Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Seminary Scandal: "They call him Tatte" - How should male teachers relate to female students?

While most of the attention of the Seminary Scandal is concerned with the conflict between the Chicago Beis Din and the Israeli Beis Din - more important issues are being ignored.

To put it bluntly and clearly - What should the nature of the relationship be between young unmarried females students of 18 or 19 and male teachers in the seminary?

We are all familiar with the laws prohibit physical contact between males and females. We all think we are familiar with the laws of yichud - that a male should not be alone with a woman who is not his wife.

What is clearly missing though is dealing with special relationships involved strong emotions, one party being subordinate to a brilliant Torah scholar who is also charismatic, empathetic and capable of providing immense dosages of self-esteem with a proper smile or concerned question or sometimes by offering large amount of time to listen sympathetically to the pains and troubles of a young lady. This also applies a rabbi and a female congregant who is coming for marital counseling or simply to get the attention she isn't getting from her busy husband. It also applies to the workplace where a boss or supervisor or coworker - provides needed emotional or professional assistance to an admiring and appreciate member of the opposite sex. It also applies especially to the world of kiruv where young personable men have extensive and intensive emotional interaction with young females in the hope of making them frum by providing them with a warm attentive relationship.

I remember Rav Feivel Cohen saying that a guy who learns in Kollel by having his wife go into the workplace - gets no reward for his Torah learning.

One of the major seminaries in Jerusalem has a very warm caring principal who deals extensively with his student's problems. In fact that is one of the major attractions of the seminary. His students refer to him as Tatte.[I was just informed that it is either a common but mistaken belief or that it is only true for a small percentage of the student. However my point of concern is still valid.] When I expressed surprise at this - the seminary teacher who told me about this said that these type of relationships are not only common in the seminaries for Americans in Jerusalem - they are considered desirable. He also added that he isn't aware of any halachic basis to justify such a relationship and that gedolim are not asked and generally have expressed a negative attitude to such a relationship. In fact when one of my friends needed a job to support his family - Rav Eliashiv told him that teaching in a seminary was only the last resort if he could not find any other job -  because it was very problematic interacting with young ladies on a regular basis.

Some people have responded by simply saying that this is the necessary risk that needs to be taken in education and kiruv. That the benefits far out way the costs so that we tolerate the few cases where the boundaries of halacha are violated and transgressions occur. In other words this is the cost of doing business.

What is clear is that the justification for these relations are coming from the bottom up i.e.,  by what works or what can't be stopped. This is not how we deal with the issue of kashrus or Shabbos - but it is the reality today. 

I would like to have a discussion as to what should be and what needs to be - in order to properly educate women today. Should seminaries be  modeled on a warm and caring family or should they be  more intellectual and less emotional like a college environment? Should we be willing to accept that there will be periodic scandals or should there a zero tolerance standard even if it means that more girls go off the derech because they have lost interest in Yiddishkeit? What do you think?"

Update:  One educator has suggested the following:

1 male teachers may never call students by first name rather Miss (or Ms. ) plonis

2 classrooms may not be small creating a feeling of intimacy
3 One must maintain an atmosphere of distance and mechubadus while being respectful and nice to the students
4 Only men over 50 with good solid marriages  may teach young women

5 no jokes to get a laugh are allowed they create kalus rosh

6 one may allow a young woman to seek advice on personal (appropriate ) matters once and then refer them to a female adviser, mentor or mental health professional when necessary


  1. When I took the Ner Le'Elef kiruv training program about 10 years ago (then called CLS), Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz stressed to us in the strongest terms that we (males) should not be doing kiruv with women, but it should be done by our wives. In the rare event where there was a need for the male (Rabbi) to get involved, he gave us very strict guidelines as to what format this could take place in (at home with wife home, frequently entering and exiting the room).

  2. In my experience (which is vast and multi-faceted), it's incredibly problematic from a psychological perspective that these schools essentially attempt to replace the family structure. They override parental influence and set up (and push) a structure in which the rabbis are all-knowing. Whether it's a replacement parent or a pseudo-husband, it interferes with the psychological and intellectual development of these young women (and men, in the case of kiruv). The dynamic posits a fairy tale that will ultimately evaporate, leaving people with no ground beneath them. If people then begin to question all of yiddishkeit, it's really no wonder.

    Seminaries and high schools and other places of learning should provide intellectual guidance with an ancillary amount of mentoring/emotional guidance with clear respect for the young person and the family she came from. If our world can't survive the full and honest engagement of our community members (of any age), we've got far bigger problems.

  3. Terms of endearment for someone that isnt related to you (and Tatte is one) is a no no. While it may not be ossur in Even Ezer per se, ( I think it is if one carefully learns hilchos yichud) it violates the whole point of Hilchos Yichud. Which is that we place gedarim so that we shouldnt violate one of the arayos CV. As to you question of allowing 'periodic scandals' I think that the Brisker Rav said it best (and I paraphrase). One doesnt commit an aveira 'leshma' so that the public can do more mitzvos. Hashem doesnt need our aveiros. You do whats right. Then you try to influence others. (This was about elections in Brisk and his party wanted to place signs on all the billboards and he felt it was too close to shabbos so he didnt allow them to hang them up.) I understand that for Americans or any person who is away from home needs some TLC. But, an educator (of the opposite gender) should always maintain a professional, albeit a warm, demeanor.

    They should be addressed as Rabbi at all times! They should be honored and one should stand for them when they enter the room. (This shows respect and a certain distance in the student/teacher relationship.) Any private conversation that must take place should be tagged teamed. This means that the Rabbi's Rebitzen should be included. These are not licensed counselors, and any serious psychological discussion should immediately be transferred to licensed therapist. (One that has no position at the school. This should eliminate that psychological connection that sometimes develops.)

    What do you think?

  4. At the risk of being repetitive I once again suggest that it's high time to get rid of the ridiculous, outmoded male/female educational model. There may have been a time when high caliber female teachers were few and morals were higher. That is not the case today. There are enough excellent women educators available for education and kiruv. The nonsense prevailing at present must be stopped.

  5. I think that the earliest example of this was Avraham mekaraiv es ha'anashim and Sarah mekareves es hanshim. (Abraham would teach the men and Sarah would teach the women). In my opinion, as a general rule, men between the ages of twenty and forty-fifty should NOT be teaching high school and seminary age girls, no matter what they have to offer. It is not like it was in the past where there was a shortage of knowledgeable female teachers and where the yiras shomayim levels were considerably higher and where the nisyonos were smaller.

  6. "Should we be willing to accept that there will be periodic scandals "

    How many scandals are acceptable - what should the cap be? How do we enforce? How do we determine periodic 6 per month? per year? 6 per year not to exceed 3 in any given month?

  7. DT- It is well known who you were referring to when you say a certain Rabbi is referred to as "Totte" and he is certainly the butt of many yeshiva guy's jokes for that. That being said the girls in that seminary vehemently deny it's true and I just want to make sure you're 100% certain that is in fact the case before you post in on your blog.

  8. Abraham1 -- those "better" female teachers co$t money. Are you stealing food from the mouths of the owners children (and those powerful people who support him)? (facetious comment)

    Also, do these young women need kiruv, or is this just an example of everyone who is not my type / my brand of judaism needs kiruv to my brand? Note too, that they must develop a desire to donate in the future, for the owner to cas$h in.

  9. sorry I meant to say Avraham megayair . . . Sarah megayeres.

  10. The reason why charedi sems need to reach out with emotion is because on principle they avoid logic and rationalism. e.g. You can either get someone emotionally connected to the story of creation or you can get them intellectually connected by learning rishonim who say it was a parable and poses no problem to science. If there is no way of rationalising judiasm because it is against your hashkafa, the only way to attract or even keep people is through emotion.

  11. Just like the Catholic Church... Father. Except they say the first name too... Tatte Elimelech. Oy vey. To say the least yichud was then not violated as these young ladies were his daughters$$$$$$$.

  12. I am very sorry to say but the author of this site had a very valid point but it was not about these seminaries!!!! a completely dif one so it was not nice to use rabbi meisels pic when this had n/t to do with him! where its a known fact that in this other sem the principal was called tatty! rabbi meisels was always called rabbi meisels!!!! 100%


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