Thursday, August 7, 2014

Seminary Scandal: Rav Aharon Feldman's role - and why both sides are attacking him

One of the mysteries of the Seminary Scandal is the role of Rav Aharon Feldman. Rav Aharon Feldman is well known as the Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Israel of Baltimore and as someone well acquainted not only with the Torah world of learning but the real world of people and their concerns. But in a recent letter from the Israeli Beis Din and from one of its dayanim - Rav Malinowitz - Rav Feldman is strongly criticized for his involvement and his apparently trying to bridge the gap between the Israeli Beis Din and the Chicago Beis Din.  It is also well known that one of the blogs - Frum Follies has attacked Rav Feldman in very harsh terms. My concern has been trying to understand why he is being attacked and to reconcile this with the fact that he is a rav whose reputation is not to create disputes but to resolve them.

I had the occasion to speak with a few people today that have fragments of the picture. They agree in one aspect - that Rav Aharon Feldman was sincerely trying to make peace between the two warring beis dins - especially by making them into a joint beis din. It also seems that he was a bit too credulous (with all due respect) in assuming that his sincere commonsense would be enough to reconcile the differences between strong personalities with strong differences of opinion. The new development of pending criminal and civil claims seems to have made this joint beis din impossible.

I was also given a letter which I was told could be published. The letter was written by Rav Aharon to a lawyer who represents two of the victims who accused Rav Aharon of meddling in the case when he was not authorized by any of the victims. The letter is interesting in that he clearly states that he was only appointed by the Israeli Beis Din as the pro forma plaintiff. [I was just informed that the Chicago Beis Din had also requested that he represent the victims so he obviously was acceptable to both sides.] Thus he had no significant role in determining the course or the focus of the beis din activity.  It is important to note that he says the Israeli Beis Din was concerned primarily with monetary compensation to the victims and whether the principals of the schools were liable also.

His attempt at smoothing over differences with the Chicago Beis Din explains why he was criticized harshly by the Israeli Beis Din even though he was officially recognized as being a participant in the process of the Israeli Beis Din. His main concern was to make peace in order that the primary focus of the dayanim on both sides would be to help the victims as well as to improve the manner in which the seminaries deal with these issues so that there would not be a repetition of this tragedy. On the other hand the Chicago Beis Din is not happy with his attempt to have them rescind their advisory not to attend the seminaries and as well as his concern for the continued existence of the seminary and their teachers. Thus his attempt at compromise is viewed as betrayal by both sides. Not a good place to be.

This is only a brief discussion without touching on the many unresolved questions. For example  why there is no mention of the possible negligence of the senior seminary staff in not stopping Meisels(even though they are discussing whether they owe compensation)?  Or why there is no formal confession by Meisels and well as an apology? Were psychologists and education experts consulted by either beis din? What was the controversy over who should buy the seminaries? What was the role of R Gottesman? And what impact does pending criminal and civil suits have to do with the ability of the beis din to resolve the matter successfully- if at all? Why do both beis dins seem to be unconcerned with how their fight is undermining emunas chachomim - as Rav Aharon pointed out in his letter to the Israel Beis Din?

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From: Rav Aharon Feldman
Sent: Wednesday, August 6, 2014 10:13 AM
To: B. C.
Subject: RE: Mr. Meisels - Israeli Beis Din

Dear Mr. C.
In reply to your letter to me of July 16, 2014, I would like to state the following:
1.       I was appointed by the Israel Beis Din to act as the pro forma plaintiff (to’en) necessary for initiating a din torah (a trial held in accordance with Torah laws). I specifically stated at the beginning of the proceedings that I did not represent anyone who does not want me to represent him, which referred to the two clients whom you represent.
2.       The counsel for Elimelech Meisels began his defense by claiming that I was not empowered to represent anyone. The Chief Dayan (the head of the Beis Din) replied that he is technically correct but this is immaterial since Meisels had already confessed and that the din torah was to establish the amount of compensation to be paid the victims and to decide if the principals of the schools are liable to pay damages as well. Counsel agreed to this and to continue the din torah.
3.       Having performed my pro forma duties I left the proceedings after one or two people were called to testify since my presence was no longer needed. I had nothing to do with the judgment issued at the end.
4.       The din torah was not related to Meisel’s guilt, as you seem to have assumed. This had been  established by his previous confession, as above. Consequently, your suggestion that the Beis Din “whitewashed” Meisels has no basis in fact.
Respectfully,
Aharon Feldman

16 comments :

  1. "The new development of pending criminal and civil claims seems to have made this joint beis din impossible."

    What new development of pending criminal and civil claims are you talking about?

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  2. How can a beit din decide compensation without even hearing the tainot of a toveah? And how can a beit din appoint a stand-in who doesn't know the facts for the toveah? It is a hard enough question to understand when the toveiah can appoint a stand-in, and there are major disputes, as I am sure both you and the dayanim know, among the posekim as to when, if ever, this is possible. This seems highly irregular, doesn't it?

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  3. Interesting. Thank you for sharing these tidbits.

    I believe the most positive outcome of this mess will be to finally show the world how incompetent the rabbinical world is in the abuse arena. The IBD has already shown theirs, and there is no way they will crawl out of the hole they have dug themselves into.

    Now, with what you have shared, we are privy to Rav Feldman's incompetence. A To'en for complainants? In a battle that wasn't his? Did he fancy himself some type of knight in shining armor coming to rescue the seminaries from their certain demise?

    Let this be a lesson to him, and to all who might follow. The עולם is sick and tired of these efforts to whitewash predators and the damage they cause. From here on in, every single rabbi is forewarned. There is one and only one response: let the chips fall where they may. Don't foolishly put your neck in the noose that has one of your colleague's heads in it. It isn't worth it.

    Daniel

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  4. @Daniel please stop ranting. No one was white washing predators - Meisels had already confessed. The remaining issues included things like compensation of victims and the degree of culpability of the principals of the seminaries.

    Please cut out the nonsense about there being only one way. This case is complex. There is a question of whether this should be viewed as action between consenting adults.

    Rav Feldman's concern was making peace between the two beis dins so that the focus could be entirely on the victims. The lawyer said that because of possible criminal charges being filed the witnesses could no longer be interviewed. So the beis din was stuck in the middle of deliberations

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  5. @Mike you have some important questions but not any clear answers. Part of the problem is whether the compensation should be coming from the money of the sale. The IBD was focused on the issue of liablity of the principals. The guilt of Meisels was not an issue because he confessed.

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  6. @Moe - this development is mentioned in the exchange between Rav Feldman and the Israeli Beis Din. A number of lawyers representing victims apparently are pressing either criminal charges or civli suites. This severely limits the ability of the beis din to find out information by questioning the victims or the staff. Rav Aharaon latest letter is in response to one of those lawyers

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  7. That may explain why they didn't need to hear from him, but how could they assess damages without hearing what damage is claimed by the plaintiffs? Assuming they were, in fact, trying to assess damages.

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  8. Are the three IBD dayanim (somewhat) experienced as dsyanim? They may be great talmidei chachamim, but that does not a dayan make. Same question for rav f, is he an experienced toain? Gottesman obviously is, he knew enough to yell at the bet din, according to the letter DT posted.

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  9. It is not appropriate or fair to speak this way of someone with the stature of Reb Aharon. As as Torah giant he saw a very serious issue in klal Yisroel at a stale-mate and wanted to push it towards fnality and rectify the chilul Hashem to the best of his ability. Whitwashing was nowhere on his agenda, truth was. He spoke with the faculty at length in a number of meetings to understand well the dynamics of the instituition to assess whether staff negligence was a reasonable claim.(I was there to watch it and can vouch for the sincerity and honesty with which he questioned.) He would have been just as fine with concluding there was negligence. In fact his original tilt in the discussions with the faculty was they there must have been negligence at some level. But after learning the details of how the schools work and the details of the allegations, he understood that he staff cannot be blamed and that it is wrong to keep saying so. This is the indication of a true gadol baTorah and his single-minded pursuit of truth. While I realize not everyone can sit with the staff and hear all the details as Reb Aharon did, I can't understand how one can pass judgement without doing so. particularly when the IBD came to the same exact conclusions as Reb Aharon..

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  10. R. Daniel,

    Sorry, but it don't see it that way at all. Given the track record on abuse in the community, combined with how IBD immediately kashered the sems, one is much more inclined to believe that the entire fiction was designed to whitewash the entire affair.

    Given what we now know, I think it is reasonable to assume that CBD was snookered too. They thought IBD was going to determine what you claim they were to determine, but I don't believe IBD had any such plans.

    If you can possibly explain the leap between what you say this Beis Din was designed to do, and how they 'paskened' לקולא in just under 8 hours, I would love to hear it.

    And it isn't necessary to label commenters you disagree with as ranting. I was doing nothing of the sort. This is a deadly serious matter, which has been handled with utter contempt and incompetence. The sooner we all realize how the rabbis can't possibly handle these matters, the sooner all our children will be safe and secure.

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  11. Sunny,
    At this point, your assertions are just that. And that is precisely my point to both you and RDE.
    The rabbis have lost their חזקת כשרות to address these issues. They cannot do it. Years of incompetence, cover up, and worse have removed them from the game.
    Stalemate? Over what was anyone stalemated? Whether the sems would suffer a fatal blow over these monstrous revelations?
    I would rather you admit that RAF caused more harm than good by his efforts (and I'm being circumspect here). Not only did he not accomplish his goal of determining 'truth' (sic), it turns out he had little to no access to victims, and became the fall guy for both BDs. Stature? Really? I'm still trying to figure out why he even stuck his head into this arena. He dealt himself a terrific blow....and he deserves it.

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  12. All 3 Israeli dayanim have decades of experience in dayanus.


    Gottesman is a wealthy "baaleboss" who knows how to learn and has spent the past many years trying to establish himself as a player.

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  13. I find Rabbi Feldman's letter fascinating, in that I had heard from a person I thought to be reliable that CBD actually brought in RAF to represent the victims. In fact, why would RAF have been there if not him going to represent these girls? Did the IBD pull his name out of a hat?

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  14. There are (reasonable) accusations that their behavior shows inexperience.

    However, having read the fathers letter to his son post, i tend to agree with that father.

    Perhaps i am too skeptical, but i remember the chaim weiss case, where he was murdered in yeshiva many years ago. Very suspicious, and nothing done about it (disclaimer: chaim and his family davened in the same shul i grew up in)

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  15. Are the civil suits in america, or israel, cause the better forum would be american, where payouts are much higher. In fact, the sale of an ostensibly non profit institution would be very suspicious in america. The IBD would be viewed with much suspicioun for supervising / condoning a sale.

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  16. @Mimedinat HaYam - as I mentioned before. If you want to question the appropriateness of a sale - both the IBD and the CBD were in favor of a sale. In fact initially that Rav Zev Cohen clearly stated that if the seminaries were sold that the CBD would lift there warning against them. The CBD reneged on that agreement. So the tax issue has no relevance for the status or quality of the beis din - they both are equally tainted.

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