go to work and produce, manage your business/es, and so on. But don't be fooled about why you wake up in the mornings and go to work, it is to support your sheifalach and darling meidel that is the apple of your eye. So let's take a tour through recent history to see how we probably got here.

This may come as a great shock and surprise to many people but not so long ago frum girls were absolutely not allowed to leave home even on supervised trips far away from home to foreign countries for a year or two. Such things were out of the question. But then some time in the late 1960s and 1970s the Kollel trend was starting to catch on.

Good bochurim were persuaded by their rebbeim and roshei yeshiva to abandon plans of going to college and become full-time Torah learners instead. Part of this plan required that there also be a supply of equally committed frum girls who would be willing to become Kollel wives and support their husbands in learning while they would be so committed to Torah idealism that they would add being the breadwinner to the titles of wife and mother. That was the time when the need for masses of Kollel wives was beginning to be thought of by some roshei yeshiva. But such wives could not just come from the few Torah homes of rabbis and special people who would go along with it. Mass production was called for and a kind of unofficial master plan had to be thought of.

So if we had to pinpoint the point and people who started this trend, when was it and who were they? Feel free to add your own ideas or reject these and come up with your own alternatives of how we got here, but the following is borne out by what really happened.

In around 1970 two major things happened in the seminary world in relation to girls in English-speaking countries and as it relates to what grew out of it. The first was the rise of the baal/as teshuva movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. By 1970 the first and most famous campus for English-speaking newly religious young women was founded in Jerusalem, it was and is still known as NEVE  YERUSHALAYIM and it had wonderful goals, to give a higher Jewish education for those who never had it and make secular women into very Orthodox even Haredi woman. It was for a special group and it worked for many. Over time its success was not lost on entrepreneurs in America who saw it as a model for setting up seminaries to educate regular religious girls.

After all, if a seminary in Israel for baalas teshuvas could do so much, how much more so would seminaries for already religious girls do to turn them into super-students and of course there was money to made in this new field. New seminaries could be set up as affiliates of local seminaries, even connected with colleges with official credits recognized and the right to get various private and government donations and grants from the USA and Israel and from rich people. Many founders of such schools have grown very wealthy and powerful from these ventures -- and with that success has come corruption and decadence as is now open for all to see with the Elimelech Meisels four seminaries scandal that has focused much-needed attention on these shady operations.

So that was one set of influences, but not the most important. Probably the key seminary and trend-setter in the American yeshiva world has been the establishment and influence of the famous elite BJJ (Beth Jacob of Jerusalem) seminary founded and still run by its head, the only daughter of the late rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner (RYH), Rebbetzin Dr. Bruria Hutner David (RBD).

Armed with a PhD in Jewish Studies from Columbia University, a brilliant brain, and with her father's formidable training and guidance, Rebbetzin David is married to the mysterious Rabbi Yonasan David (RYD) who heads the Pachad Yitzchok Yeshiva founded by RYH in Jerusalem.

After the 1967 Six Day War RYH, RBD, RYD made the commitment to leave Brooklyn and re-settle in Israel. They travelled back and forth in this mission splitting their time between America and Israel. In 1970 they were on one of the planes that was hijacked to Jordan by the Black September terrorist group. They narrowly escaped serious harm, but they redoubled their resolve to build their base in Jerusalem.

Of the three, RBD has been the most successful by making BJJ the must-go-to-place for any serious frum girl who had/has plans of marrying a serious ben Torah and becoming a Torah teacher or wife of a rabbi or Kollel husband or all of those. This was a trend for the elite, but at some point it became the model for virtually all girls in the English-speaking yeshiva world even if they lacked the idealism, brains and knowledge that was required and still is of all BJJ candidates.

Somewhere over the decades the BJJ model was adopted and commercialized and made into a popular culture must-do attraction for all frum girls in the yeshivish world, maybe because a growing number of teachers and staff were BJJ-influenced and graduates. As the 1980s and 1990s came along the craze caught on, parents like yourselves started making more money, and the mass migrations of girls to Israel went into full swing as it still has into the 2000s and the 2010s...Until now in 2014 when the entire undertaking has rightly been called into question by the revelations of what had been going on in four such seminaries for the fun-loving frum girls of America.

Another institution that contributed to the trend was the famous MICHLALA institution in Israel that was more Zionistic and academic. But that was a program that was much more like a college-level education with serious lecturers and also for serious girls. Both BJJ and MICHLALA were very for very mature students only. While NEVE was for serious secular or more modern girls who wanted to become more religious and Haredi. They were great for the culture of the 1960s and 1970s and even into the 1980s when those girls who wanted to learn more about Torah and Judaism were usually more serious and earnest.

But from sometime into the 1980s through the 1990s to the present the requirement for "seriousness of purpose" was dumped in favor of the mass market mentality of hey everyone, they're (that means you dear parents) giving out free trips to Israel for a year all expenses paid so let's ALL go and have us some big-time fun, fun, fun!!!

The only problem is that while all girls are always vulnerable, but for girls who mainly want to have fun and games who are just not serious students by an measure this could be and has become a deadly trap and decoy and recipe for disaster luring them into the hands of unscrupulous sexual predator teachers, rabbis and even fellow-students, masters of grooming victims, isolating and trapping the vulnerable sheep in their flocks, and waiting for the right moment of loneliness and need to be loved, in order to pounce and extract their literal "pound of flesh" from the unsuspecting girls, some of which should never have been allowed to leave home under such circumstances in the first place.

Another trend that has contributed to frum girls assuming they have it owed to them to be sent to Israel, is that it has now become the standard de rigueur practice for almost all of their brothers and boys their age to go to yeshivas in Israel after high school some time. Yet another factor has been the rise in secular Jewish society of promoting free trips to Israel for college-age students in order to strengthen their Jewish identity.

Dear parents, presumably you are in the majority whose daughters do NOT study Talmud and therefore they do not need a few years of studying Gemora at a yeshiva in Israel. Your daughters are NOT becoming Jewish studies teachers and many will not even marry "forever" Kollel learning types so why brainwash your daughters with these kinds of ideals she will not practice or want and does not need?

 Your daughter is presumably already religious and likes and enjoys Yiddishkeit therefore she does not need a year in Israel to make her even more farmfrumt. Ever heard of "kol hamosif gorei'a" ("if it ain't broke, don't fix it")"! And your daughter is not secular by any means because she is like you and therefore she does not need artificial doses and fake overlays of Jewish idealism and knowledge implanted by charlatans and Rasputins, since she has already learned all she needs to know in her bais yaakovs or good Jewish day schools.

So please dear parents, re-think your plans, do not succumb to dangerous and artificial social-engineering plans. Your daughter will find her bashert and live happily ever-after without risking herself and your good family name in far-off Israel.

Keep your daughter close to home until she is ready to leave and get married with the help of Hashem, and give your hard-earned charity to Jewish education for post-high school girls closer to home!

In case you forgot or are not aware of what the current fuss is all about, this is the letter that broke open this scandal of what goes on in some girls seminaries:

Chicago, IL
July 10, 2014

The Special Beis Din of Chicago has convened to address allegations of improper conduct, including unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature, between Elimelech Meisels and students of the following seminaries with which he is affiliated: Pninim, Binas Bais Yaakov, Chedvas Bais Yaakov, and Keser Chaya.

Based on the testimony received by the Beis Din, including testimony by the claimants and by Elimelch Meisels, the Beis Din believes that students in these seminaries are at risk of harm and it does not recommend that prospective students attend these seminaries....

Rabbis Gedalia Dov Schwartz.., Shmuel Fuerst.., Zev Cohen..."

Caveat emptor! (Latin for "Let the buyer beware")!