Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Seminary Scandal and Halacha by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

 update - this is a modified version that Rabbi Hoffman gave permission to post

By now, many people are aware of an unfortunate scandal in four of the religious seminaries for women in Israel.

The case was first taken up by the Chicago Beis Din and then handled by Rav Mendel Shafran’s Beis Din in Bnei Brak, Israel. The latter 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 safe.

The Chicago Beis Din still had some serious reservations about how the matter was being handled by the latter.

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 would include 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 in any manner or form. These criterion were not met to the degree that the Chicago Beis felt necessary.

The Rabbonim of the Chicago Beis Din have spent more than three months conducting intensive investigations both here in the United States as well as in Eretz Yisroel. In fact, it held multiple hearings in four different locations. The Rabbonim also interviewed multiple complainants, and numerous other witnesses. They both consulted with mental health professionals and reviewed many documents. These documents included e-mails and text messages. They also heard testimony, including admissions of critical facts, by the defendant.

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.

There are numerous Mitzvos involved in taking decisive action to ensure that future victims are protected. The verse in Parshas Ki Taytzai (Dvarim 22:2) discusses the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveida – returning an object with the words, “Vahashaivoso lo – and you shall return it to him.” The Gemorah in Sanhedrin (73a) includes within its understanding of these words the obligation of returning “his own life to him as well.” For example, if thieves are threatening to pounce upon him, there is an obligation of “Vahashaivoso lo.” The psychological repercussions that victims develop often causes them to, r”l, ideate suicide and also to abandon Judaism. This can be confirmed with experts in the field.

Lo Saamod Al Dam Rayacha

There is a negative Mitzvah of not standing idly by your brother’s blood as well. This is mentioned both in Shulchan Aruch (CM 426:1) and in the Rambam.

Lo Suchal l’hisalaym

There is yet another negative commandment associated with the positive commandment of Hashavas Aveida, and that is the verse in Dvarim (22:3), “You cannot shut your eyes to it.” This verse comes directly after the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah. The Netziv (HeEmek Sheailah) refers to this Mitzvah as well. We as a community cannot shut our eyes to this type of activity anymore.

V’Chai Achicha Imach

The Sheiltos (Sheilta #37), based upon the Gemorah in Bava Metziah 62a, understands these words to indicate an obligation to save others with you. The Netziv in his He’Emek She’ailah understands it as a full-fledged obligation according to all opinions. He writes that he must exert every effort to save his friend’s life – until it becomes Pikuach Nefesh for himself. Thus, even when faced with intense pressure, it is our communal obligation to stop this type of activity within our midst.

V’Ahavta l’Rayacha Kamocha

The Ramban, Toras haAdam Shaar HaSakana (p42-43) understands the verse of “And love thy neighbor as yourself” as a directive to save him from danger as well. Although he discusses the issue of medical danger, it is clear that this is an example, and it would apply to danger from activities of molestation as well. Even without the Ramban, however, it is clear that defending and protecting someone from danger is a fulfillment of this Mitzvah.

Our Ineffectiveness

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 themselves.

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. Recent events have born that out. Shouldn’t our children be treated with at least as much dignity as our meat?

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com


  1. The author is right,
    but I do have a question.
    Why no comment from him on the similar story in his own backyard that was going on about a half year ago?
    Also, on the Chilul Hashem of last year involving forced Gittin, there was an editorial praising some of the protagonists in that they were defending defenseless women.
    Even though obviously all they were doing was beatings and bullying for money (there was no woman, they didn't even bother to check the story)
    Is sunshine the best medicine for all scandals or only a select few?

  2. fedupwithcorruptrabbisJuly 22, 2014 at 4:59 AM

    I agree with Shlomo. Yes Rabbi Hoffman I have seen you stand on the sidelines when men are being bashed by women in regards to gittin . What happened to lo saamod al Dam reecha? Why are the Gittin cases handled different? Is it because the rabbis kiss up to the feminists? Where do women who lie about a Bais din issuing a non-existent seiruv, women who obtain gag orders against their husbands to prevent them from having a fair din torah get a free card from ORA, and from other rabbis to prosecute their husbands in the socialmedia and to kick them out of shuls? Are you rabbi hoffman going to do anything to defend these men?

  3. What was the scandal?

  4. http://daattorah.blogspot.co.il/2014/07/beis-din-decides-seminary-owner-meisels.html

  5. While this article is written, by far grater sensitivity, than the previous posts on this very sad and painful matter. The following troubles me still:

    1) 'The Beis Din has handled the situation
    with a strength and sensitivity' etc. seems unilateral if it is only directed to one of the Beis Dins involved. This sadly confirms the above paragraph 'Our Ineffectiveness'.

    2) The Beis Din originaly writes 'allegations', - this could be understood as unconfirmed. Justice deserves a conclusive statement does it not? This article when describing the Beis Din's proceedings sounds more convincing and sure of the facts that the Beis Din's letter! What happened to 'Sunshine is the best disinfectant' ?

    3) While the writer touches on the apparent difference in opinion between the two Batei Dinim stating: 'serious reservations about how the matter was being handled'. This alone should disturb all who truly seek justice on this matter. Justice could never be reached on 'uncertain' ground - no matter the severity of the crime, if anything, even more of a consensus is needed for justice to reign.

    4) The Chicago Beis Dins writes about what seems like jurisdiction when introducing the Israel Beis Din, calls every one of its members by name, adding 'has assumed responsibility on this matter'. All indicate endorsement and trust in their capacity to take matters to heart. This is now being presented with unclear 'serious reservations' to the public. What happened? Is the public invited to speculate on this as well?

  6. Juse like the head of the chicago bet din wants his way, he is now angry that the Israeli bet din did not go his way.

    Interesting, his regular bet din has a policy of not going along with ANY other bet din. Here he did, and they did not go along with him. I guess he will never do that again.

  7. I just came across an interesting ?coincidence? The original owner of yeshiva kol torah in monsey, which was involved in a similar scandal (but undoubtedly adults) has the same last name as the grandparents of this accused.

  8. 5) The Chicago Beis Din has 'spent more than three months' etc. Doesn't the Israel Beis Din need time as well? Chicago Beis Din seems to call on the Israel Beis Din on 7/10/14. The Israel Beis Din writes what seems like an interim letter on 7/13/14. Point (ג) on their letter states they are continuing their investigation to address the essence of the complaint. This article is on the 7/22/14 - a mere 9 days!

    Is the Israel Beis Din expected to act like a 'rubber stamp' without reasonable due diligence? And to abstain from any difference with their counterpart in Chicago?

  9. @asher the obvious flaw in your argument regarding the Israeli beis din is that they have already concluded that the seminaries are safe. The prudent course would be to tentatively accept the conclusion of the Chicago Beis Din until they have completed their investigation. They naively think that officially removing Meisels has removed the danger.

  10. Thank you. I wrote him an email.

    Speaking of his back yard, Zevy Wolfson lived in his back yard (and some family is still there). Could this be why he chose to defend a Wolfson, while he chose to be quiet about Weinberger?

  11. More like a matter of opinion; as is evident. Not all have reached the same conclusion nor do they have to. The attitude of 'my way or the highway' has no place amongst Batei Dinim.

  12. Rabbi We was disqualified by (almost) all local rabbonim. Rabbi Wo has big $ , and his family has no problem distributing it out. And he can always be counted on to take care of women problem s. Question is, if a male congregant (or son of one) had a problem, did he not take the c as e, out of deference to five towns?

  13. Weinberger was disqualified by all - besides for the all-knowing Chaim Yisroel Haleivi.

    My email to Rabbi Hoffman was about two cases in which it is very hard to say that Motty Wolmarks actions were altruistic. One involved a relative of his. Yes, he may have started the whole shebang with a higher purpose. His sister Rachel's case may have pushed him into action. Maybe. Maybe he wanted to make a name for himself within Judiasim. Maybe. Maybe a combination of both, and some other reasons. Maybe.That does not, in any way, justify his later indiscretions. If he has caused untold damage to children, then why should we defend him? Who will stand up for those children? Who will stand up for the next generation, and prevent another ten Wolmarks and Epsteins from operating?

    Look what has happened with the ORA tactics. Any spoiled woman can now go and indiscriminately pull off their tactics. Look at the Stein-Weiss case.


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