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. 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 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 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 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, it seems, still had some serious reservations about the disposition of 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 includes 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.
A senior Dayan of the Chicago Beis Din, Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst Shlita, has authorized the following statement:
“As of today, Thursday,19 Tammuz/August 17,the Special Bes Din of the Chicago Bes-Din( CBD) stands by its statement of July,12,2014. The CBD spent more than three months conducting an intensive investigation in both the United Stated and Israel. It held multiple hearings in four locations, interviewed multiple complainants, and numerous other witnesses and mental health professionals, reviewed many documents including e-mails and text messages, reviewed other evidence and heard testimony-including multiple admissions of critical facts-by the defendant. Other than the defendant, none of these persons have appeared before any other Bes -Din. We are aware of the letters written by a distinguished Bes-Din in Eretz Yisroel, stating that these schools are currently safe environments for our children. Based on current conditions, we respectfully disagree. Should the views of the CBD change, we will make that known to the tzibur.”
The initial letter of the Special Beis Din of the 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 close. “The girls who have attended these seminaries have grown remarkably there because of the wonderful staff and administration, and it would be a shame if they lost any girls, or if on account of this terrible development.”
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.
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.
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. Shouldn’t our children be treated with at least as much dignity as our meat?