The Awareness Center is The Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault (JCASA)
Case of Rabbi Matis Weinberg
(AKA: Reb Matisse, Rabbi Matisse Weinberg)
Kerem Yeshiva in Santa Clara, California (1980's)
Derech Etz Chaim in Har Nof, Jerusalem, Israel (2003)
Yeshiva University recently terminated Yeshivat Derech Etz Chaim's affiliation with the S. Daniel Abraham Joint Israel Program after discovering "compelling evidence" that a rabbi integrally associated with the yeshiva has a history of allegedly sexually abusing and engaging in cult-like behavior with his students.
Jewish Week - Rabbi Weinberg noted that while he was physically demonstrative to his students, often hugging them, it was never in a sexual way. "I don't get a hard-on" from such encounters," asserted the rabbi, who is married and has a large family.
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Table of Contents:
The Awareness Center's Brochure
Weinberg Family History
Missionaries, Cults and the Jewish Community
Rabbi, Cantors and Other Trusted Officals
US Department of Justice: Sex Offender Management - Recidivism of Sex Offenders (2001)
When A Family Member Molests: Reality, Conflict, and The Need For Support
When Melodies, Torah Scholars, and Abuse Collide
Cases Connected to the Feinstein - Tendler - Weinberg Families, and or Ner Israel Yeshiva of Baltimore
The Case of the Students of Ner Israel Yeshiva in the 1950's
The Case of a List of Abuses at Ner Israel (Toronto, Canada)
Case of Rabbi Ephraim Bryks
Case of Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau
Case of Rabbi Benyamin Fleischman
Case of Rabbi Solomon Hafner
Case of Rabbi Israel Kestenbaum
Case of Rabbi Aron Boruch Tendler
Case of Rabbi Mordecai Tendler
Case of Rabbi Matis Weinberg
Derech Etz Chaim Severed from YU Israel Program
by Yehoshua Levine
The Commentator (Yeshiva University)
Volume 67, Issue 9
March 6, 2003 - Adar II 5763
Yeshiva officials recently terminated Yeshivat Derech Etz Chaim's affiliation with the S. Daniel Abraham Joint Israel Program after discovering "compelling evidence" that a rabbi integrally associated with the yeshiva has a history of allegedly sexually abusing and engaging in cult-like behavior with his students. The decision, which took effect on February 13 and was made public in a letter sent to parents of current Derech Etz Chaim (DEC) students, followed an intensive international investigation in which the University concluded that maintaining its association with DEC would be "betraying the trust between Yeshiva University and its students."
Yeshivat Derech Etz Chaim is a small yeshiva in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem that has been a favorite of Yeshiva's Joint Israel Committee since it opened its doors five years ago. It has been a favorite of Yeshiva students as well, boasting more and more students in Yeshiva's Israel Program each year.
Throughout the past four weeks, YU administrators on the Joint Israel Committee have ascertained that the rabbi, under whose influence and tutelage DEC operates, has a longtime record of allegedly exhibiting exceedingly inappropriate behavior with his students. "What he has allegedly done," one close source said, "is inconceivably shocking."
Those involved in the recent decision to terminate the affiliation pointed out that striking parallels to the rabbi's alleged domineering behavior are currently resurfacing in DEC. "We've been finding cases that sound eerily similar to those which allegedly occurred in the past with [the rabbi]," the source said. "And given this situation, we can't wait three months for something to happen."
The charges extend back to 1983, when Yeshivat Kerem, a yeshiva in Santa Clara, California, mysteriously shut down. The yeshiva had been thriving until the fall of 1983 when students began to come out with allegations that they had been sexually abused by the said rabbi during their years in the yeshiva. Within a few months after the rabbi, shunned by the student populace and confirmed as a sexual deviant, left the yeshiva amidst controversy Yeshivat Kerem shut down. Because many of the allegations had been kept quiet, the yeshiva's closing was perceived as the result of financial difficulty.
The Yeshiva administrators who made the decision to terminate DEC's affiliation with YU point out that this rabbi is the driving force behind everything in DEC from its teaching approach to its overall hashkafa. To begin with, one of his closest students is DEC Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Aharon Katz, whom he effectively raised since Katz's teenage years. Two of his sons are rabbeim in the yeshiva. And with rare exceptions, DEC students consider him their rebbe. Although they have since been removed in order to downplay his association with DEC, numerous pictures of DEC students with the rabbi had been on the DEC website, www.ondec.net. Even a regular online shiur he gives can be found on a site sponsored by DEC. In the words of a Yeshiva source, "He is not just involved with the yeshiva he is the yeshiva."
Asked why, according to his understanding, Yeshivat Kerem closed, Katz responded, "I have no idea. I graduated as a student there some time before it closed. My understanding was that the school had financial problems, not uncommon at that time."
Katz also denies the extent of the said rabbi's influence and involvement. "On Thursday evenings we host a public shiur which enjoys the attendance of over 100 people including community members and most DEC students," he said, in reference to the rabbi's weekly class. Katz would not comment further on the rabbi's supposed association with DEC or on any of the specific cases of close interaction with students.
A few weeks ago, a member of the Judaic Studies administration received a call from a woman whose shabbos guest, a DEC alum, had repeated a d'var Torah in the name of the rabbi that had contained what she considered inappropriate and irrelevant sexual references. The woman, an expert on child abuse who had been on the Independent NCSY Special Commission investigating Rabbi Baruch Lanner, was mildly distressed and wished to bring this to the attention of YU, to which DEC was affiliated.
"Her phone call didn't worry me too much at the time," the administrator explained. "But it did prompt me to make a few phone calls, just to make sure. We spoke with the parents of the guy [who had given the d'var Torah], alumni, and others familiar with the yeshiva. We spoke with rabbeim who had heard Derech Etz Chaim alumni claim that they don't go to shiur because only their derech of learning is [the correct one]. And one thing led to another."
At that point, a number of other administrators joined the investigation. They spoke with Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, a Los Angeles resident who is currently the principal of Emek Hebrew Academy, an elementary school in the San Fernando Valley, and a former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Kerem, who offered the names and phone numbers of victims and professionals who had allegedly been involved at many different levels in Kerem. Also explaining that many students had gone through significant therapy after coming out with their allegations, Eidlitz attributed the yeshiva's closure to what had been going on under the rabbi's leadership.
Before contacting anyone else, the investigation narrowed in on Eidlitz and the sources he had supplied to insure that they could be trusted. According to a Yeshiva administrator who had made "a number of calls" to get a sense of Eidlitz's honesty and reliability, "He [Eidlitz] checks people unbelievably well." And in reference to the victims and professionals who later recalled the specifics of what went on in Kerem, the administrator noted that "they were first ascertained to be well-respected members of their [respective] communities, and most importantly, impeccably honest people."
Concurrently, YU confirmed that Rav Elya Svei, Rosh HaYeshiva of the Philadelphia Yeshiva, had written a letter after the Yeshivat Kerem fiasco that was signed by the rabbi. In the letter, the rabbi agreed that he would not become involved with chinuch, Jewish education, neither in the United States nor in Israel, and that in exchange for this agreement, no charges against him would be pressed. Rabbi Pinchas Lipschutz, Editor of Yated Neeman and a close attendant of Rav Svei's, recalled that this letter had indeed been written and signed. Katz, on the other hand, said that he is "not aware of any such document."
Roughly ten Yeshiva administrators including Mashgiach Ruchani Rabbi Yosef Blau, Dean of Admissions Michael Kranzler, Assistant to the Dean of Undergraduate Jewish Studies Rabbi Danni Rapp, Senior University Dean of Students Dr. Efrem Nulman, Stern College for Women Dean Dr. Karen Bacon, Dean of Undergraduate Jewish Studies Rabbi Michael Shmidman, and Director of Enrollment Management Dr. John Fisher, among others held a meeting on February 12 and decided to sever YU's affiliation with DEC on the grounds that the yeshiva's ideological and spiritual backbone is someone with a history of alleged sexual and psychological abuse of his students. Because YU stamps an implicit seal of approval upon the schools in its Israel Program, it was decided that keeping DEC in the Program would be betraying the trust between YU and its students and their parents.
On February 14, one day before the Israel Program contract deadline, the Office of Admissions sent out a letter to the parents of current DEC students informing them that "[a]fter a review of the educational standards and the learning environment at Derech Etz Chaim, Yeshiva University has decided to end the affiliation of Derech Etz Chaim with our S. Daniel Abraham Program in Israel." While promising to grant academic credit to students who choose to remain in DEC or, presumably, to learn there on own their own in the future the missive offered to "help [students] relocate to another school in Israel or to the New York campus" should the student decide to "leave the school now." It was mainly because of this line that curious parents and students have been contacting YU for information regarding the decision.
The Office of Admissions also sent a letter to traditional constituent high schools with a list of the yeshivos in the Israel Program, urging them to notice that DEC is no longer on the list.
A YU insider stressed that these letters contained no legal overtones. "We didn't want to get involved with legal issues," he explained. "The decision [to dissociate from DEC] was our own response to what we had been finding out. Did we want to continue having a conversation with them? No. We don't want to have anything to do with them. When it comes to the issues involved, there's no rehabilitation. There's enough evidence that people don't change. And his influence pervades the yeshiva. We've already found evidence of [that]. Yes, we were willing to dissociate ourselves from a place that [we had formerly] loved."
Kranzler further emphasized YU's confidence in the decision. "This was an extremely serious, painful decision," he said. "We were aware of the fact that from a recruitment perspective, we had everything to lose and nothing to gain. But we are so comfortable, so secure in [what we decided], as painful and as sad as it is."
Since the decision was made and the letters were mailed, Yeshiva sources note that they have found even further evidence bolstering the allegations against the rabbi. "I started speaking with guys that came out of the woodwork only later, and they gave me levels of detail that you wouldn't believe," one source said. An administrator pointed out that just a few days ago, he received a call from a woman whose son went to Tzefat with the rabbi for three days, and the DEC office would not tell her where they went.
DEC itself is attempting to come to terms with what many have called an effective death penalty for the yeshiva. Referring to YU's decision to end their affiliation with DEC, Katz remarked, "We were shocked and saddened. We have a enjoyed a wonderful relationship with Yeshiva University from the beginnings of our institution. We have viewed them as a partner and a destination we were proud to recommend to our alumni. We had been in regular contact with members of the faculty and administration and were given absolutely no indication that they were unhappy with anything at Derech Etz Chaim."
Katz also expressed frustration at the way YU dealt with the investigation and subsequent unilateral decision. "When we were abruptly informed of the decision, no reasons were given to us, and no avenue for appeal was offered," he said. "Frankly, we expected more."
Katz has been in contact with the said officials and hopes to figure out a way of winning back YU's favor. In a DEC yeshiva-wide shmooze on February 27, in fact, he stressed to his students that the said rabbi is in no way connected to DEC. YU is still quite hesitant, however. "There's no way they can look beyond their fundamental connection to [this rabbi]," an administrator noted. "It'll take [a lot] to get us to reverse our decision."
Letters to the Editor
From the Editor's Desk - Yehoshua Levine
Yeshiva University Commentator - Volume 67, Issue 9
March 6, 2003 - Adar II 5763
A few weeks ago, a senior staff writer with The Arkansas Traveler, the student newspaper at the University of Arkansas, contacted The Commentator to gain a perspective on increased security on New York City college campuses in light of the recent Code Orange government warning. She particularly wanted to know if the security response here was different because we are a Jewish college, "presumably with close ties to Israel," as she put it. This was certainly a perceptive question, and it prompted a factual, no-frills response. But it was the string of friendly follow up questions that really struck a chord.
The writer wrote that she has "always been curious" about Yeshiva University and about other colleges "with outwardly religious identifications." She wondered if and how the religion directly carries over to our classes and our student activities. At one point, she went right to the newspaper. Does our newspaper include "religious sermons or Bible or other Jewish topics"? she wanted to know. Do our religious beliefs influence what we write?
Without thinking too much, I answered in the affirmative. I was more than aware of what she was referring to, I told myself. The notion that The Commentator must answer to a higher authority than other college newspapers has been a central part of the discourse that our newspaper propounds. And I wholeheartedly agree with every defense in the book. Of course we are bound by halacha, and it goes without saying that what we cover and how we cover it must adhere to a certain morality dictated by the spirit of the halachic system. Easy.
The day after I received the last of the e-mails from the Arkansan journalist, a group of Yeshiva administrators decided to terminate Derech Etz Chaim's affiliation with the University, and I set out to discover the reasons behind the decision. As I began to learn more and more about what was going on and what the allegations were and as I started to consider publishing an article that would no doubt publicize what I had learned the woman's questions took on a new meaning as I realized that my easily and automatically articulated response to her was translating into a practical nightmare. Effortlessly preaching the ideal may be a universally-accepted custom as it should be but everything gets exponentially harder when a practical case comes up, I began to realize. In certain instances, finding common ground between journalistic responsibility and the halachic value system proves extremely difficult, and my first thought was that the case at hand serves as a perfect example of such an instance.
For two weeks, I weighed the benefits and drawbacks of publishing the story. Relevance to YU students, while usually the most important criteria for inclusion in The Commentator, was put on the back burner in favor of more pressing concerns. I recognized that the biggest problem with recounting the allegations against the rabbi and the general background to YU's decision would be potential lashon hara about Derech Etz Chaim and, most directly, about the rabbi himself. Furthermore, a number of students (not only alumni) had suggested that the case is already closed, that the rabbi has been embarrassed enough. Why should I rub salt in the wound and spread undue lashon hara, they pointed out to me, if there's no to'eles, productive purpose, that will come out of it?
Ironically, it was precisely the way this argument was formulated that convinced me that I have every right and possibly even an obligation to indeed publish it. The argument is fundamentally flawed. The case is not closed. The rabbi may be publicly shamed, but that was the case twenty years ago as well. Just like then, he may be down, but he's certainly not out. Notifying the public as to what he has allegedly done may very well prevent him from abuse not only in Derech Etz Chaim, but in other yeshivos as well. Since 1983, he has managed to rise up once again and exert his charisma over an entirely new crop of students. If we let the issue slide and refuse to publicize what we have discovered about him (which is what occurred in 1983), what's to stop him from abusing yet another group of students in ten years from now, somewhere else? Of course there's a to'eles here.
And the to'eles extends beyond the specific rabbi as well. This case should serve as a reality check to the potentials of dangerous rebbe-talmid relationships, especially those that may develop in Israel or anywhere else where the student is far from home or otherwise vulnerable. And indeed, it often takes specific examples to get a point across. To study Locke's assessment of scientific knowledge from a purely theoretical standpoint, for example without understanding how Locke treats Newtonian mechanics is useless. Similarly, paying lip service to the risks of abuse or cult-like conduct in religious role models does not come close to providing specific examples in which such behavior has allegedly occurred. People remember information, not abstractions.
I'm not trying to play hero. Far from it. I'm merely relaying the objective facts of the decision-making and investigatory processes to the YU community and hoping that doing this will, in some even remotely indirect way, publicly label the said rabbi as someone who cannot be involved in any form of chinuch and also alert the public as to the potentialities of overly domineering and controlling rabbeim, especially for open-minded, often naïve students away from home for the first time in their lives. Of course, we cannot take advantage of the situation by embarking on a highly detailed and opinionated diatribe against the rabbi based on the results of the investigation. But to assume that there's no purpose in letting people know what's going on with this allegedly pedophilic rabbi and the yeshiva that he has molded is, in my opinion, inane and untenable.
It must be noted that the allegations fueling YU's decision tell us nothing about the Derech Etz Chaim students or alumni, who have been shoved into this whole mess by virtue of the mere fact that they are learning or have learned in the yeshiva. These students are sincere guys who did nothing wrong, and they should not be viewed as members of a cult. To accuse them of such things and even to think of them in this manner is groundless stupidity and serves as a perfect example of impetuous, irrational behavior.
To satisfy another of the Chafetz Chaim's conditions for what allows potentially harmful information to be publicly offered even in a case of definite to'eles, I made two modifications to earlier drafts of the article that now appear in the final draft. First, as is clearly evident, I removed the name of the rabbi. Although at least two respected rabbeim advised me that there is just as much of a chiyuv to publicize the rabbi's name as there is a chiyuv to divulge what happened, I felt more comfortable leaving it out. Anyone wishing to find out his name can easily do so. Second, I removed a portion of the article that thoroughly described the allegations themselves, both back then and now in Derech Etz Chaim. I again assumed that this additional information would be superfluous to the point at hand.
YU cuts ties with yeshiva in Jerusalem over rabbi's conduct
The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition - Mar. 10, 2003
A prominent rabbi loosely affiliated with a Jerusalem yeshiva was investigated by Yeshiva University and found to have allegedly sexually abused and engaged in cult-like behavior with his students, leading YU to sever ties with the Jerusalem school.
The school, Yeshivat Derech Etz Chaim (DEC) located in Har Nof, is "perplexed at the allegations, and angry at the process and the lack of menshlechkeit" on the part of YU.
DEC, one of some 15 yeshivot that are part of YU's Israel Program, was founded five years ago. It is home to some 35 male students all from the US who study in Israel in their post-high school year, and sometimes for a second year.
According to YU's newspaper, The Commentator, which first disclosed the news last week, the school's office of admissions sent a letter on February 14 to parents of current DEC students, informing them: "After a review of the educational standards and the learning environment at Derech Etz Chaim," maintaining its association with DEC would be "betraying the trust between Yeshiva University and its students."
A source within YU said the investigation had more to do with the rabbi's domineering influence on the students which was apparent when the students enrolled at the university upon their return from Israel than the alleged charge of sexual abuse.
The letter of termination was sent two days before YU officials met with the head of DEC, Rabbi Aharon Katz, to inform him of the investigation and the school's decision.
"The YU investigation did not include us," a spokesman for DEC told The Jerusalem Post. "What kind of investigation does not approach, address, or notify the party being investigated? Let them send us a letter telling us about the allegations, and we'll deny it."
The spokesman said the rabbi in question who comes from a prominent rabbinic family in America has no official capacity with the school; has never received any money from it; and has stopped the weekly Torah portion lecture that he used to give on Thursday nights.
Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual adviser to YU students who is presently in Israel, said, "The description of the role that the rabbi in question played in the school, in terms of the number of classes he gives, is accurate; but the role he actually plays in terms of the school being run by his pupils, and many students going to him for Friday and Shabbat, is far greater than that which is reflected in the number of classes he gives in the school."
Sexual charges first surfaced over 20 years ago at a yeshiva the rabbi headed in Santa Clara, California, called Yeshivat Kerem. The Commentator writes:
"The yeshiva had been thriving until the fall of 1983, when students began to come out with allegations that they had been sexually abused by the said rabbi during their years in the yeshiva. Within a few months after the rabbi, shunned by the student populace and confirmed as a sexual deviant, left the yeshiva amidst controversy Yeshivat Kerem shut down. Because many of the allegations had been kept quiet, the yeshiva's closing was perceived as the result of financial difficulty."
The spokesman for DEC said, "We had heard rumors of allegations from 20 years ago, but they were vague, they were never proven, and we treated them as such."
Blau, who met with DEC representatives last week, said YU has "an obligation to be 100 percent sure that there is no risk to our students. We are not asserting clear knowledge of anything inappropriate now. Because of the history, and the levels of closeness and involvement that a number of students have with him that seems to be encouraged by the school itself, we felt that we cannot take the responsibility of affiliating our name, which parents take as an indication that we endorse the school."
An Orthodox rabbi in the United States said he had heard about the rumors back then, and that "everyone in the yeshiva world had a suspicion about this. People saw him as a strange character. He was different."
Nevertheless, the rabbi said the alleged offender was a "talmid hacham" (scholar), and a "brilliant thinker, whose sefarim [religious texts] were well received."
The DEC spokesman said YU is being vague in its questioning of the yeshiva's "educational standards and the learning environment," and that by "writing this, they can bring into question almost anything about anything involved in the yeshiva. What specifically are they claiming?"
The spokesman said that next year, "We may not be able to open. It's unfortunate that young rebei'im [teachers] will be out of a job, a fine institution will be shut down, and students who want to come back for a second year will have to find someplace else to go. We have no intention of shutting down, but we'll have to see."
Battle for the Truth - Rabbi Mattis Weinberg fights Yeshiva University over charges of "inappropriate influence."
by Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor
The Jewish Journal of Orange County - March 28, 2003
A prominent rabbi in Jerusalem's Old City, who was rumored to have sexually abused students at a California yeshiva 20 years ago, is fighting new innuendoes that he wields inappropriate influence over students at a Jerusalem yeshiva with which he is loosely affiliated.
Rabbi Mattis Weinberg, who founded Yeshivat Kerem in Santa Clara in the mid-1970s, counts as some of his strongest supporters and detractors former Kerem students and faculty members who now live in Los Angeles.
The Kerem scandal reemerged from a two-decade dormancy last month when Yeshiva University (YU) in New York severed ties with Yeshiva Derech Etz Chaim (DEC) in Jerusalem, a post-high school yeshiva for about 35 American boys founded five years ago by Weinberg's students and where Weinberg taught a class once a week. YU alleged that Weinberg has significant influence among faculty and students and that both past and present inappropriate behavior warrant caution.
Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual adviser to students at YU, said that one current DEC student has come forward with allegations of sexual abuse.
He said another five victims from Kerem are willing to go on record. Weinberg and his supporters have embarked on an aggressive campaign to clear his name, calling all the allegations past and present ludicrous.
The decades-old scandal has resurfaced in a climate of hypersensitivity to sexual misconduct in an Orthodox community where incidents of abuse and cover-up have been exposed in the last few years. Some question whether Weinberg's case indicates that institutions wary of being accused of complacency have confused caution with overzealousness, while others laud the newfound imperative to clear up past wrongs and prevent future ones.
Weinberg is incensed by the accusations.
"Because of their desire to appear holier-than-thou, they decided to embark on some type of witch hunt or McCarthyism," Weinberg said in a phone interview from Jerusalem. Weinberg and his supporters believe YU's reaction can be traced to the fallout from the scandal involving Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who is free pending an appeal after being sentenced last June to seven years in prison for sexually abusing two girls when he was principal of a New Jersey yeshiva in the 1990s. The Orthodox Union, which employed Lanner as a regional director of the National Council for Synagogue Youth, admitted in an internal report to playing a part in covering up Lanner's offenses in the youth group for 20 years a notion that Weinberg's supporters say has sent the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva University over the edge in caution.
"We checked the history to our satisfaction and we were concerned that there might be a problem and we are not ready to have a relationship with a school and put our name on an institution where there might be something not healthy for student," Blau said.
Blau said that reports from current students raised some flags of concern, especially when taken in context of the Kerem scandal of 20 years ago.
He is confident that more victims those who have already spoken with professionals and those who have yet to do so will come forward soon. But so far, specifics are lacking.
The Commentator, YU's student paper, reported on one case where Weinberg took a student (not from DEC) to Safed for a weekend, and other cases of Weinberg using inappropriate sexual references in Torah lectures.
Weinberg called the accusations ludicrous. He says the student who went to Safed was a 20-year-old man who joined Weinberg who has 10 children and many grandchildren on a family trip, splitting the cost of the rental car. As to sexual content in his lectures, Weinberg said that both Bible and Talmud are full of such references, and he includes them where appropriate and necessary when he delivers his many lectures at yeshivot throughout Israel.
The vagueness of the accusations have angered and frustrated the administration at DEC, especially since they say DEC's ties to Weinberg are tenuous, and he holds no special influence over students.
"There is outrage amongst the present student population as well as their parents, alumni and alumni parents about the way YU has conducted itself toward DEC," said Rabbi Aharon Katz, dean of DEC. "YU has stated to us in conversations [as well as to others] that they have no allegations from students who have attended DEC."
DEC learned of the allegations only after the letter went out to parents. As soon as the yeshiva heard the accusations it suspended the weekly lecture Weinberg was delivering, pending an investigation, said Rabbi Sholom Strajcher, Katz's father-in-law and DEC president.
"What we want is to put it out on the table," said Strajcher, educational director of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Boys High School (YULA). "Let's create a mechanism of impartial professionals to look at it so that we can feel that there has been a fair process," he said.
YU has alleged that Weinberg holds cult-like sway over his students.
Weinberg's supporters, several of whom contacted The Journal, say that kind of accusation stems from jealousy.
"What bothers people most about Rabbi Weinberg is that their Torah is garden variety as compared to his.... He is a brilliant thinker. He will not accept the usual approaches to Torah," said Rabbi Ari Hier, director of the Jewish Studies Institute at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who attended Kerem for seven years.
"As soon as you are outside of the box, immediately the Orthodox mediocrity has a problem with you," said Hier, son of Wiesenthal dean Rabbi Marvin Hier.
Kerem, which existed for seven years, employed some well-known rabbis in Los Angeles, including Rabbi Shalom Tendler, now rosh yeshiva at YULA; Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarei Tzedek Congregation; Rabbi Daniel Lapin, formerly of the Pacific Jewish Center in Venice; and Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, now director of development at Emek Hebrew Academy.
It is Eidlitz whom the Commentator quoted as supplying YU with the ammunition to attack Weinberg and DEC. Eidlitz refused to comment for The Jewish Journal.
In 1983, a year after Weinberg moved to Israel and soon before the school closed its doors, major backers of Kerem and faculty were vying for control of the institution, Weinberg said. Amid that atmosphere, rumors emerged that Weinberg had sexually abused some of the students. No charges were ever brought.
Rabbi Ari Guidry, a student at Kerem for seven years, who has taught at several day schools in Los Angeles and now produces Torah CDs, said he was the source of some of those rumors. But he says now he misrepresented appropriate hugs from Weinberg to impress wealthy and powerful backers who did not like Weinberg.
"There was never anything remotely sexually suggestive," Guidry said of his relationship with Weinberg.
But Blau of YU said there are more witnesses who are not speaking publicly about what happened at Kerem.
Also in question is how the original allegations were handled. Blau said that there is a letter signed by Weinberg and Rabbi Elya Svei, a leading rabbinic figure from Philadelphia, stating that Weinberg would not be involved in education.
"That is absolutely categorically insane," Weinberg said. "I would love for somebody to produce this document."
One local rabbi familiar with the situation said that the matter at Kerem was dealt with at a rabbinic assembly involving some of the most elite rabbis in the United States at the time, including the late Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, Weinberg's father and rosh yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore. Because of Weinberg's lineage he is the grandson of the highly respected late Rabbi Yaakov Ruderman Weinberg was quietly confined to a life without direct influence over students so that scandal would not touch this respected Torah family, this rabbi alleged.
"That never happened. It is absolutely, categorically, simply totally untrue," Weinberg said of such an assembly.
Weinberg said that all he is guilty of is possessing the overconfidence of a 29-year-old in charge of a school and loving his students. Kerem took in many students from broken homes, he said.
"I believe that when kids are shown, for the first time in their lives, support and concern and actual love, it makes all the difference to them," he said. "When subsequently these accusations were made and the kids were told that nobody loved you and cared about you and any sign of comfort was because it was giving somebody a sexual charge that such a devastating thing to them," Weinberg said.
Weinberg said his supporters are in negotiations with YU, but if the situation is not resolved he will take legal action.
"If I had spent the years I spent being productive getting involved in such nonsense, I would not have given thousands of classes or published books. I would have become a bitter, small-minded person who worries about what other people think and about their lashon hara [gossip]," Weinberg said. "But I have been put into a position that if they continue this, it has to be stopped."
Blau said that YU stands by its actions, and that more information will soon emerge. Meanwhile, Blau said, the students must be protected.
"There is some level of suspicion and some level of risk, and that is enough to react," he said.
April 10, 2003 - Nissan 5763
Volume 67, Issue 11
The "Derech Etz Chaim" story published in the Commentator's last issue has generated worldwide attention. Immediately after our publication, The Jerusalem Post picked up the story and published a front-page synopsis. The Awareness Center, an organization dedicated to protecting the Jewish Community from sex offenders in leadership positions, has opened a dossier on the accused rabbi. Yeshivat Derech Etz Chaim has published a lengthy response to our article at their website (www.ondec.net), and has launched a public relations campaign aiming to convince Yeshiva to reverse its decision.
As a news source, the Commentator is neutral towards both the rabbi in question and towards Derech Etz Chaim. The original article reported the information that was most relevant to the Yeshiva University community. Precisely because we did not wish to sensationalize the story, we omitted the rabbi's name and the most egregious allegations. Ironically, this circumspection has led to the accusation that our reporting was groundless and irresponsible.
Many of the letters below question Yeshiva's judgment in revoking its accreditation and the particular process employed. We respect the sensitive nature of the decision and the time pressure under which it was made. Ultimately, it is not our place in our news reporting to decide whether it was correct.
We invite the reader to read these responses, consider the issues carefully, and contribute to the discussion.
Note from The Awareness Center
The Awareness Center Strongly supports The YU Commentator for breaking the story regarding Rabbi Matis Weinberg. It took a lot of courage to let this story (that was 20 years in the making) come out of the closet. But there was a mistake in the letter writen by the YU Commentator's editor. The Awareness Center is an international organization dedicated to addressing SEXUAL ABUSE in Jewish Communities around the world. We offer resources and information on all sorts of topics that relate to educating the Jewish community on the ramifications sexual abuse can have on individuals, families, friends, and our society. This includes information on and about sex offenders.
Vicki Polin, MA, ATR, LCPC
Executive Director - The Awareness Center
Disappointed by Vendetta
To the Editors:
Having grown up in post-war Holland, I often envied the opportunities provided by YU and its affiliated schools. To me, as to so many Jewish European youth, YU symbolized "Tora Im Derech Eretz" - a high academic level combined with sheer unlimited access to a solid Jewish Education.
I was dismayed, even shocked to read your article on Yeshivat Derech Etz Chaim. Shocked because the quality of the article does not behoove an institution that stands for academic and halachic principles. Let me start to mention that I am not a "chassid" of the Rov in question, neither an alumnus of his Yeshiva. I am actually in his age group. I happen to be somewhat familiar with his writings and enjoy listening to his Daf Yomi- and other shiurim on the web. Across the wide range of Jewish society, from left to right, so to say, he is acknowledged as a great Talmid Chochom and, more, an innovative and creative mind. There are, regrettably, very few of his caliber around and we should support those who enrich us.
The article by Mr. Levine (I assume for legal reasons) carefully avoids mentioning the Rov's name but he injects ample ramozim to easily find out who he is writing about. Artful tricks that belong in the sewer press, not in a YU publication. Worse than that, the article is based upon ......"a rabbi associated with the yeshiva".....; ....."a history of alleged sexually abusing"......, and to top it of "a woman" who was not told that her son joined the Rov for 3 days in Tzefat,is presented as a witness a charge. (Was her son the only one that went to Tzefat, were there 100 hundred others joining??) I happen to know that this Rov regularly retires to Tzefat to write. At no time, the article discusses the level of learning in the Yeshiva. The academic level, apparently, does not interest the writer, nor YU. Someone at YU decided to start, what well could be, a vendetta on basis of nothing more than hearsay, "alleged misdoings" and more of this kind of biased attitudes. Whether it is Loshon Hora or Rechilus does not interest me. It's either and equally wrong.
The article admits that YU has taken the decision unilaterally, without discussing it with the Yeshiva's mentors. YU knew very well that its decision equals the kiss of death, not only for the yeshiva, but for all the people that work there and have put their hearts and souls into creating a yeshiva "with a healthy difference".
The interesting fact is that the article actually, indirectly proves that the 'allegations" must have been unfounded. We are talking California in the eighties!! Is there anyone who seriously believes that parents and authorities would just disregard allegations of sexual abuse, only because the Rov promised that he would no longer "become involved in chinuch, neither in the US nor in Israel". (apparently French and Dutch Jewish kids are ok to be tought by him). Does Mr. Levine seriously believes that parents of young men who went "through significant therapy after coming out with their allegations", would just sit back and be satisfied with the Rov's self imposed removal from the Chinuch scene? In the world's most litigious country? Could it be that they went into therapy to get over their lying and thus harming a man and his family?
In our democratic (and halachic) society we look at facts. We listen to both parties in a dispute. We don't base ourselves upon hollow allegations, motes shem ra, rechilus or loshon hora. Not so YU, whose actions on basis of something that may- or most likely has not- happened 20 years (!!) ago. In the process, a valuable thinker and his family become tainted and many families are on the street. YU does not like the Rosh Yeshiva (for those who did not read the article: the Rov in question has no official affiliation with the DEC Yeshiva - he gives a weekly shi'ur attended by some 100 listeners), since they consider him a talmid of the Rov. So, the issue is a toldo detoldo. Frankly, if the rule has become that we start looking at the source of education of teachers in YU affiliated Yeshivot, I can list some more learning institutions that should be taken off the list. I cannot suppress the strong feeling that we have to do with a pure personal issue, blown out of proportions with complete disregard for all those individuals who suffer from it.
An Insider's Appraisal: Pure Motzi Shem Ra
As a woman married to an alumnus of Kerem Yeshiva who has remained a talmid of the accused rabbi, and as a Shabbat host to the Derech Etz Chayim student body I vehemently decry the slander of the aforementioned.
For over 20 years I have been associated with dozens of former Kerem students who continue to be in touch with their Rav and have in no way and for no reason cut ties with him. To make the accusations which you have made based on untrue sources which are politically motivated (yes, I have done my research before writing this letter) to destroy the name of a Talmid Chacham and to besmirch the name of an excellent educational institution is unethical and goes against everything the Torah stands for.
I am shocked that an institution of Yeshiva University's caliber would stoop to such levels to satisfy an individual of power who is out to destroy a fellow Jews reputation.
If there were any truth to the allegations, you are right, it would be a mitzvah to publicize it . But you are well aware that the article to which I am referring is nothing more than "Motzei Shem Rah" of the worst degree.
It is not the Torah approach to skew facts to achieve a political goal.
Shoshanah Hirsch Selavan (wife of Rabbi Barnea Selavan)
A Grave Injustice
March 16, 2003
13 Adar Hasheni, 5763
To the editors:
I have been a mechanech for 25 years, most recently as Rosh Kollel of the Boca Raton Community Kollel, until illness forced me to retire from active service. I am writing to express my great distress and deep concern over the grave injustice and injury done to Yeshivat Derech Etz Chaim (DEC) by Yeshiva University. As a parent of a talmid of DEC for 4 years, as a frequent visitor and observer of the yeshiva - one who observed the yeshiva not only as a parent but as a professional mechanech - I am outraged by the report on the yeshiva that appeared in The Commentator on March 6. The report is filled with spurious claims that paint an utterly false picture of the yeshiva. DEC is an outstanding institution - fresh, vibrant, open, intellectually and spiritually challenging. Torah is alive and exciting at DEC. DEC not only claims to meet the needs of each student individually but actually does. As a former high school principal, I visited many yeshivot affiliated with the S. Daniel Abraham Program in Israel and DEC was and is the equal of any of them. The peremptory and one sided nature of the decision made by Yeshiva University to terminate DEC's affiliation with the Israel program was reckless. Yeshiva University has an unquestionable obligation to right this terrible wrong. Taanit Esther is a most appropriate time for such action.
Rabbi Moshe Miller
Boca Raton, Florida
A Contemptible Violation of Due Process
I found this article tendentious and irresponsible. More importantly, YU has set itself up as not just the purveyors of unsubstantiated lashon hara and lies, but as judge and jury as well. If there is any serious evidence of abuse, then it is the responsibility of any serious educator to see that police and social welfare professionals are involved. YU has not done that, and after having missed the boat for well over a decade on the Baruch Lanner fiasco, is now pursuing a witch-hunt based on rumor, innuendo, and lies. It is simply contemptible.
If there is any evidence of impropriety, let them bring it forward to the responsible authorities. If there is no such evidence, a public apology is in order, and probably financial compensation due to Derech Etz Chaim for the malicious gossip YU has been spreading. I have personally visited Derech Etz Chaim on numerous occasions and found the yeshiva to be a place where the "kol HaTorah" is pervasive, and the spirit of the bochrim rich with energy and simcha.
MA Ed (Marriage Family and Child Counseling)
A Witch Hunt
The article sounds honest enough. But we know better, don't we? You claim that an intensive international investigation resulted in the yeshiva deciding to terminate its affiliation/accreditation with Yeshivat Derech Etz Chaim. If that were so, why wasn't the yeshiva in Israel given warning/alert that YU was considering drastic action after discovering "compelling evidence" .....?
Dumping YU's decision on the lap of Rabbi Katz during his recent visit, with NO prior warning or indication that something was amiss; not allowing DEC a chance to defend themselves, make amends or conduct their OWN intensive international investigation reeks of a witch hunt, do nothing of un-menschlichkite behavior.
The fact that both your lead articles deal with sexual issues and cult-like behavior make me think that someone at YU has a real problem! Will these same teachers apologize to the Rabbi integrally associated for richilus, motzei sham ra, to say nothing of hillul hashem?
Dovid Solomon (a longtime student of the accused rabbi)
Lanner Legacy causes damage at DEC
How unfortunate that the collateral damage from the Lanner affair continues.
Publications such as The Jewish Week, and general pressure from liberal Orthodox groups, continue to make the Modern Orthodox rabbinate hyper-defensive. For example, spurred by the outcry that led to his recent apology, Rabbi Yoseph Blau, in his zeal to exonerate himself has now targeted legitimate educational institutions in his self-serving quest to improve his image. To show his credentials as a vigilante in the service of vulnerable youth, Rabbi Blau has set his sights on destroying institutions of torah learning based on the most tenuous of claims.
Without question, the events of the Lanner case constitute a deplorable case of inexcusable behavior and inappropriate response. What is most unfortunate however is that the irresponsibility of some of the main actors in the story continues.
Signed: UCLA 1987
R. Blau Responds
The accusations against this Rabbi who clearly is a dominant force in Derech Etz Chaim, as proven by the angry letters, though the Roshei Yeshiva denied it, came from victims, psychologists who treated victims and Rabbis. The investigation of Kerem did not include any person connected with Y.U. Yeshiva's decision was made by a broad committee. Attacking me is irrelevant because I did not initiate the investigation and the same decision would have been reached if I were not involved. Anyone familiar with my actions in dealing with Baruch Lanner knows that I do not have to criticize any other rabbi accused of abusive behavior to cover for my earlier mistakes. What has been learned from the Lanner affair is that no improper behavior should be ignored because of the good that someone does particularly abusive behavior which can cause immeasurable damage.
Satisfied DEC Parents
In response to Yeshiva University's decision to disaffiliate the Derech Etz Chaim, and to respond to the article in the Commentator, we felt that YU should hear about our son's experiences at DEC this year.
Our son has been at Derech Etz Chaim (DEC) since August. Based on our weekly phone calls and the various emails it is readily apparent that DEC has had a very positive effect on our son. My nephew is also at DEC and his father went for a visit in November. The report back to us was that both boys were involved in extensive learning, that the overall environment was conducive and encouraging, that the Rebbe's were cognizant of the needs of each student and that most importantly, both students, our sons, were very happy.
Every time we speak with our son, we hear about his learning, about the involvement of the various Rebbe's in his development, how excited he is about learning for 10-12 hours a day, and sometimes longer. He tells us about his involvement in his school and the various activities at DEC. You can hear the intensity about his learning and the maturity in his voice.
During the times of crisis in Israel, DEC has contacted us with emails to tell us that they have contacted all the students and that they are safe. This communication, especially during a bombing or other tragedy in Israel, has saved us countless hours of worry and shown us how deeply concerned Rabbi Katz and DEC is for all of the students and their families. Other families with sons at other yeshivas have not received this instant communication about the safety of their children.
The charge of a "cult like mentality" at DEC is baseless and not true. From the first day our son was there, he told us of the diversity in students and about the diversity of the Rebbes as well. Recently, we attended an alumni shabbaton here in Pittsburgh for DEC. There were approximately 40 young men that had traveled from all over the country; California, Texas, Boston, New York and Baltimore, just to be together and to see their Rosh Yeshiva. At their introduction for the shabbaton, each student informed the group of the number of years that they had attended DEC and their current college and course of study.
Each was mature, articulate and nicer than the next, in their demeanor and in their respect for each other, the parents in attendance and for their Rosh Yeshiva. This is not characteristics of a cult mentality.
In addition, we have constant contact with our son. Daily e-mails and phone calls twice a week. Usually you don't hear of cults with that consistent contact with the outside world. The DEC website is in the public domain with pictures of the students, activities, and Divrei Torah, certainly not evidence of cult like behavior. Other friends of ours whose sons went to DEC and are now in college are very pleased with their son's development, maturity and they are all Ben Torahs. What parent doesn't want that for their son? Our son is having an amazing year of learning and study at a fine institution that is staffed byqualified teachers and administration.
Based on what we have heard and read, YU has done a hatchet job on this institution and done it with third hand knowledge, without actual charges in any legal venue, Jewish or civil. In addition, upon reading the article in the Commentator, one would think that incidents have happened recently. Again, no events have happened since the beginning of DEC, these charges are not true, and there are no facts, no charges, no specifics. This is yellow journalism by the Commentator, and typical of "indictment on the front page with vindication hidden later on the back page." I guess sensationalism sells even the Commentator on the YU campus. As far as the administration at YU, again, over reacting based on heresy evidence at best and not substantiated or supported in any jurisdiction.
Barry Faigen and Debby Eisner
Signed: Penn State 1976
Disclose the Name: Protect the Community
To the Editors:
YU, Rabbi Blau, Rabbi Willig, Rabbi Levine, those in the know in California, etc., must learn a lesson from the Lanner case. The obligation to protect must not be misdirected to the suspected (in this case, known), protection must be given to the victims and potential victims. By allowing the offender to go unnamed, you, the Jerusalem Post, the powers that be in California etc., are all paving the way for him to strike again. There are enough victims. There too many scarred young people. You and owe it to the community, especially our youth, to tell the whole truth and name the offender. How many less people would have been effected had Boruch Lanner been exposed at the start? Who will be blamed and who will be forced to publicly apologize if this despicable individual, this disgrace to the Torah world (in spite of his supposed Talmud Chacham standing)is allowed to remain anonymous. We all know, he will certainly strike again.
Just as the YU Rabbis have stated that disclosing those who cheat (a recent Commentator article) is an obligation, even more so is disclosing one who harms our young people.
Did not attend YU, 1995
To the Editors:
One wonders if Rav Svei's son had been molested whether he would have agreed to not press charges. Equal to this criminal behaviour is the cover up, and we talk about the Catholic Church. What a Shanda.
Dr. Warren Gross ( A parent whose son WAS scheduled to attend DEC in the fall. ) Parent '07
Reasoned and Justified Reporting
To The Editors:
I am writing in response to those who would object to YU's decision to remove Derech Etz Chaim from the Israel Program and the decision of The Commentator to write a substantial article on the subject. Although no one has actually written an article voicing such a protest, seeing as that the issue was only brought up in this week's Commentator, many of my friends have strenuously objected to these decisions and I am sure that several letters have already been submitted on the subject.
Firstly, I would like to point out that I have friends who have attended DEC in the past and who are there today as well, I do not intend my comments to be malicious.
Next, I feel the subject must be broken down into two main issues. First, there is the objection to YU's expulsion of DEC from the Israel Program. Then, there is the decision of The Commentator to write a lead article on the subject. This separation might be obvious to some, but in the arguments I've had, the lines have frequently been blurred.
I completely agree with YU's decision to terminate its connection with DEC. This does not mean that I assume the accused Rabbi to be guilty. YU does not have the responsibility to become involved in litigation, whether secular or Jewish, to determine whether this particular Rav is innocent or guilty. It is beyond doubt that he has been very closely connected with allegations of abuse in the past. It seems likely that significant proof does exist, whether we are privy to its existence or not, based on the fact that such charges weren't staunchly repudiated years ago. He has been connected with abuse, nothing has broken that connection and passage of time can not change that fact. YU can not associate itself with such an individual. Therefore, YU can not associate with institutions that associate with such an individual. Once again, this does not necessarily mean that YU believes that this Rav is guilty, but as a yeshiva and as a university, YU can not risk being associated with those accused of abuse.
The Commentator commits itself to informing the student body of issues and events that affect it. Obviously, as it is part of an institution committed to Orthodox Jewish ideals, it must also factor in laws such as Lashon Hara and Motzei Shem Ra. It answers to a higher authority then just "getting a scoop out." That being said, there are certain issues which must be brought to the attention of the students despite the pain in might cause an individual. Clearly, certain methods must be used to protect the individual that a story names, but not to the extent of suppression of the issue.
With that in mind, I believe The Commentator staff made the correct decision in publishing the article on DEC. As a student of Yeshiva University, I believe that I, along with my peers, have a right to know if our institution is associated with individuals accused of abuse. No less would be demanded by a student at Boston University or a bachur in the Mirrer Yeshiva. Who my college chooses to associate with, by definition plays a part in how my institution is perceived by others and therefore how I am seen as well. Therefore, I have a right to know if my institution is associating with those accused of abuse and if such an association has been terminated. Such things affect me and myfuture.
In terms of Lashon Hara, the article did not mention the Rav's name, and as the author mentions in his explanation of why he wrote the article, also leaves out a significant amount of the allegations. We have a right to know the general issues, the same can not be said for exact details.
Some have said that, in spite of these methods, the article essentially made it easy for anyone to discover who the Rav was by providing the DEC website which has the Rav's name on it. To that I respond that The Commentator staff can not be held responsible for individuals chasing after Lashon Hara. If someone, of their own accord, tries to decipher who the Rav referred to is, that is their problem and not Lashon Hara on the part of the author of the article.
The issues involved in such a case are complex. With Rabbanim, we often want to exonerate those accused to the detriment of the accuser. Even presuming the possibility of innocence of the involved Rav, I believe YU and The Commentator made the proper decisions.
Signed: YC 2005
A Personal and Professional Evaluation
Dear Mr. Levine:
I wish to discuss this case of Rabbi Matis Weinberg. By coincidence, my husband, myself and two of my three sons as well as their wives when possible, have been attending Rabbi Weinberg's Thursday night Shiur. Before launching into the main topic, some background information is relevant.
My husband practiced psychiatry in Atlanta, Georgia as well as holding board certification in psychiatry, and a position of assistant professor in the Emory University school of medicine department of psychiatry. I hold an undergraduate degree in pharmacy, graduated with a Ph.D. in medical physiology from medical school as well as two years of post-doctoral as an NIH fellow at Emory University school of medicine department of physiology. I was individually tutored by Dr. Lee Hall,head of the psychoanalytic program, for two years. We founded and co-directed the marriage and sex counseling clinic at Emory University school of medicine for 7 years. Our responsibility was to train psychiatric residents to deal with these problems in couple therapy.
My oldest son, Danny, age 30, was the first of our family to begin to attend his shiur on Thursdays. He attended Keren B'Yavne as well as Nir Israel. Jeremy, age 22, is finishing the Hesder program at Yeshivat Otniel. My middle son, Micah, is working in New York at KPMG but graduated YU with honors. He, his wife and baby spend every other Shabbat at Stern where they are the "resident Rabbi and family" for the girls at Stern.
Danny has been reading Rabbi Weinberg's books for a number of years long before he met him in person. When he learned about the Thursday night Shiur, he went regularly and was so impressed, that he invited Jeremy to go with him. This is probably important: Jeremy went one time and came back so enthusiastic and intellectually stimulated, that he started driving to Jerusalem every Thursday. If you know the drive from Otniel to Jerusalem, you know this is a big deal. I don't think it's possible to be involved in a cult-like experience from one evening.
Because of this enthusiasm, my husband and I decided we should also see exactly what all the excitement is about. I am writing to confirm that, yes, it is possible to be totally engaged by this brilliant, gifted rabbi who is also a charismatic and totally mesmerizing speaker. I can explain something of why he is so unique: In addition to Rabbinic studies, he has a significant mastery of literature, history, chemistry, physics, psychology, poetry, etc. He can weave it all together in such a way as to leave you stunned with his insights. In other words, he is a genius with the additional talent of being a marvelous teacher.
Now we come to these terrible charges against him. My husband and I spent hours observing him with his students. Of course, that was not our intention, but it happened. Neither of us saw the slightest sign of "cult-like" behavior. It's very difficult to imagine that we would not pick up on this immediately. I did not see any difference between their behavior and Jeremy's or that of my husband. It is so exciting to learn from someone who is so brilliant and a teacher with such a unique insight that is probably only possible from someone with such a vast store of information from so many different fields of learning.
I can give you another example: Micah studied under Rabbi Rosensweig at YU. He has his rabbi's photograph prominently displayed in his home, he hangs on his every word and consults him on issues that are important to him. Is that "cult-like" behavior? No. So I must assume it's because of the limited amount of time the students actually spent with Rabbi Matis relative to the tremendous influence that he had on them.
At the moment I simply reject the conclusion of a "cult" or anything remotely resembling this. I understand completely what an amazing experience it is to be taught by such a gifted man.
As you can imagine considering my long years in academics, I am quite at home and comfortable with people who would be classified as "genius." I don't recall a single one that wasn't "different", even peculiar by normal standards. They all marched to their own drummers. They definitely do stand out often as eccentric or odd or on another planet. I personally find their differences to be fascinating and an enrichment in my life. Some people are invariably threatened especially if they enter their field of study. It must feel a bit like being the very best tennis player in your circle and then having Andre Agassi move into your turf. It doesn't necessarily feel good. While I consider the charge of "cult like" behavior to be totally ridiculous, I am shocked at the charges from 20 years ago of sexual misconduct.
While anything is possible, of course, I want to tell you why this seems a bit hysterical. First, I think panic set in as a result of confirmed sexual abuse cases that involved YU staff in the recent past. I don't know the details and only vaguely remember the stories. Second, sexual predators usually do not, can not wait 20 years before striking again. Thirdly, they usually have disturbed relationships in other areas. As best I can determine, this was an isolated charge 20 years ago and nothing after that. I had the pleasure of attending the Thursday shiur with his daughters and, once again, observing them and their interaction with their father. I can tell you that any father would be so pleased so have such love and respect from his teenage daughters.
Since what is being implied by the Commentator as well as splashed on the front page of the JPost can literally ruin this man's life, not to mention the intense suffering of his family, I am appealing to you to consider this letter.
I hope I will hear from you. You seem to have information about whatever happened 20 years ago. Who were the "professionals." Who were the students? Doesn't anyone
accused of such terrible crimes have the right to confront his accusers? Obviously all we know is what we read in the newspaper. It is with relief that the Jewish community is confronting and aggressively advertising sexual offenders within their boundaries. However, God forbid that someone innocent be ruined by inclusion.
Lynn Gimpel, Ph.D.
Signed: emory 1971
Y.U. cuts ties with Jerusalem yeshiva
JTA Daily Briefing - March 12, 2003 (Original Author) - http://www.jta.org/brknews.asp?id=57356
Chicago Jewish News - Friday, March 14, 2003 - http://www.chicagojewishnews.org/today.jsp
Yeshiva University cut ties with an Israeli yeshiva amid charges that a rabbi suspected of sexual and psychological abuse is maintaining improper influence over some students. A Y.U. official confirmed reports that the university severed ties with Yeshivat Derech Etz Chaim in Jerusalem after it learned that 10 sophomores who had studied with a certain rabbi during their Year in Israel program continued to attend Jewish studies classes with him instead of attending regular classes upon their return. "The students had a tie to this rabbi, they had a certain allegiance to him and they felt they wanted to continue their relationship with him and this is what raised questions, in light of the fact that there is a history of allegations," the official said. "The allegations were serious enough that it would not be appropriate for Yeshiva University to have their students in that kind of environment." Y.U. will not take disciplinary action against the students for failing to attend class, and no one charges that they have been abused, the official said. An official at Derech Etz Chaim blasted Y.U., telling the Jerusalem Post that the university probe into the matter "did not include us." Sexual abuse allegations against the rabbi first surfaced 20 years ago at a California yeshiva, the Post reported, though they were never proven. Y.U. is making alternate plans for 11 freshman and four sophomores still at the yeshiva in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood, the official said.
Rabbis gone bad - Part 1
In this first in a series of articles dealing with clergy abuse, Jewsweek's Steven I. Weiss explores the many faceted issue of rabbis in trouble.
by Steven I. Weiss
Jewsweek.com - April 7, 2003
Richard Marcovitz, Matis Weinberg, Baruch Lanner. The names of those rabbis recently accused or convicted of sexually abusing their students are, for some, an obsession, for others, barely worth noting. What rabbinic abuse means for the Jewish community is, at present, largely an open question. In recent years, the explosion of the Catholic clergy scandal alongside a number of well-reported instances of criminally abusive behavior by rabbis has focused a new attention on how the Jewish community should deal with its problem.
Exactly what is driving this period of discovery is hard to say. Whether abuse has actually increased in recent years, whether victims have become less wary of reporting violations, or whether a more concerted investigative effort is responsible, what is very clear is that the issue has become more prominent than at perhaps any other point in history. In a series of articles, this space will discuss all of these and many other possibilities and their consequences. It will introduce some specific cases, the major responses to abuse, a breakdown of how the various movements deal with abuse, and analysis of how the community -- and media in specific -- interact with the problem.
Cases of rabbinic abuse that have surfaced fall into three primary categories: those that have been dealt with exclusively by the community, those that have involved law enforcement in the matter, and those that have involved both. Each case is, in many ways, a test for each method of dealing with the problem, and each offers an understanding of how these situations may pan out in the future.
Jewsweek readers will be familiar with the case of Rabbi Baruch Lanner. Nearly three years ago, a local New York Jewish newspaper detailed accusations made against Baruch Lanner, declaring that he had abused teens throughout his three-decade involvement in the Orthodox youth group, NCSY. What followed was an intense investigation of the cover-ups and failures on the part of the Orthodox Union, NCSY's parent organization, as well as criminal charges that resulted in a seven-year sentence. The failure of the Orthodox Union, as well as the Jewish community generally, to respond to repeated allegations, was a primary focus of those involved with the case.
This summer, following Lanner's conviction, Jewsweek detailed several aspects of the case, including conflicts over how Lanner should be treated, as well as a revealing look at those who have continued to support Lanner even after his conviction. Lanner's case is unique because it involved efforts at enforcement both from the communal side and from law enforcement -- begging the question "Is the Lanner situation over?" This series of articles will find answers to that question.
Another recent case is that of Richard Marcovitz, who pleaded guilty last week to charges that he "groped two female employees of a religious school and two girls who attended classes," according to news reports. Marcovitz, 66, will be serving a twenty-year sentence. Marcovitz is one of a number of rabbis whose abusive behavior was dealt with directly and exclusively by law enforcement. What members of the community think of this approach and its effectiveness will be a part of upcoming articles.
Then there is Matis Weinberg, who is the most prominent case of communal self-enforcement. According to news reports, Weinberg was at Yeshivat Kerem in Santa Clara, California in the early 1980s when he was run out of town by Jewish authority Rabbi Elya Svei, following allegations of abuse. Also according to news reports, Svei ordered Weinberg to sign a letter guaranteeing that he would never again teach children.
Then this winter, a group of rabbis withdrew certification for an Israeli yeshiva where Weinberg had taught, following an investigation into his behavior. But the credibility of that investigation is already being challenged. Some stories about the case have served as little more than rebuttals from leaders at the yeshiva, or those representing Weinberg. Jewsweek has spoken with sources who have challenged outright the veracity of the investigation's findings, as well as some individuals involved with the actual investigation. The next article in this series will reveal the arguments and allegations on both sides, and examine how Weinberg's case affects the communal enforcement option.
At some level, of course, communal enforcement is the only option. Even when Megan's Law is applicable, the community is still responsible for deciding whether and how to let a convicted pedophile rejoin the community and possibly retain a clergy position. And what of rabbinic misconduct generally? Can a convicted embezzler return to a position of authority? What about someone convicted of possessing child pornography, as Rabbi Juda Mintz was last week in New Jersey? Or someone who contracts a murder, like Rabbi Fred Neulander, who was convicted this summer? What about someone against whom there have been serious allegations, but no conviction? All of these choices have to be made by the community, as American law is neutral on the matter.
Moving forward, the possibility that communal self-enforcement can go too far, excluding people for conduct that is not objectively criminal or harmful, but is judged to be so by those empowered to make the decision. This, allege Weinberg's defenders, is what happened to their friend and teacher when he utilized unorthodox methods of teaching. Can a policy of communal enforcement allow, rather ironically, those with the power to make such decision capable of abusing it? What kind of checks can be made to ensure that individuals are not blacklisted for the wrong reasons?
Beyond the questions of who, how, and why in dealing with abusive rabbis, is the question of how the laity can involve itself. Lanner's case, for example, would not even have seen daylight had it not been for the reporting of Gary Rosenblatt in New York's Jewish Week, and it is an absolute fact that almost all of the names of rabbis already mentioned, as well as those names to come, would simply not be part of this article if they hadn't been reported. Media ethics questions necessarily follow if media is going to serve not just to ring the alarm bells, but as enforcers as well. Just as important, though, is for the media to pursue stories aggressively. Later on in this series will come a presentation on how long it usually takes for allegations to surface in the media or elsewhere, and a discussion of whether the media can be more pro-active in these matters.
Just as this series is only in its beginning stages, answers to the questions posed above are still in development. We will visit the Awareness Center, a fledgling organization founded to help answer these problems. As well, some schools, organizations, and movements have their own policies on the books. Over the course of this series, you will be introduced to many of them and, to some degree, by your participation, they will be introduced to you.
Suggestions, comments, and queries can be sent to StevenIWeiss@yahoo.com.
The YU - DEC Controversy: An Initial Response - Past, Present and Future
Submitted by Rabbi Sholom Strajcher - President, Derech Etz Chaim Institutions, Inc.
Any article about, or response to, the topics raised in The Commentator piece on the YU-DEC controversy requires a great deal of sensitivity; not only in light of the topics presented, but because of the need for deep concern and compassion for all those who may have been hurt, harmed, or pained by the process of openly discussing such serious, unsubstantiated allegations. As Torah Jews we share an obligation to be guided by the highest values of Bain Adom Lachavayro and Kavod Habriyot even when in the pursuit of truth. We are most worried about the harm to the DEC family of alumni, current Talmidim, rebbeyim and supporters who have been put through an emotional/spiritual wringer as a result of the impact of how this process has been mishandled. The statements about their yeshiva have no doubt been painful. The talmidim are bright, special young men with incredible talent and great potential. We truly pray, therefore, that we will all exhibit care as we approach the issues before us.
It is also not our intent to use the pages of The Commentator as the means of airing our differences and achieving lines of communication to YU's administration. This is best realized face to face, around a table, in an environment of mutual respect.
It is difficult to comment on allegations, going back some 20 years regarding the unnamed rabbi written about in the recent Commentator article because, regardless of "The Clues," it is, as The Commentator reiterates numerous times, "alleged." To our knowledge, whatever took place in the past has never been adjudicated in a fashion that brought any level of clarity and closure. Rabbi Katz's understanding of the closing of Kerem, as being related to financial problems, is in sync with the recollection of many other Kerem graduates of that period. In addition, we can't even discuss the purported letter of agreement between the rabbi and Rabbi Svei, let alone accept it as a support document, when, to this date, no one has brought the actual letter to the table. Not only was Rabbi Katz not aware of it, but also in the loop, high profile educators have not seen it or even heard about it. Such an agreement, of truly significant import, would have, no doubt, established vigilant gatekeepers on both sides of the ocean. The rabbi has been published and has actively given shiurim within Israeli yeshivot and for the general public, in the U.S. and Israel, for over 20 years.
Additionally, we must not take a quantum leap to connect dots between the allegations and rumors of the past and Derech Etz Chaim. To our knowledge, there has been no such connection. Indeed, we were told by a member of the YU administrative panel that the decision was not based on any complaint against DEC. The concern directly presented to us verbally, after the receipt of the February 14 notice of non-renewal, and now being quoted in the press, revolves around the Yeshiva's association with the rabbi and the perception of a number of YU administrators of the possibility of, as The Commentator put it, "cases that sound eerily similar." By the same token, no bridges should be built between a tragic episode in the recent history of the orthodox community and this situation. There has been no 'bet din', no impartial investigation, no alleged cover-up, and no panel of mental-health, educational and legal experts. What we, and now the public, have been presented with is an in-house, YU driven fait accompli filled with allegations, rumors, generalities, discrepancies and falsehoods about DEC, with no venue for redress or even a two-way, balanced discussion.
Contrary to the view of the YU administrative team, the "rabbi" is not the "driving force behind everything." He did give an open-to-the-public Chumash shiur at DEC until February 20th. He did this as a volunteer, once a week, for the past four years. Indeed, tens of men and women, unaffiliated with DEC, attended the shiur in Har Nof at DEC. He received no remuneration from DEC. He holds no position on the corporation or faculty. DEC's response was swift and decisive. Literally within hours of being told by Mr. Michael Kranzler and Rabbi Yosef Blau of YU's concern, DEC was in contact with the rabbi to inform him of the concerns. He, having the interests of DEC in mind, offered, and it was immediately agreed to end any and all association and affiliation, current and future, with the yeshiva. Obviously, the once a week shiur at the Yeshiva ceased. YU gave no indication that this action would be sufficient to alleviate the concerns or what other actions needed to be taken to satisfy continued program participation. This approach is incomprehensible. The deletions from the website are not, as The Commentator claims, "in order to downplay his association with DEC." It is an upfront, honest response to the concern expressed. The website is a no-win situation. Had we left the pictures on the site - we would have heard "Ah! You see! He is the Yeshiva!" And now, as we change the page, we are accused of "downplay." The February 27, DEC, yeshiva-wide shmooze by Rabbi Katz "that the said rabbi is in no way connected to DEC" is also not an attempt at "downplay", but an appropriate response by a responsible educator. DEC takes the concerns of its valued partners seriously and is responsive to them. It has been, and will always be, the primary and sole desire of DEC, its leadership and staff, driven by a deep commitment to quality chinuch and professionalism, to have as our number one concern and priority, the needs of each and every talmid. They come first. Part of this pursuit of excellence has been our relationship with Yeshiva University and other quality institutions, which we feel has been mutually beneficial.
One of the challenges literally thrown at us, in what some view as a crusade by certain members of the YU administration against DEC, resides in the realm of ideas, influences, and attitudes, the 'derech' and 'hashkafot' of DEC. While these administrators have yet to clearly define what exactly they mean by these terms, we must assume that none of these influences are related to the allegations against the rabbi. As one administrator put it, "How can DEC claim or demonstrate, even if the rabbi is no longer associated with the Yeshiva, that his ideas do not drive the direction of the Yeshiva?"
DEC has proven itself, during the few years of its existence, as being a positive Torah and educational experience. Overwhelmingly, our talmidim have loved their DEC experience and have been launched into a life of Torah learning. Any complaints about the 'derech' or the 'hashkafa' must be viewed in this context. Our goal and one which we feel should be mutually held by YU, is to create committed Torah Jews who will be excited about learning and will continue to be so after leaving DEC. DEC's track record speaks for itself. The powerful connect that talmidim have to the Yeshiva stems from it being the first place where they found this excitement in Torah study. Something in the DEC formula has made it work. It's no mere coincidence that DEC alumni have been among the favorites at YU. This feeling about DEC talmidim has been the case for many 'batei midrash' programs in the United States that recruit students from Israel.
Essential to this track record of success has been the DEC faculty of full-time rebbeyim and their openness to ongoing program evaluation. Contrary to the image portrayed in The Commentator, the rebbeyim are a diverse group with different teaching styles. Their own post high school, bet medrash and kollel experiences cover the full landscape of Limud Torah. They are not all on the same page. As such, they create a healthy learning environment in which they are willing to listen and to broaden the learning horizon to meet the needs of talmidim and their future chinuch. The same dynamism applies to the 'seder halimud' which encompasses a goal oriented, skills based curriculum of 'gemara b'kiyut'-covering an entire 'mesechta', 'gemara b'iyun', 'chumash', 'navi yomi', 'halacha'-including the development of 'halacha', 'machshava' and 'musar'.
Our disagreement with Yeshiva University's decision centers on the following:
Derech Etz Chaim has faithfully abided by both the letter and spirit of the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program Agreement Letter of 2002/2003.
Derech Etz Chaim has consistently allowed open access, at all times, to YU representatives and has provided all data in compliance with the agreement. YU rebbeyim and administrators have given shiurim at DEC and have had the opportunity to meet with talmidim and rebbeyim during those visits. In the month of January 2003, the following YU rebbeyim gave shiurim at DEC: January 8th- Rabbi Meir Goldvicht, January 19th- Rabbi Mordechai Willig, and January 21st- Rabbi Herschel Schachter. In addition, Mr. Moshe Kranzler visited us on January 14th. Mark Lehrman and Mordechai Kaplan of YU's Israel office have also been at DEC several times throughout the academic year. This open door policy is not only in keeping with the agreement but is a standard DEC approach in regard to other institutions, the community, DEC parents and alumni.
DEC was not informed of even a hint of concern or issue until receipt of a FedEx letter, signed by John B. Fisher, which arrived in Israel on February 14, 2003, one day prior to the deadline for notification of removal from the program. YU administrators, involved in the decision, were fully aware that Rabbi Katz was not in Israel to receive the communication.
On February 15, Rabbi Danni Rapp asked Rabbi Katz to attend a meeting. Although Rabbi Katz inquired about the agenda, he was not given any information. He had no reason to assume anything but a routine meeting. The meeting took place on February 16th. Present were three YU administrators, Rabbi Rapp, Mr. Kranzler and Dr. Fisher. He was informed of the decision. His recollection is in consonance with what I was told subsequently by Mr. Kranzler, that due to confidentiality they were unable to disclose the names of those who made the decision. It is therefore interesting to see the full list in The Commentator. Also not shared, although requested, were a description of the process utilized to arrive at the decision, the precise substantiated reasons for the action, and the means of redress. The most I could elicit was that this decision was reached "by YU's 'poskim' and that it was related to DEC's association with the 'rabbi'." It would make no difference if the 'rabbi' were no longer associated with the yeshiva. DEC cannot comprehend this position by YU. If the rabbi is no longer associated with DEC, and if an impartial mechanism is established to determine the disassociation, what then are the issues which stand in the way of rejoining the Joint Israel Program?
As noted above, administrators and rebbeyim of YU have visited DEC regularly, have given shiurim and have spoken privately to talmidim. This within the past two and one-half months. I personally discussed DEC with Mr. Kranzler within this time frame. Not a concern was raised. Just the opposite, the comments were most complimentary of the Yeshiva, its program and faculty. If the purpose of these visits has been as the agreement states, "to monitor performance" then, if even the slightest concern arose, anything at all, that might have jeopardized the talmidim in any fashion, we should have been notified immediately. Nothing in our past responses would indicate anything less than full engagement in resolution.
The statement reported in The Commentator of a YU insider that "we didn't want to get involved with legal issues," just doesn't represent what was done, how it was done, and the consequences of the actions taken by Yeshiva University through its administration. Investigations are serious matters, especially international ones. The pursuit of truth through impartial, professionally administered investigations can help victims and even the accused. They can hopefully prevent further wrongdoing. But they can also involve legal issues of privacy, defamation of character, loss of livelihood, to name but a few areas of significant import. We must also not forget Hilchot Lashon Harah V'richelut, the closing of a Yeshiva and possible Chilul HaShem. DEC wants the truth. Experience has taught, however, and it is in keeping with good public policy, that impartial, third parties who have significant expertise in the field being investigated must implement investigations. They must be able to investigate with the broadest non-threatening input possible over a reasonable period of time. In all honesty, has this taken place? To this very moment, YU administrator/investigators are giving interviews to the press, making phone calls to convince other institutions to drop DEC, and are sharing unsubstantiated rumors about DEC with families and schools. If the decision is related to the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program Agreement, and if the case for non-renewal is so compelling that the decision is final, why is this type of activity still going on? Even Rabbi Eidlitz's charges dealing with the past allegations against the rabbi, which were conveyed to Rabbi Rapp, were unrelated to DEC. The same is true of the alleged remarks by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz about the existence of an agreement some twenty years ago between the rabbi and Rabbi Svei. We reiterate, the association with the rabbi has ended. Yet, YU administrators have painted both the rabbi and DEC into the same portrait, and continue to do so, through broad stroke allegations and unsubstantiated rumors defying all logic. We must also assume that before the names of alleged victims and their therapists were conveyed to an investigator, that appropriate releases were provided. Does all this bring us to the truth or does it make it impossible for people to clearly separate fact from fiction? We have no reason to question the credentials of the woman expert on child abuse referred to in the article. The Commission and its members are well respected and they provided an important service in a most difficult situation. We would welcome and would value direct input from her so that we can gain through her experience what the D'var Torah said and the full context of her specific concerns. It is disturbing that YU administrators were willing to freely share all this information with The Commentator and other media outlets, but refused to share it with DEC due to confidentiality.
The letter sent to parents and schools by YU, and the comments made by its administrators in follow-up calls, are not in keeping with paragraph 20 of the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Agreement which says that "neither party will disparage the other's institution or academic programs, but will be supportive of each other's efforts." We believe that the ensuing process and statements made by YU administrators have been defaming and have violated this and other sections of the Agreement.
If, as the letters to parents and feeder schools indicate, "a review of the educational standards and the learning environment at DEC" took place before the decision was reached, we would appreciate having a copy of this review. Given that no specific checklist of educational standards or learning environment criteria are listed in the Agreement, and given that no allegations have been presented to us in writing, we believe it essential, and in keeping with the Agreement, to see them so as to allow us to establish the critical benchmark of affiliation.
There is something worrisome about the fact that the letter DEC received on February 14 did not contain any reference to a review, yet the parent and school letters did. Although Mr. Kranzler had assured me on two occasions that I would receive copies of these letters via fax, the commitment was never fulfilled. Why? Parents and schools were surprised that DEC had to call them to get a copy of this critical correspondence. Regardless, the offer by YU to help parents find alternative yeshivot and the wording of the letters, created an atmosphere of alarm and imminent danger. This caused untold worry and damage to DEC parents, talmidim and staff. Again, if there was such heightened concern to necessitate relocation of students without delay, why weren't those concerns shared immediately, not only with parents, but with DEC administrators as well? Why did it wait until February 20th?
In The Commentator article, YU administrators make reference to such terms as the "teaching approach", "overall hashkafa", "ideological" and "spiritual backbone" which speak of the rabbi's influence on DEC. To this very moment, no YU administrator has, however, chosen to give us a definitive statement as to the "rabbi's" specific view of these terms and how they differ from attitudes and methods already out there in today's diverse world of yeshivot. As a matter of fact, no YU administrator has even asked the basic question of, "how did DEC decide on this 'derech halimud'?" Besides, how does this concern about the "teaching approach" interface with the allegations being raised? DEC's style of teaching and learning is a comprehensive one selected to assure that its graduates are provided with the means to transition into either the American or Israel yeshiva system. DEC is in ongoing contact with the institutions to which its alumni enroll. This was the first expression of a concern about DEC's style of teaching, and it was registered by YU after the February 14th, non-renewal notice was sent out. Is there not something wrong with such a lack of process and communication when dealing with issues so vital to the future of students and their yeshiva?
One of the most perplexing aspects of this tragic and destructive episode is the allegation of DEC being cult-like. Actually, Rabbi Blau, while claiming no expertise in cults and after clearly stating to me that he was not representing YU's administration in any of his comments, stated, "it is a cult." The proof being, for example, that "right after Rabbi Katz was informed of the decision of DEC's non-renewal at YU he met with DEC students." So? "That's what cults do." Further proof, "Rabbi Katz is holding a DEC alumni and parent Shabbaton in Pittsburgh." So? "That's what cults do."
Just as international investigations are serious matters and require expertise, determining and labeling whether an institution or group is a cult, is equally as serious a matter requiring expertise. I, too, am not an expert on cults but my 35 years in chinuch and kiruv work have allowed me to become somewhat informed. There are any numbers of accepted models, which identify cult characteristics. Some models can contain anywhere from 7 to 31 cult characteristics. Choose any one or two of the characteristics and you can make a cult out of almost any group. Yeshivot and Jewish youth groups are potentially vulnerable to this misapplication of single characteristics. For example, one characteristic from the Cult Information Center is Dress Codes - removing individuality by demanding conformity to the group dress code. Would we therefore label Day Schools that have dress codes as cults? These models indicate that even the presence of a charismatic or messianic leader alone does not make a cult because you need multiple characteristics in sufficient number followed by an in-depth analysis of behaviors before applying the title of cult to a group.
The statement by unidentified DEC alumni, "that they don't go to shiur because only their derech of learning is the correct one" should not be taken at face value as a sign of a cult. Space does not allow for a full discussion of this attitude but we need the full context, how it was said, who said it, and why, before plugging it into the cult formula. The attitude must also be looked at in the framework of the student's skills, background, shiur, learning style, rebbe's teaching style, and any current student learning frustration. As indicated previously, and we repeat the general concept once again for emphasis; DEC adopted a 'derech' to learning which it felt appropriate for talmidim coming from Torah day school/high school experiences across the country, not from classical Mesivtot. We described it above and a fuller description of this 'derech' is in DEC's brochure. The challenge for the post-high school DEC Israel program, and we believe for other yeshivot as well; is, given the students' previous learning experiences, their high intellectual level, and the one year, maybe two year window at DEC; how do you get the talmidim into an exciting, lifetime connect to Torah learning? Hence, the "derech" that seemed to have worked well. Its application has been diverse because DEC's rebbeyim are all truly different in their teaching styles and there are different levels of shiurim for the talmidim. The DEC family of stakeholders, and others from the community at large, after reading The Commentator article, simply rejects the accusation that DEC is a cult or even cult-like. Actually, the paper's accusation is reckless and libelous. The defaming remarks being made in conversations with parents and schools by YU administrators in this regard, as reported to us, do not reflect the reality on the ground at DEC. These administrators know full well that this cult accusation is ridiculous, and yet, they persist in a campaign of misinformation, sowing the seeds of fear, to prove their point of view regardless of any proof or expertise in the field of cults. One YU administrator has gone as far as making the accusation that I and others, who have stepped forward to help DEC, are under the control of and are being manipulated by the "rabbi". This is beyond the absurd. It is an unwarranted, personal attack with no basis in fact.
Anyone with even superficial knowledge of DEC, knows of its diverse student body, its openness to the public, its facilitation of parent visits to Israel and the Yeshiva, its invitations to a cross-section of rebbeyim and baal habatim to address the talmidim, its encouragement of visits by feeder school principals, its regular widely distributed student driven newsletters, its ongoing contact with alumni and parents, and its consideration of a wide choice of post DEC learning opportunities. These characteristics are simply not associated with cults or cult-like experiences.
The word cult conjures up frightening images of Waco and Jonestown, of arsenic-laced Kool-Aid, mind control, and rejection of family and friends. Having a rebbe does not make people cultists or clones. We all know this. Hopefully, individuals and institutions are judged by their own actions and behaviors. More than caution needs to be exercised before the term cult is used in any discussion, let alone in the making of even a partial allegation against an institution or individual.
12. There are any numbers of statements made in the article, which require clarification. But, just one at this time. Rabbi Katz, was blessed with two wonderful parents, Rabbi Dovid Z"L, who was niftar when Rabbi Aharon Katz was 18 years old, and Mildred Katz 'l'hebadel ben chaim l'chaim', incredible people in their own right who "effectively raised him since his teenage years." The entire Katz family had already made 'aliya' to Israel at the time of Kerem's closing.
We continue to value our relationships with the community of post-DEC institutions in which our alumni enroll. We feel that we have been, and will continue to be, loyal and good partners to all of them. Most importantly, we are prepared to work in a spirit of determination and cooperation to set the record straight as part of our responsibility to our constituency. We realize that this will not be an easy task. But DEC feels its commitment to the pursuit of excellence, its devoted alumni, current students, families, faculty and supporters, coupled with a track record of quality education and open communication; clearly makes the case for continued growth and ongoing strategic alliances with partnering institutions that service our graduates.
a) We will be in contact with all the institutions to which our alumni enroll, to gain their valuable input on student transition to their programs. DEC will bring to bear any additional resources necessary within DEC to be cooperative and responsive to our valued partners and constituency.
b) The rabbi's shiur is no longer taking place at DEC and any affiliation and association has ended.
c) We ask that the highest level of leadership at Yeshiva University review the process which led to this decision and reconsider positions being quoted in the media regarding any possibility of discussion between YU and DEC in the present or future.
The Commentator raised the point of "what many have called an effective death penalty for the Yeshiva" as the possible result of this decision by Yeshiva University. Death penalty! We hope not. Perhaps the more appropriate phrase is 'dinay n'fashot'. The decision that has been made by the YU review committee literally speaks to life and death issues. It is not simply whether DEC closes its doors. There are people behind those doors - alumni, current talmidim and their parents, rebbeyim; their wives and children, and supporters who are being affected by this decision at this very moment and may be for years to come. I posed this concern to Rabbi Blau. "I am not sure you will achieve your goal of hurting the rabbi, but I know that what is being done and how it is being done may potentially destroy the DEC rebbeyim and their families, and the Talmidim who are not part of these allegations. These situations take on a life of their own." The response, "I know what I have to do, you do what you have to do." At a subsequent meeting with Rabbi Blau in Israel involving Rabbi Katz and Rabbi Yosef Leibowitz, who is a YU 'musmach', veteran educator, and father of a DEC rebbe; the request was made to submit the questions surrounding DEC to Gedolay Yisroel. As of yet, we have not received a response. Is this not an appropriate venue when dealing with such weighty issues and the need for impartiality? We believe that this meeting with Rabbi Blau did not provide for a fair hearing of DEC's position as any and all positive suggestions for resolution fell on deaf ears. This was also the case with DEC's recommendation to establish a "contract" to facilitate renewed Israel program participation which was rejected. Rather than receive any serious consideration of the suggestions, the response has been to attack DEC more vigorously than ever before. Rabbi Blau has justified his actions by stating, "there is some level of suspicion and some level of risk, and that is enough to react." Yes, we must all react. But, even in today's environment of heightened, correct sensitivity to certain behaviors and the need for appropriate, vigorous response to them, there must be a just and equitable process involved before the death penalty or any penalty is delivered. This should surely be the case when no such allegations have been made against DEC.
Death penalty! We, with 'siyata dishmaya', are committed to a different reality. We are not na?ve. We do not have Yeshiva University's resources. We are a small yeshiva that really wants to get back to full time focus on the talmidim, their learning and their spiritual growth. The rumors and allegations, media interviews, phone calls, letters, and lack of any avenue for redress; make this vital task almost unachievable in the current environment. But, DEC is a wonderful Mosad HaTorah. It has great energy, exciting ruach, meaningful vision, a healthy learning environment, fantastic rebbeyim and rebbetzins, terrific talmidim, loyal parents, alumni and supporters. DEC is now faced with an incomprehensible set of challenges. Those who know us have seen incredible resolve to build a special Makom Torah and we will apply this resolve to meet these challenges as well. We are committed to exert our fullest energy and resources to the pursuit of "emes", the continued building of DEC and to working with all institutions for the benefit of our talmidim. We humbly ask for your 'tefillot' for 'siyata dishmaya' and support.
Panel scheduled to hear charges against rabbi
By THE JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Jerusalem Post - May. 2, 2003
A panel of rabbis was scheduled on Thursday to hear testimony in Brooklyn from several former students of Rabbi Matis Weinberg, a prominent American-born Torah scholar, who is alleged to have made sexual advances toward them and others, New York's The Jewish Week reported Thursday.
Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky, a leading rabbi in Philadelphia, arranged the proceedings at the urging of alleged victims and their supporters, and a prominent Los Angeles rabbi who once worked with Rabbi Weinberg, a number of sources told The Jewish Week.
Rabbi Weinberg, whose books on the Bible and Jewish thought are widely read and praised, denies all the charges, which span a 25-year period. He told The Jewish Week he did not believe any rabbinic panel was taking place and he expressed frustration at the allegations made against him.
Among those who were scheduled to testify is "Sammy," a 20-year-old former student at Derech Etz Chaim, a small Jerusalem yeshiva with which Weinberg, 56, is loosely affiliated.
Sammy told The Jewish Week the rabbi kissed him on the lips at least once, and climbed into his bed when the two were alone in a room during an excursion this winter.
He said it was only later, after denying to himself that any misconduct had taken place, that "I realized I had been lying to myself." Sammy later told a rabbi he trusted and his parents about the incidents.
Condemning Abuse - Weinberg family takes action to protect victims of abuse.
Phil Jacobs, Editor
Baltimore Jewish Times - May 1, 2003
On a mantel in Rebbetzin Chana Weinberg's home on the Ner Israel Rabbinical College campus sits an inscribed award. Called the Ima Shel Malchus (Mother of Royalty) Award, it was presented to Mrs. Weinberg in March by the National Council of Young Israel.
One particular line on the plaque stands out: "Klal Yisroel owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Rebbetzin Weinberg for raising the painful issue of domestic violence in the Orthodox community, both locally in her home city of Baltimore and nationwide. This widespread problem was kept hidden for too long by our own denial, but Rebbetzin Weinberg confronted the issue in a quiet, dignified and practical way, and rabbis, organizational leadership and lay people are now responding and taking action."
On a cool spring day when the founder and trailblazer of the Jewish domestic abuse organization CHANA and her therapist daughter, Dr. Aviva Weisbord, would have rather been talking about the upcoming Passover holidays, the discussions turned painfully too close to home.
"We strongly condemn any and all abuse by anybody against anybody at any time in any place in any form," said Mrs. Weinberg.
Her statement came amid the backdrop of improprieties allegedly committed by her son, Rabbi Matis Weinberg. (see main story) Her family is participating in the process of putting together a panel of rabbis and heads of yeshivot both in the United States and Israel to act as a clearinghouse for victims of abuse.
The Weinbergs, along with the rabbis, plan to produce a central phone number that can be used by those who feel victimized so that cases can be heard and investigated. "The idea is to protect people and to make them feel they can come forward," said Dr. Weisbord.
Note from Vicki Polin:
The Awareness Center wants to point out that there are inherent problems with the approach of dealing with allegations of sexual abuse suggested by the Weinbergs. We are firm believer that in any community (including the observant world), when an individual suspects child abuse and/or neglect, they should be mandated to call child abuse hot-lines in their community immediately. This will insure that evidence does not become contaminated.
Calling law enforcement officals is the only way to be sure that there are no cover-ups or biases. This is one way to insure that individuals do not investigate allegations against friends, colleagues, and/or family members). Child Protection workers are highly skilled, highly trained professionals who know how to collect forensic evidence to determine if a case is valid and/or if there is enough evidence to press criminal charges. Child Protection workers know how to do forensic victim-sensitive interviews with victims of all ages (without accidentally asking leading questions).
It makes sense that variousJewish community may want to develop some sort of liason relationship with the child protection agency in their area. This is one way to insure that the workers have an understanding of our cultural differences For the sake of our children, we need to use the systems that are in place.
Vicki Polin, MA, ATR, LCPC
Executive Director - The Awareness Center
Affection Or Abuse?
by Phil Jacobs, Editor
Baltimore Jewish Times - May 1, 2003
'I Never Felt Threatened' - A student of Rabbi Matis Weinberg stands by his 'rebbe.'
Elly Oberstein, 25, first learned of Rabbi Matis Weinberg through his books and tape recordings. It was in his first year at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Pikesville that Mr. Oberstein, who is now studying at Ohio State University for his medical degree, met Rabbi Weinberg.
This started a close relationship that continues today, some eight years later. Rabbi Weinberg officiated at Mr. Oberstein's wedding. And there almost isn't a day when Mr. Oberstein doesn't listen to a tape of a Rabbi Weinberg lecture.
"When I first met Rabbi Weinberg, I was instantly enveloped by him in a great bear hug," said Mr. Oberstein. "I must admit that I had not expected this reaction. I was not surprised by the nature of the contact because there are other rabbis, especially in the more Chasidic-inspired areas of Judaism, who have greeted me in a similar manner. Rather, I was not expecting this response because Rabbi Weinberg was not part of that culture.
"I was more attracted to the stricter learning and analysis that is the hallmark of Ner Israel. And in that setting, physical shows of emotion are frowned upon. As teenagers in yeshiva, we were not encourage to explore our developing sexuality and we carefully glossed over the many references to desire that appear in the Torah and the Talmud."
Mr. Oberstein, whose father, Rabbi Leonard Oberstein, is spiritual leader of Randallstown Synagogue Center, said that he developed an intense learning relationship with the man he calls his "rebbe." The student ended up moving to Israel, where for four years he lived primarily in the home of Rabbi Weinberg and his family while he studied in yeshiva and at Bar Ilan University. He spent almost every Shabbat in the Weinberg home.
"During this time, I developed a very close relationship with my rebbe, one that made me feel more like a son than a student," said Mr. Oberstein. "But after seeing so many students of Rabbi Weinberg's emerge with the same feeling, I suspect that perhaps this is what it means to be a student of a rabbi who places such great value on relationships in addition to study and knowledge. I certainly feel that I have a close personal connection to Rabbi Weinberg and that he is someone I can turn to with my problems, someone to offer a sympathetic hug or a blessing on a Friday night.
"But in all of those years, I never felt threatened by this contact, nor did I feel that it ever affect my ability to have relationships with other friends and teachers."
Mr. Oberstein added that since moving to Columbus, Oh., there have been at least five occasions when after mentioning Rabbi Weinberg's name, there have been others who have recalled their own meaningful encounters with him
"I suspect that in my initial encounters with Rabbi Weinberg and in many other people's encounters, we gained a perspective that went beyond the subject at hand," Mr. Oberstein said. "Many people who I speak to feel that in hearing Rav Weinberg teach Torah, they appreciated some of the possibilities that the Jewish tradition offers. These are people who have experienced a broad range of other fields, and they sense that Rabbi Weinberg teaches honesty, that he seeks to find the Torah relevant to issues that are at the forefront of the modern world. To me, it continues to be a tragedy that anyone would try to stifle such a message."
Mr. Oberstein said that all along, it is his rebbe's honesty that speaks to him. The rabbi, he said, encourages his students to consider sources. "His influence on my thinking is pervasive," said Mr. Oberstein.
For example, the story of Abraham smashing his father's idols. "He didn't teach me to go around smashing idols. He believes, though, that idols were projections and false beliefs, and he taught me to be wary of someone injecting false information. Look at the context and trace it to its source.
"In another way," he continued, "I felt that anything part of our Judaism was part of our learning. In a yeshiva sense, you think of learning Jewish law as the main thing we do as Jews. In the world I lived in with him, every single element was just as important to be lived as a Jew. We took time off to go to an orchard to pick essrogim. We baked matzohs for Pesach. Learning from my rebbe was part of a journey about truth and what God wants from us."
Mr. Oberstein said that the hugs he receive were unexpected but they were "genuine. You sense when something is genuine. The hard part of the issue is for everyone to know what's genuine."
He said Rabbi Weinberg never attempted any inappropriate physical gesture in the years that he lived with him, Rabbi' Weinberg's wife, Tzippora, and some members or all of their 10 children. An occasional kiss on the forehead as part of a Shabbat blessing was all that he ever experienced.
"Many people I met were students of his who spoke to him and saw him in Israel," Mr. Oberstein said. "I knew he had a lot of students who had a relationship of 20 years with him. But there was never any suggestions that anything was wrong. But there were a couple of people in Baltimore, when I came home for a holiday, who when they heard I was associated with Rabbi Weinberg, they rolled their eyes."
Mr. Oberstein said that he looks to the Ethics of Our Fathers and the teaching "judge someone for the benefit of good" when it comes to a situation such as this.
"I am comfortable assuming good things," he said. "What I saw in five years with he and his family was reality. What rankles me a lot is that this all must be painful for him and his family. I've called and told him that I loved him. I don't view that as a violation. I don't view my relationship with him as a negative. I hope that people will still be able to benefit from his teachings."
Panel To Hear Charges Against Prominent Rabbi
Former students accuse Matis Weinberg of sexual abuse in California and Jerusalem.
Rabbi Matis Weinberg: Scion of a noted rabbinic family denies charges, says accusers are troubled.
by Elli Wohlgelernter and Gary Rosenblatt
A panel of rabbinic authorities was scheduled to hear testimony in Brooklyn this week from several former yeshiva students of Rabbi Matis Weinberg, a prominent and charismatic American-born Torah scholar, author and teacher living in Jerusalem who is alleged to have made sexual advances toward them and others, The Jewish Week has learned.
Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky, a highly respected Torah scholar in Philadelphia, arranged the proceedings at the urging of alleged victims and their supporters, and a prominent Los Angeles rabbi who once worked with Rabbi Weinberg, a number of sources told The Jewish Week.
Some of the victims say they are seeking rabbinic endorsement to pursue their charges in criminal court or in an Israeli din Torah (religious tribunal), or both.
Rabbi Weinberg, whose books on the Bible and Jewish thought are widely read and praised, denies all the charges, which span a 25-year period. He told The Jewish Week he did not believe any rabbinic panel was taking place and he expressed frustration at the allegations made against him.
Rabbi Weinberg noted that while he was physically demonstrative to his students, often hugging them, it was never in a sexual way.
"I don't get a hard-on" from such encounters," asserted the rabbi, who is married and has a large family.
Among those scheduled to testify May 1 is "Sammy," a 20-year-old former student at Derech Etz Chaim, a small Jerusalem yeshiva for post-high school American students with which Rabbi Weinberg, 56, is loosely affiliated. He has been a rebbe to several of the rabbis teaching at the school and is considered its spiritual mentor.
Sammy and several other men have spoken at length with The Jewish Week on the condition of anonymity.
Sammy said the rabbi kissed him on the lips at least once, and climbed into his bed when the two were alone and shared a room during an excursion in Israel this winter. He said he had been close to Rabbi Weinberg and his family and had been a frequent Shabbat guest at their home during his time as a student at the yeshiva, looking up to the rabbi as his religious guide and leader.
At various times when they were alone, the rabbi would "lift my eyeglasses and kiss me slowly and purposefully on my eyelids or my ears, or pinch me affectionately above the waist," Sammy said, noting that these gestures made him feel uncomfortable. "But he was my rebbe, and part of me felt almost flattered" at the attention, he added.
He said it was only later, after denying to himself that any misconduct had taken place, that "I realized I had been lying to myself."
Sammy later told a rabbi he trusted and his parents about the incidents.
On another front, Yeshiva University severed its affiliation with Derech Etz Chaim in February for its ties with Rabbi Weinberg and for allegedly seeking to downplay the complaints.
Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani (spiritual adviser) at Yeshiva University, explained that after officials at Yeshiva looked into the matter and "became aware of the possibility of something that would cause an unhealthy environment and produce a potential risk," they decided to end YU's relationship with Derech Etz Chaim.
The YU newspaper, The Commentator, ran a lengthy piece in March about the school severing ties because of "compelling evidence" of a rabbi associated with Derech Etz Chaim having "a history of allegedly sexually abusing and engaging in cult-like behavior with his students." The article did not name the rabbi.
Officials of the Israeli yeshiva and several students complained that YU acted hastily and unfairly.
Two of the eight rebbes at Derech Etz Chaim are said to have left their posts over the controversy. One, Rabbi Avraham Schorr, gathered his students at his home one morning last month to tell them he was leaving because of the scandal, according to someone who was present.
Rabbi Schorr did not return calls from The Jewish Week. He was one of many people related to the case who chose not to discuss the matter.
Reluctant To Speak Out
This story has come to light slowly, in fits and starts, over a period of months, hindered by a reluctance of the alleged victims and their supporters to speak out publicly. They express fear of condemnation for chilul Hashem (desecration of God's name), and personal embarrassment or recrimination in the Orthodox world for criticizing a major scholar who has reached countless Jews in positive ways through his lectures and writings.
"Why should I be victimized twice?" one former student said, noting that he would be shunned in the Orthodox community were he to come forward with his name.
At the same time, these critics say they want Rabbi Weinberg's alleged misdeeds to be widely known so that no student in the future will be harmed.
Dozens of supporters of Rabbi Weinberg have written or called The Jewish Week over the last several weeks to vouch for his reputation as a brilliant, charismatic scholar with a sterling character and to decry what they consider to be a campaign to besmirch him.
Ari Hier of Los Angeles, a student of Rabbi Weinberg in Santa Clara, Calif., in the 1970s, describes his rebbe as a warm, caring and innovative educator.
"He is unconventional in his teaching," Hier said, noting that it was easy to see why the deeply conservative establishment of the yeshiva world would look askance at a rebbe who quoted pop music lyrics or cited Hollywood movies in his lectures and writings.
Indeed, Hier compared Rabbi Weinberg to the Robin Williams character in the film "Dead Poets Society," a teacher who prodded his students into deeper understanding of literature, and themselves, by being outrageous at times.
Rabbi Weinberg, in an interview with The Jewish Week, used the "Dead Poets" analogy as well. One thing that he, his supporters and critics agree on is that he is a maverick. But while his defenders portray him as a brilliant, caring rabbi, his critics say he was authoritarian and manipulative, emotionally and psychologically, in addition to the sexual charges.
Controversy has clung to Rabbi Weinberg, the son and grandson of two successive rosh yeshivas of Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, since he founded Kerem Yeshiva in Santa Clara. He started the school at the age of 29 in the 1970s and left in 1982 under a cloud of suspicion. The yeshiva closed about a year later.
"My approach is to be open, open to criticism, open to questions," Rabbi Weinberg said in the interview. He described the Kerem method as "experimental" but said he taught "with utmost transparency."
Rabbi Weinberg settled in Israel after he left Kerem. There were persistent rumors at the time that the rabbi was forced out suddenly. Some say it was because of financial problems at the yeshiva. Others insist that Rabbi Weinberg was found to have made sexual advances toward students and that an oral agreement was reached where the rabbi agreed to leave the country and stop working with young people and in return, no charges would be filed against him with civil authorities.
Rabbi Weinberg said the charges are baseless and that he made the move because he always intended to live in Israel.
While he initially denied all charges of any kind of abuse as "absurd," the rabbi did acknowledge, when questioned, that he had slapped a Kerem student hard, repeatedly, in the mouth, drawing blood in front of a large group of students. He said the student had asked to be "embarrassed publicly" because he had violated the school ban on smoking, and Rabbi Weinberg agreed, reluctantly, to punish him physically.
"I agree it's strange," he said. "I'm more mature now and I wouldn't do this now.
"I was a creative teacher," and "it worked," he added.
Rabbi Weinberg also admitted that he had once extinguished a burnt cigarette in the palm of a student's hand.
But he was adamant about there being "no sexual connotation" to the frequent hugs and kisses he gave students, noting that this was California in the '70s, and that "I am a physical person, that's just the way I am." He said "it makes me feel ugly and violated to take something warm and caring and turn it into something furtive and disgusting."
Asked if he ever kissed students on the lips, as some have charged, he responded: "How long?"
When questioned about specific incidents of alleged sexual contact, Rabbi Weinberg volunteered the names of the former students and portrayed them as psychologically troubled. He said that Sammy, the 20-year-old, and his family had a "troubled history" and that his own children worried that Sammy was "like Neil," a character in "Dead Poets Society" who commits suicide.
Rabbi Weinberg charged that Sammy has been "emotionally abused by rabbis and others who have an agenda" in seeking to make sexual charges out of innocent gestures, like rubbing the young man's back or shoulders.
A rabbi close to Sammy said the young man is part of "a normal, stable and loving family," and that while he knew Rabbi Weinberg and respected him, he has come to believe that Sammy is telling the truth.
Rabbi Weinberg said that another former student from his Kerem days who has made allegations against him was "a problematic young man" with a "violent" nature and was not credible.
That student, "Adam," now 40, told The Jewish Week that when he was 17, Rabbi Weinberg led him by the hand to his private study in the yeshiva, "pushed me on the bed or sofa and literally got on top of me, grappled me all over my body as a man would with a woman he was passionate about. I went into a catatonic shock. He fell asleep and slept on me for hours."
Adam said that afterward, "it was as if nothing ever happened," but he felt "an implicit sense" that he had lost favor with his rebbe.
"I wasn't there for him physically so he wasn't there for me emotionally, and there was a sense of abandonment," Adam said. Most damaging, he said, was that "he was playing with my head. That was most inviolate."
Act Of Closure
Contemporaries and former classmates of Adam tell similar stories of alleged abuse from Rabbi Weinberg, whom they revered as a rebbe.
"It's very vivid in my mind," said "Avraham," recalling the incident that took place in 1981, when he was 15, in a back room in the dormitory that was reserved for Rabbi Weinberg.
Avraham said the rabbi said he wanted to talk to him. "He started unbuttoning my shirt, kissing my chest and stuff, started unbuttoning my pants, and he started to fondle me. I basically freaked out and I left."
He said he later remembered feeling that the rabbi "was making this out to be ... some type of spiritual or religious experience."
"Yitzchak," another former Kerem student, recalled three incidents of alleged touching that continues to haunt him more than 20 years later. The first took place in the dormitory in May 1982 when the rabbi came in and fondled the youngster's private parts, he said, while making "guttural, love-making noises."
Yitzchak said he was "totally in shock. ... Obviously it wasn't normal, it was obviously something that was wrong, but I didn't understand it."
A very similar event occurred a year later at a yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, he said, when he was getting dressed in the dorm. He said Rabbi Weinberg "came into the room, gave me a hug, hands inside the robe, fondling me again."
Yitzchak said he was confused because he felt that to break away from Rabbi Weinberg was "like breaking off from the path of enlightenment, your opportunity to really develop fully as a Jew."
But after another encounter two months later in the rabbi's home, "I was gone," he said, and soon left the school.
Six or seven years later, Yitzchak felt a need to confront Rabbi Weinberg, he said. When he next saw the rabbi, "he tried to tell me that I enjoyed it, that I wanted it."
Yitzchak said it was "a liberating experience" for him to see the rabbi "squirm."
"It was an act of closure," he said.
But several of the other alleged victims say they are pursuing the case now because they are still troubled emotionally by the long-ago encounters and feel a strong need to try to protect young men from being harmed in the future. They note that a number of the alleged incidents of sexual abuse took place at the Kerem yeshiva and that California has no statute of limitations on such crimes.
A key figure in moving the case forward is Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, a well-respected principal of a Los Angeles yeshiva and kashrut authority who is said to have played a role in having Rabbi Weinberg leave Kerem two decades ago.
Rabbi Eidlitz was planning to be at the May 1 panel in New York and said his purpose is "to protect people from being molested. I have to put my own feelings and emotions aside to be able to accomplish that goal."
He said he is dedicated to "doing what is needed to end this disgusting type of act in the frum community."
Rabbi Blau of Yeshiva University noted that while the community "has become sensitized to the problems of abuse since the [Rabbi Baruch] Lanner scandal [three years ago], we are still lacking a clear and effective mechanism to deal with allegations of abuse that protects the victims while filtering out frivolous accusations."
He said that only when there is success in dealing with these problems internally, without fear that the offender will simply move somewhere else and repeat his behavior, can "we discuss dealing with issues in privacy." Until that time, he said, "only public exposure is effective in protecting the community from abusers."
Rabbi Blau called it "a misapplication of chilul Hashem" to worry more about communal embarrassment than "protecting future potential victims at risk."
Rabbi Weinberg's past has taken its toll on his family and led to estrangement within it.
His sister, Dr. Aviva Weisbord, a psychologist, and his mother, Chana Weinberg, who founded a shelter for women victims of domestic abuse, issued a statement from their home in Baltimore this week in regard to this investigation, asserting that their family "strongly condemns any and all abuse by anybody against anybody at any time in any place in any form."
They said they plan to help form a panel of rabbis and professionals, including women, to act as a clearinghouse of abuse complaints and to appoint investigators to look into allegations. Weisbord said she would like to see a system of checks and balances, so that if parties are not satisfied with the results of the panel's probe, "they can go to the press."
"We would like to minimize chilul Hashem," she said, "but the first priority is that children have to be protected." n
Elli Wohlgelernter is a former editor and reporter at The Jerusalem Post. Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher of The Jewish Week.
Finally, Steps Toward Confronting Abuse - Weinberg panel hears testimony; Orthodox groups planning responses.
Gary Rosenblatt - Editor and Publisher
The Jewish Week (05/09/2003)
Rabbi Moshe Hauer of Baltimore, one of three rabbis who met in Brooklyn last week to hear testimony from alleged victims of a noted Jerusalem Torah scholar, said the information gathered will be sent on to a bet din in Israel to deal with the matter.
At least six men testified here on May 1 that they were abused by Rabbi Matis Weinberg, scion of a prominent Baltimore rabbinic family and himself a widely known and admired rebbe, lecturer and author who lives in the Old City.
Three men made their claims to the bet din in person and three by phone one from California, one from Israel and one, who is ill, from New York. They were former yeshiva students from the recent as well as the more distant past, and they provided details, some graphic, charging that the rabbi made advances toward them, or sought to, sexually.
Rabbi Weinberg, whose father and grandfather both served as rosh yeshiva of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, was not present or represented before the rabbinic panel, which apparently does not plan to pass judgment.
The members of the panel Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky of Philadelphia, Rabbi Feivel Cohen of Brooklyn and Rabbi Hauer did not tell those who testified what they intend to do with the information.
But Rabbi Hauer told The Jewish Week on Monday that the purpose of the bet din was "to receive testimony with regard to the allegations" and to send that testimony "to a bet din in [Rabbi Weinberg's] jurisdiction" in Israel, "where [the religious courts] are more organized than here."
Whether such an outcome would be perceived as passing the buck or advancing the case is open to interpretation.
"It's true that religious courts here have little clout," said one leading American rabbi, "but the downside [of shifting the case to Israel] is that the community here seems more sensitized to these issues." Some Israeli observers say the procedures in Israel are far from systematic. (See story on how Israel is dealing with rabbinic sexual abuse on page 36.)
Several of the men who testified said they came with the intention of seeking an endorsement from the rabbinic panel to press criminal charges in this country, but Rabbi Hauer said "that wasn't requested of our group."
Even as the Orthodox community was shaken by the latest report of alleged sexual abuse by a well-known rabbi, a number of religious leaders were talking about various plans to create a communal mechanism for evaluating and acting on such allegations.
But "talking" is still the operative word.
Almost three years after the Baruch Lanner scandal came to light, there is still no prescribed method for reporting abuse, no recognized group to inform, no standing panel or task force to investigate charges and make recommendations, and no clear answer from rabbinic leaders about when to come forward and when to keep quiet.
Certainly there has been more awareness among parents and groups working with teens as a result of media attention given to the Lanner case. The Orthodox Union, the parent organization of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, where Rabbi Lanner worked with teens for three decades, has instituted a number of changes designed to prevent further problems. They include training programs for youth counselors, greater parental involvement and an ombudsman position to monitor complaints.
Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the OU, said the "major components NCSY has put in place defined written standards, a system of investigation and due process, and disciplinary measures are lacking" in most communal organizations.
He would like to see an overarching panel or group to deal with abuse allegations within the community, noting that the OU and its rabbinical arm, the Rabbinical Council of America, are "talking about what we should do, but we still haven't done it yet."
What has changed, he said, is that "the community as a whole is no longer surprised" when it reads stories of rabbinic abuse.
Until now, though, rabbinic leadership has been slow to act, seeking instead to ignore or downplay the problem, fearful of public attention, embarrassment or offending a colleague. Some rabbis contend the issue is being overly dramatized by the press.
Alleged victims of abuse have said their complaints to rabbinic authorities about mistreatment at the hands of rabbis have been denied, squelched, hushed up or, at best, dealt with quietly and locally, allowing the perpetrator to move on to another unsuspecting community.
Some people have turned to journalists in search of justice and communal exposure. With a vacuum in the community, it has fallen on the press to fill it, however reluctantly.
But change seems to be in the air. The Rabbinical Council of America will hold a session on sexual abuse in the rabbinate at its national convention at the end of this month. The goal is "to address the issue seriously within our ranks," said Rabbi Mark Dratch of Stamford, Conn., who is chairing the session.
"We have to find ways to protect the integrity of the congregation, the rabbi and the community," he said, adding that "there may have been resistance before but the membership is more sensitive now."
Rabbi Heshie Billet, president of the RCA, said the session was motivated by the arrest in February of Rabbi Israel Kestenbaum, who was charged with attempting to disseminate indecent material to a minor, and concerns about another member of the rabbinic group who is alleged to have abused children in previous posts.
Rabbi Billet said he realized his group has no active committee to deal with evaluating and removing members. He said he is determined to put in place professional standards and policies to rectify the situation. But as Rabbi Dratch pointed out, "there still needs to be a lot of conversation" about how best to proceed.
Another session at the convention will focus on rabbinic conduct and how rabbis should protect themselves legally and deal with the press.
Further to the right on the Orthodox spectrum, the Agudath Israel has not dealt with the issue of rabbinical sexual abuse directly at a convention and is less inclined to institute any kind of centralized body to deal with the problem, according to spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran. Complainants would be encouraged to "go to the rebbe or community rabbi" on an individual basis, he said. (Rabbi Kaminetsky, one of the three rabbis on the Rabbi Weinberg bet din, is a member of the Council of Torah Sages of Agudah, and Rabbi Cohen, also serving on the ad hoc bet din, is a member of Agudah as well.)
Torah Umesorah, the national network of yeshivas and Hebrew day schools, is holding its annual convention next week and for the first time will distribute formal guidelines for dealing with abuse, according to executive vice president Rabbi Joshua Fishman. He noted that the organization has dealt with the problem for a number of years and will include a closed-door session this year.
Dr. Aviva Weisbord, a psychologist in Baltimore and sister of Rabbi Weinberg, said she and other members of her family are working toward establishing a two-tiered mechanism to deal with sexual abuse in the Orthodox community. Allegations would be addressed to a group of distinguished rabbis, she said, who then would appoint trained professionals to investigate and make recommendations, which the rabbinic body would then act on.
As a form of "checks and balances," Weisbord said, " it would be understood that if people were not satisfied with the results, they could go to the civil courts or the press."
Weisbord acknowledged that there was "ingrained resistance" from some of the rabbis who have been approached. "They recognize the need but have been reluctant to sign on," she noted. "It will have to be done one by one."
Richard Joel, the incoming president of Yeshiva University who chaired the OU's special commission in the Lanner case, welcomed recent developments, calling it "a giant step forward for the community to engage in investigating [allegations of abuse] and showing concern for our children." He said he would welcome "an entity that would be independent enough to act with strength as well as discretion."
Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani (spiritual adviser) at Yeshiva University, has long advocated for a communal task force to deal with abuse. He asserts that such halachic concerns as chilul Hashem (embarrassment to the community) and lashon hara (spreading gossip) are trumped by the imperative religious and moral of putting the protection of children first.
One would hope that for all the divisions within the community, its leaders could make security for children a priority and find ways to work together to diminish the potential for future tragedies.
One of the alleged victims who testified at the bet din here last week said that while the rabbis who questioned him were "stern and autocratic" in their manner, he was not intimidated.
"I asked them, `what if it was your children or grandchildren?'" he said, "and they were silent."
Gary Rosenblatt's e-mail address is Gary@jewishweek.org.
Panel Meets In New York
by Staff Report
Baltimore Jewish Times - May 9, 2003
Rabbi Moshe Hauer, spiritual leader of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion in Upper Park Heights, was one of three rabbis who met in Brooklyn, N.Y., last week to hear testimony from alleged victims of a noted Jerusalem Torah scholar, according to an article first appearing Wednesday on www.TheJewishWeek.com, the website of the New York Jewish Week.
Rabbi Hauer said that information gathered by the panel will be sent on to a beit din, or rabbinical court, in Israel to deal with the matter.
"Our role was simply to collect testimony from the people here on this side of the ocean and to hand it over to a beit din in his jurisdiction in Jerusalem," Rabbi Hauer told the Baltimore Jewish Times.
Rabbi Weinberg was not present or represented before the panel, which apparently does not plan to pass judgment.
The panel members included: Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky of Philadelphia, Rabbi Feivel Cohen of Brooklyn and Rabbi Hauer.
What happens now to the testimony sent to Israel has not yet been made clear.
"We're working that out," said Rabbi Hauer. "But we are making it clear that we are very concerned about issues of sexual abuse, and we're working to get it handled in a truly responsible way."
Letters to the Editor
The Commentator - Yeshiva University
May 18, 2003 - Iyar 5763 - Volume 67, Issue 12
The Responsibility of Arvut
To the Editors:
I am writing in response to the letters that were printed as retort to your Derech Etz Chaim article. I am not giving my opinion on the article itself. Whether the offender is guilty or not, I commend the fact that you had the courage to print the article in the face of such opposition. It's such a distressing fact when the Jewish community feels that they have to "cover up" scandals of such magnitude in order to "save face". Are we that scared of what other people think that we're willing to sacrifice the emotional and, perhaps, physical well being of our fellow man, woman, and child? We speak of the atrocities that the Catholic Church and its hierarchy did in order to cover up its atrocious scandals, which emotionally scarred hundreds of people and perhaps turned them away from religion. One of the main differences I've learned between Jews and other religions, such as Catholicism and Christianity, is that adherents of the others feel that their religious leaders are God-like. They're infallible, above reproach, and holier than other mere mortals to the point where they claim that they do not have the same weaknesses and desires. I was taught that Judaism holds the opposite view. Rabbis are not celibate. They can't join monasteries. They live in the real world with the rest of us. They're still human beings just like you or I. However, they are experts in the field of paskining Torah and its encompassing halachot. Just because someone has the title of rabbi or talmid chacham attached to his name doesn't mean that he's somehow transformed into one who can't succumb to human weaknesses. Yes, he has the responsibility to be a role model, guide, and teacher for the Jewish community in this time of galut. Yet, it is the Jewish community's duty as a nation to protect each other and force our leaders to be accountable for their actions and ensure that it doesn't happen again in the future. Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh. We are responsible for each other. What happens to one Jew happens to all Jews. When one Jew suffers, we all suffer. Is a Rabbi's name more important to us than a victim's soul? How many Jewish spirits are we willing to sacrifice to make sure dirty secrets and skeletons remain hidden and locked in a closet? I wonder how many people have turned away from Judaism because the rest of the Jewish world and its leaders were silent to their suffering. I hear time and time again, "it can't happen here", or "we're Jews, we don't do that". Just because we're Jews doesn't mean that we live in some protective bubble that makes us immune to such horrors as domestic violence, molestation, child abuse, etc. Those that believe this are going to have their bubble popped sooner or later. Right here, right now, we can stop the bleeding. We have to see this as a wake up call. I put it to the entire Jewish community to take a stand to ensure that our children and future generations will be protected from those that wish to hurt them. I ask again, how many Jewish lives have to lost before we will do some thing? If we say nothing and turn the other way, we're just as guilty as those that committed the crime.
Retracts Support for Weinberg
To the Editors:
Several weeks ago I wrote a letter in defense of Rav Matis Weinberg. Since then, new evidence has been presented to me and I must, regretfully, withdraw my letter and my support. Although I wrote the letter with the sincere hope to help clear Rav Matis's name and I offered my professional opinion in his favor, I have recently learned more details to compel me to reconsider. At worst, I fault him - at best, I suspect him. I believe that printing my previous letter will be misleading to your readership, might offer credibility to a man who does not deserve it and further confuse people who desperately want to believe in the man.
Lynn Gimpel, Ph.D.
Editors' Note: Dr. Gimpel's original letter was published on the website, but not in the print edition, before we received this retraction.
Information on The Awareness Center
To the Editors:
The Awareness Center strongly supports The YU Commentator for breaking the story regarding Rabbi Matis Weinberg. It took a lot of courage to let this story (that was 20 years in the making) come out of the closet. But there was a mistake in the note written by the YU Commentator's editor, [which characterized The Awareness Center as "an organization dedicated to protecting the Jewish Community from sex offenders in leadership positions"(Letters, Volume 67, Issue 11) ]. The Awareness Center is an international organization dedicated to addressing SEXUAL ABUSE in Jewish Communities around the world. We offer resources and information on all sorts of topics that relate to educating the Jewish community on the ramifications sexual abuse can have on individuals, families, friends, and our society. This includes information on and about sex offenders.
Vicki Polin, MA, ATR, LCPC
Executive Director - The Awareness Center
Defends Weinberg From Hawaii
To the Editors:
I have known Rabbi Matis Weinberg for about 16 years. I became a Baal Tshuvah in `86 at the age of 37. When I found the Truth, I dove into it completely and spent the next 5 years mostly in Jerusalem, attending many Yeshivot and becoming friends with many very learned rabbis. While not in Yeshiva, the place I spent the most time was at was Rabbi Matis Weinberg's house. I became very good friends with him, his wife and children. Rav Matis is, by far, the most intelligent and well rounded rabbi I have ever met. One of the things that bothered me back then was the innuendos from a couple of other rabbis. I could see that it was their jealousy and insecurity that would make them say things like that.
I left Israel in August `91 and there are only 3 rabbis I have kept in contact with. He is one, not only because I am so impressed with his vast knowledge of many subjects and the way he brings them into living a Kosher, Jewish life, he is also one of the most sensitive and caring people I have ever met. I now live in Hawaii, which has almost zero Jewish life. Although it is difficult, I live a kosher life and without his friendship and guidance, I would not be at the level I am at.
If the small-minded, jealous people that have accused him can prove their points, please do it, otherwise they can go back under the rocks they came from and let the rest of us bask in the illumination of his brilliance. Let him go back to his writing and teaching instead of being stressed by insecure, jealous, loshon hora mongers.
Dr. Rand Pellegrino
Machon Shlomo `90
Shameful Reporting Exposed
To the Editors:
With the release of the Jewish Week's article about the investigation into the allegations against Matis Weinberg, I feel the issue has finally been brought out clearly into the public forum. In light of the responsible and informative article published by Gary Rosenblatt, the egregious errors, in both content and presentation, conveyed in the Commentator's treatment of the same topic appear all the more vicious and negligent. Perhaps it is not fair to compare our college rag with a professional weekly paper, but when the distortions in the Commentator have created so much pain, embarrassment and distortion of the facts, it is clear that the concept of fairness has already been dispensed with.
I spent last year learning at Derech Etz Chaim and I will unashamedly proclaim that it was one of the best years of my life. The Torah I learned, the friends I made and the growth I experienced there will stay with me forever. Upon returning from my studies, I was proud to tell people about where I had learned and was ready to enthusiastically sing the praises of the yeshivah. And while I was not personally close to Matis Weinberg, I definitely enjoyed his lectures and his writing. What makes the case against him so sad, is how brilliant and charismatic he is, and how difficult it is to resolve that such deep teaching could come from someone about whom such terrible things are now being said.
The way that Y.U.'s dissociation from Derech Etz Chaim was portrayed in the Commentator is the definition of irresponsible journalism. The articles underlying implications that D.E.C. was a cult and that we were all being manipulated my Matis Weinberg was disgusting, and showed utter disregard for the responsibility placed upon a journalist to report the facts honestly and evenhandedly. The one weekly shiur that he gave at Derech Etz Chaim was a community-wide event attended by many people completely unconnected to the yeshivah, and which many students at the yeshivah did not attend (including me, occasionally). If anyone is interested in the truth, they should read the Jewish Week, which accurately reports that Matis Weinberg was loosely affiliated with Derech Etz Chaim (which is no longer the case) and that he has been a rebbe to several of the rabbis there. We accorded him respect because of the Torah he taught us, in the same manner as friends I have from other yeshivahs who also used to hear him teach.
The provocative tone of the Commentator article, caused by an unwillingness (or maybe inability) to be clear about the issues, gave the impression throughout the Y.U. campus that D.E.C. was some sort of homosexual cult or that the yeshivah existed only as a feeding ground for a sexual predator. When I tried to dissuade people who asked me questions in the wake of the article, I could see that my credibility had been damaged and that people were unsure of how to take what I was telling them, because perhaps I, along with my fellow alumni, was just a brainwashed cult member assisting in a cover up. Even worse than that, I found myself doubting the legitimacy of my own good memories about my experience last year.
Neither of those things would have happened had the Commentator approached the issue in the manner of the Jewish Week, which notes YU's reservations about being connected to DEC without blowing anything out of proportion, and fearlessly addresses the issues which are actually important, like the case against the "rabbi in question". The approach of the Commentator was hurtful, inaccurate, and immature. Instead of bringing a serious problem to light, it poured salt in the wounds of those who were already in pain.
Aaron J. Roller
Our story, centering on Yeshiva's severing of ties from DEC, covered the relevant angles from the perspective of Yeshiva students. Yeshiva's disassociation from a successful feeder school, and the administrative process that finalized it, required frontal coverage. It was not relevant to our audience that we report fully the allegations against Rabbi Weinberg, which is why, respectful of the bounds of loshon hora, we did not. Similarly, it was not relevant to the Jewish Week's audience that they discuss fully Yeshiva's relationship with DEC, which is why they did not.
Both our initial article and the subsequent letters section mentioned points that Mr. Roller raises. For example, we mentioned that "Rabbi Katz also denies the extent of the said rabbi's influence and involvement. `On Thursday evenings we host a public shiur which enjoys the attendance of over 100 people including community members and most DEC students,' he said, in reference to the rabbi's weekly class." We also printed 9 critical letters in the last issue, some of which were indeed submitted by DEC students.
Change of Heart
To the Editors:
Great coverage of Derech Etz Chaim (Volume 67, Issues 9 and 11, 3/6/03 and 4/10/03). You presented this properly and using the DEC website reference was wonderful. Thank you for balanced reporting. You are to be commended.
Editors' Note: Mr. Faigen's original letter, which was published in Issue 11, accused The Commentator of "yellow journalism" and "typical of `indictment on the front page with vindication hidden later on the back page.'"
Jewish Community Grapples With Sex Abuse
By Stephanie Saul - Staff Writer
Newsday - May 26, 2003, 8:10 PM EDT
This is the first in a three-part series.
It was the sound of ripping cloth, they said, that woke them up.
On an August night in the Catskills, with summer camp almost over, the boys had fallen asleep in their bunkhouse, exhausted from play and religious study. Only minutes later, they would later testify in court, the noise awakened them. Then came mysterious movements in the dark cabin. The campers lay still. Why was a human figure hovering over the bed of a 10-year-old Woodmere boy?
The terrified boy blurted out his allegation to a camp counselor almost a day later: Someone, he said, had torn open the seat of his pajamas and sexually abused him.
The boy's parents were called to camp more than a day later, but police were not notified.
"We all concurred that considering the trauma that would possibly result from further action, it would be best not to take any additional action," according to the camp's notes, later filed in court in a civil suit. A state Department of Health sanitarian later found that the camp violated state regulations by not reporting the accusation.
Police learned of the allegations two months later, alerted by a psychologist who was treating the boy. The boy's mother later told a state official she felt pressured to remain silent, according to state health department records. After all, the alleged abuser and the camp officials were revered religious leaders.
The accused was eventually acquitted by a judge, who said "contradictory and sometimes retracting statements" left him unclear about what happened. The camp suggests that the alleged incident was fabricated.
After more than a year of charges and disclosures concerning sexual abuse of young people by Catholic priests, the story may sound familiar. But the camp, Mogen Avraham, is a popular summer retreat in Bethel for Orthodox Jewish children. And the accused was not a priest, but a teaching rabbi from Forest Hills.
The alleged 1998 incident at Camp Mogen Avraham is just one in a growing dossier of allegations that rabbis, cantors and other Jewish religious leaders have abused children and teenagers in their care, a Newsday investigation has found.
In sheer numbers, the problem is unlikely to rival the Catholic Church's, since priests outnumber rabbis by roughly nine to one. While there is no data on the number of clergy with sexual disorders, experts say that, anecdotally, the problem does not seem as severe in the rabbinate as in the priesthood, even in relative terms.
Even so, some rabbis call the sexual abuse allegations a "crisis," and religious organizations are grappling with ways to handle it.
"We have a huge problem on our hands, a problem that is just beginning to be addressed in religious circles," Vicki Polin, a psychotherapist, said in recent testimony to the Maryland legislature.
Polin, who is Jewish and calls herself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, runs The Awareness Center, a Baltimore-based clearinghouse that tracks sexual abuse allegations against Jewish religious leaders. The center's Web site lists about 40 alleged cases of abuse involving rabbis and cantors. As with the Catholic scandals, Jewish victims say they still struggle years, even decades, later with this betrayal of trust.
"I can honestly say that he ruined not only my Bas-Mitzvah, but my faith in Judaism," wrote one woman, now 30, referring to Rabbi Sidney Goldenberg. In a letter to California prosecutors, the woman said Goldenberg, then a cantor, made lewd comments and rubbed her thigh in her parents' home in Seaford in 1985. At the time, he was supposed to be helping her prepare for her bat mitzvah, the joyous and solemn religious celebration when a Jewish girl turns 13.
Goldenberg was convicted in 1997 of abusing a 12-year-old California bat mitzvah student, after investigators uncovered a 27-year trail of complaints by girls against him. He served three years and is now living on Coney Island, according to police.
Like the Goldenberg case, the abuse allegations tend to have common elements, including some familiar from the Catholic scandals:
Children and in some cases parents are reluctant to accuse respected clergymen. When they do, they are often disbelieved, dismissed, even derided.
"You have to understand the extent to which the guys in the school looked up to [the rabbi]," says one man, now 38, who says he was abused as a teenager by a rabbi now teaching in Israel. "He was beyond question."
And another rabbi recalls dismissing several girls' complaints against Goldenberg as "some giggly thing."
Religious authorities fail to report abuse charges to the police. Among strictly observant Orthodox Jews, this tendency is bolstered by the ancient doctrine of mesira, which prohibits Jews from informing on other Jews to secular authorities, a legacy of centuries of oppression of Jews in many countries.
When religious leaders try to investigate cases and prevent abusers from having contact with children, their efforts often fail. "Few rabbis have any training in recognizing abuse, and the rabbinical courts have no investigative arm," says Rabbi Yosef Blau, the spiritual counselor to students at Yeshiva University.
Alleged abusers continue to operate freely by moving among congregations, states, even countries. Avrohom Mondrowitz, a self-styled rabbi who once had a popular radio show in Brooklyn, is living openly and teaching in a Jerusalem college although he is wanted on charges of sexually abusing four Brooklyn boys, aged 10 to 16. If he ever returns to the United States, he will be arrested, according to the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.
Many of the alleged abusers were popular, even charismatic leaders, who were thought to be particularly good in relating to young people. Rabbi Baruch Lanner, convicted last year of endangering the welfare of two girls at a New Jersey yeshiva, sidestepped abuse allegations for years, in part because of his reputation as a dynamic figure in an Orthodox youth program.
Unlike the Catholic Church, Jewish authority is not centralized, but various groups within the branches of Judaism have begun to strengthen anti-abuse policies for their members.
At its annual meeting, which starts today in Rye, the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization of 1,100 Orthodox rabbis, features programs on curbing abuse, including one entitled "Rabbinic Behavior: Confronting a Crisis of Accountability."
"We're trying to establish that inappropriate behavior is inexcusable," said Rabbi Hershel Billet, president of the organization and rabbi at Young Israel of Woodmere.
Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, a psychotherapist who is also the Orthodox Union's executive vice president, said he hopes the rabbinical council will make a firm commitment during the meeting "to develop a real, real tight program" combating sexual abuse.
The rabbinical council is expected to discuss ways to adjudicate abuse allegations against its members, with penalties that include ouster.
Sources within the organization say that the impetus for the panel's work includes old abuse allegations against Rabbi Ephraim Bryks of Kew Gardens Hills, which he has repeatedly denied, and the recent arrest of Rabbi Israel Kestenbaum of Highland Park, N.J.
Kestenbaum, a chaplaincy leader for the New York Board of Rabbis, was charged in February with endangering the welfare of a minor after allegedly discussing sex with an undercover police officer posing as a teenage girl in a chat room called "I Love Older Men." Kestenbaum has pleaded not guilty.
Rabbis concerned about sex abuse say accusations against a rabbi are often handled quietly, or not at all. Accused rabbis go on hiatus briefly, then revive their ministries in other congregations, even other countries in the far-flung Diaspora.
One of those was Rabbi Matis Weinberg. Accused of sexually abusing students at his California yeshiva two decades ago, he is said to have agreed to leave teaching. But Weinberg resurrected his teaching career in Israel. When Yeshiva University in Manhattan recently unearthed the allegations against Weinberg, the New York school severed its ties to the Jerusalem college where Weinberg had lectured until recently.
Weinberg has never been charged with a crime and has denied the former students' allegations. Through a friend, he declined to discuss the charges with Newsday.
The allegations against Weinberg have been widely reported in the Jewish press and have helped bring the issue to the fore in recent months.
Like the Orthodox rabbis' council, representatives of other branches of Judaism say they are taking steps to combat sexual abuse.
"I would rather this not become an epidemic and I think what we need to do is take affirmative steps to guide people before they make mistakes," said Rabbi Jerome Epstein of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the lay arm of the Conservative movement. Epstein said the group's committee on congregational standards is currently working on a "best practices" document.
Rabbi Steven Rosenberg of McAllen, Texas, formerly the leader of the Jewish Center of Bay Shore, said his Conservative congregation already has adopted such rules.
"If I have a bat mitzvah in my office, the door is never closed," said Rosenberg, who also tells his 23 religion school teachers "they are not allowed to touch students, not a pat, not a hug."
"It is very important for me for my congregants to know: That kind of behavior -- we will not tolerate it," said Rosenberg.
Rosenberg was sensitized by the case against Sidney Goldenberg, the former cantor, who had worked at the Bay Shore synagogue before moving to California.
Many rabbis say their groups would always notify police about abuse although their rules usually do not spell this out. Such notification was one of the remedies embraced by Roman Catholic bishops in the priest abuse scandal. And Reform rabbis are in the process of revising their ethics code to include such a requirement, according to Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
The National Conference of Synagogue Youth, an Orthodox group, does have a policy requiring that police be notified, an outgrowth of its scandal involving Lanner, a longtime youth leader with the group.
In that case, a religious court called a bet din concluded in 1989 that the most serious charges against Lanner were unfounded, clearing the way for his continued youth work. Last year, more than a dozen years later, he was convicted in New Jersey on abuse-related charges.
Orthodox Jews frequently rely on the batei din, but Blau, a member of the Lanner bet din, has become an outspoken critic of the religious court system.
For one thing, he said, judges in the religious courts often know the accused, making fair decisions difficult. In addition, he said that perjury before a bet din is rarely punished.
Appearing in February before dozens of students in the main study hall at Yeshiva University, Blau and the two other members of the Lanner bet din issued an extraordinary public apology for their role in allowing Lanner to continue unchecked for so many years.
"We must do everything in our power to protect potential victims from abuse," the apology said. "This includes reporting accusations of abuse to Jewish and, at times, to secular authorities."
Such a secular-reporting requirement is controversial among some Orthodox groups, partly because it appears to run counter to the doctrine called mesira.
In ancient times, one who violated the doctrine and reported a fellow Jew to secular authorities could be killed on sight. Today, the punishment is generally ostracism in the community.
The vast majority of rabbis agree that mesira is overridden when there is imminent danger to possible future victims, but Blau says the taboo remains, particularly among the most traditional Orthodox.
Civil authorities who seek to act against rabbinic abuse often become frustrated by the reluctance of witnesses to testify.
Prosecutors in Sullivan County complained during the case that their witnesses faced pressure when they tried to prosecute Yaakov Weiner, the teaching rabbi acquitted in the Mogen Avraham case.
"It was a bitter pill for me," remembers Tom Cawley, the former Sullivan County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the Mogen Avraham case. "They sent their kid to camp up here in Bethel and thought he'd be taken care of. Someone was taken care of, all right, but it wasn't him."
Weiner, who has taught in several yeshivas throughout the metropolitan area, consistently denied the charges. Attempts to reach him through one of his lawyers were unsuccessful.
The boy's mother and father, a rabbi himself, would not discuss the case with Newsday. But camp and State Health Department records filed in court indicate that the parents were not told of the alleged abuse until nearly 48 hours after the boy spoke of it, while the 36-year-old Weiner's father, a rabbi well-known in the Queens Orthodox community, was notified sooner.
Contacted recently, the camp's current executive director, Moshe Wein, defended the camp's handling of the accusation, saying, "There's no evidence to indicate that an incident took place." He added, "This may be one of those cases in which a child lied."
Lawyers for Weiner at his bench trial made much of contradictions in the boy's statements. But the most confusing testimony came from the alleged victim's bunkmates.
One of the boys reversed his story between the time he spoke to police and the trial several months later, Cawley said in court.
"We believe that there was pressure placed on the victim and children's families to get them not to testify," said Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen in a recent telephone interview. "There was a child who could have substantiated what was said, and that family would not cooperate."
The entire matter left Sullivan County Judge Frank Labuda confused.
"It is clear in the evening hours of August 8 and the morning of August 9, two years ago, something happened at bunk 3 Gimel bunk... " he said in his January 2000 ruling. But Labuda concluded that trial testimony "does not create a clear picture for this court of exactly what happened in Gimel bunk nor who did it."
He found Weiner not guilty.
Rumors And The Rabbi - Rabbi Unnerved Students
By Stephanie Saul - Staff Writer
Newsday - May 27, 2003, 4:37 PM EDT
Second of three parts.
Alumni of a California yeshiva held a reunion, of sorts, in Brooklyn recently, but it wasn't to reminisce about the school's idyllic setting, lakeside lessons or frequent class trips.
Instead, a handful of former students aired claims against the now-closed school's former rabbi, Matis Weinberg. The charismatic Weinberg had enthralled and entertained them with his brilliant lectures, the former students recalled, but, they alleged, he also had shocked and confused them with sexual attacks.
One former student at all-male Kerem Yeshiva says he first believed Weinberg's fondling was the rabbi's attempt to make sure he was properly circumcised.
Later, the former student consulted Maimonides and other Jewish philosophers for guidance but found nothing that applied. He said he became troubled and introspective, taking long walks in the Judean desert, where he had moved.
"I just used to take walks for hours, go hiking by myself. Just trying to figure out what this all was," said the man.
It has been nearly 20 years since Kerem was quietly closed while rumors circulated that something untoward had occurred there. But the allegations against Weinberg, hushed up two decades ago when he is said to have quietly agreed to leave Jewish education, recently resurfaced. A remark at a Brooklyn dinner touched off an investigation by Yeshiva University in Manhattan, which led the college to sever ties with a Jerusalem school where Weinberg was lecturing.
Weinberg, 56, has never been charged with a crime and has denied the allegations. In an interview with The Jewish Week, a Manhattan newspaper, Weinberg acknowledged that he was physically demonstrative with his students, but he said it was never in a sexual way. Through a friend, he declined to speak with Newsday.
Several former students interviewed by Newsday said they had never reported him to police. Within their strictly Orthodox community, doing so would have violated protocols against reporting a fellow Jew to secular authorities and shaming the community. At their May 1 meeting in Brooklyn, the former students said, a group of rabbis reviewed their allegations. The former students said the charges would be referred to a religious tribunal in Israel, where Weinberg lives. Former students paint a strange picture of Weinberg's conduct, both at Kerem, the yeshiva of about 80 students he founded in Santa Clara, Calif., and, later, in Israel, where he relocated in about 1982. Their descriptions cast light on how a religious leader could retain the loyalty of followers despite conduct they say they found deeply troubling.
"You have to understand the extent to which the guys in the school looked up to Rabbi Weinberg. He was beyond question," said one former student. "He would constantly laud himself and his school as the only true way of Torah, the only true representation of true Torah values and learning. He would criticize other schools as too old-fashioned and too European, closed-minded."
The former student, now 38, said Weinberg had an inner circle of favorite students, with whom he displayed a relationship many came to view as eccentric.
"He would walk around campus holding hands with these guys and ... regularly kiss them on the neck, cheek, nibble on guys' ears in a way that a lover would," said the former student.
Sexual references were included in nearly every lecture, the student said. "He always found a way to get on that subject no matter what he was teaching," said the man. "He would do it in the guise of teaching Torah, but he was obsessed."
The student also said that he twice saw Weinberg harshly punish students for smoking, hitting one student, who wore braces, in the face until his mouth bled and grinding a lighted cigarette into the hand of another.
The former student said he was in his senior year at Kerem, getting dressed in his dorm room, when Weinberg first abused him.
"He came into the room, gave me a hug, and while he was doing that he put his hand in my robe and started fondling me. All the time, he was making these gutteral type noises. I was freaked out. I just didn't know what to do."
But the man, who said he was then 17 or 18, decided to remain at Kerem. "I felt that he or the school had something very unique to teach, but that I would keep my distance from him personally because I was not interested in this happening again." The man was one of about 40 students who followed the rabbi to Israel in 1982. But after Weinberg groped him two more times, the man said, he completely lost faith in his rabbi.
"In a society in which to continue one's Torah study, one is expected to get close to a rabbi and continue learning, I pretty much didn't do that," said the man. He has remained in Israel and is unmarried.
"I just find it difficult to trust people," he said.
In about 1990, after several years of despondency, the young man said, he confronted Weinberg.
"In the end, he was just like a shoplifter you catch stealing clothes. He didn't have an excuse," said the man.
Another man, now living on the West Coast, related a similar story. He said that Weinberg called him into a dormitory room at Kerem, pulled him onto a bed under the pretense of telling him something, then began to pull off his shirt, massage his chest, unbutton his pants and fondle him.
The man, then 14, says he bolted from the room and later told his parents, who seemed to brush off the complaint.
But more than 20 years later, complaints against the rabbi came to light, sparked by remarks at a Sabbath dinner in February at the home of a Brooklyn pediatrician.
According to sources knowledgeable about the dinner, a young man was asked to give a talk based on a passage from Leviticus about leaving fields fallow every seven years.
The student included a seemingly inappropriate sexual reference and attributed it to Weinberg, who at the time lectured at Derech Etz Chaim, a school in Jerusalem.The comment raised a red flag for the pediatrician, an expert on sexual abuse of children. The doctor contacted Yeshiva University, which included Derech Etz Chaim in a program for Yeshiva students studying in Israel.
The Manhattan school moved quickly, contacting Weinberg's former students around the world. In February, Yeshiva notified students that Derech Etz Chaim was no longer affiliated with Yeshiva. The letters blamed the school's "educational and learning environment," but a Yeshiva official confirmed that Weinberg was the cause for concern.
"An investigation by others and information brought directly to my attention makes it clear that the scandal 20 years ago was a very real one," said Rabbi Yosef Blau, the spiritual counselor to Yeshiva University students.
Blau said that two decades ago, at the urging of several rabbis who had learned of abuse allegations, Weinberg agreed to leave Jewish education.
Yeshiva officials have said that Weinberg was an important influence in Derech Etz Chaim. But Ken Lapatine, a Manhattan lawyer for the Jerusalem school, said he had lectured there only once a week and was not paid.
"The moment the school [Derech Etz Chaim] learned of the allegation," Lapatine said, "it terminated the relationship."
Israeli school slaps Yeshiva U. with lawsuit over sex charges
By Joe Berkofsky
JTA - June 4, 2003
NEW YORK, June 4 (JTA) An Israeli religious school has slapped Yeshiva University with a lawsuit in a contract dispute sparked by charges that a rabbi at the Israeli school sexually molested students.
On Monday, the Derech Etz Chaim yeshiva of Jerusalem filed a breach of contract lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that Y.U. financially "crippled" the school by severing ties following allegations that a lecturer made unwanted sexual advances toward students.
The Jerusalem school is seeking a minimum of $75,000 in damages and is asking Judge William Pauley to issue an injunction preventing Yeshiva from making further "disparaging" comments about it, including allegations that the school tried to cover up the controversy.
Y.U. officials did not reply to repeated requests for comment.
The charges come a few weeks into the tenure of Richard Joel as president of Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of modern Orthodoxy.
They also mark the latest sexual misconduct scandal to rock the Orthodox community in several years.
In December 2000, a special commission that Joel chaired found that a leading Orthodox youth group figure had sexually and physically abused teens.
The lawsuit against Yeshiva arises out of a conflict that surfaced in February, when the university said 10 sophomores who studied at Etz Chaim during their freshman year failed to attend some classes upon their return, instead studying with the Etz Chaim rabbi via e-mail.
Yeshiva then halted its year-abroad program, charging the students maintained an untoward "allegiance" to an unnamed rabbi associated with Etz Chaim.
According to press reports, the controversial figure is Rabbi Matis Weinberg, a charismatic, Baltimore-born Torah scholar who allegedly sexually harassed students amid what the university's newspaper called a "cult-like" environment at Etz Chaim.
Neither Yeshiva nor Etz Chaim have confirmed or denied the sexual misconduct charges, and no one has brought legal action against Weinberg.
However, a New York religious court, or Beit Din, heard complaints from current and former students and referred them to an Israeli religious court in May.
Etz Chaim officials said they learned of the sexual harassment charges from Yeshiva.
The school "was not aware of any allegations of sexual misconduct against Rabbi Weinberg until Yeshiva University started making those allegations public," said Sarah Wadelton, an attorney with the New York firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents Derech Etz Chaim.
Once the charges surfaced, the school canceled Weinberg's weekly lecture series to ensure that its commitment to "student safety was beyond question," Wadelton said.
"Without accepting those allegations as true, they wanted to be as proactive as possible," she said.
Rabbi Aharon Katz, the school's principal, added that Weinberg was not a member of Etz Chaim's faculty, but was an unpaid guest lecturer who delivered popular weekly talks open to the general public.
Weinberg could not be reached for comment but has denied the charges. He voluntarily resigned once the charges surfaced, Katz said.
Katz would not comment on the veracity of the sexual impropriety charges, but said the notion that Y.U. students were skipping classes to study with Weinberg after their return to New York was "patently untrue."
Katz said about two dozen of the school's 45 students hailed from Yeshiva University. Y.U. officials would not provide him with a list of those said to be skipping class, Katz said.
Katz also portrayed Etz Chaim, located in Jerusalem's heavily Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood, as a highly accessible place where students' parents often visited classes or spent Shabbat, and where open lectures such as Weinberg's drew people from around the country.
"When people say it's a `cult-like environment,' it sounds like a closed environment. This is anything but," he said.
In the wake of Y.U.'s move to sever ties, Etz Chaim officials say enrollment has dropped and the school is in danger of closing.
This spring, several students decided not to return after the Passover break and some parents took their sons out of school, while registrations for the coming year have thinned, Wadelton and Katz said.
They could not say exactly how much money the school has lost, or how far enrollment has fallen.
"There have been very serious damages to the school in response to Yeshiva University's public campaign of disparagement," Wadelton said.
Besides damages, the school wants the court to prevent Yeshiva from saying the school is "cult-like," that it failed to act in response to the charges and that officials "concealed" the growing sex scandal, Wadelton said.
Etz Chaim officials said they tried to resolve the dispute "amicably" through phone calls and intermediaries, but that Yeshiva was unresponsive.
Katz said he always had been pleased with the "top-notch" high school graduates who took part in Y.U.'s program at Etz Chaim.
"We valued our relationship with Y.U. We found it to be a good partner, and it's a partner we would like to continue to work with in the future," he said.
Israeli Bet Din Takes Up Rabbi Weinberg Case
by Gary Rosenblatt
The Jewish Week - July 11, 2003
A religious court in Jerusalem has taken up the case of sex abuse charges leveled at Rabbi Matis Weinberg, the noted Torah scholar, author and lecturer accused of making advances toward former yeshiva students, The Jewish Week has learned.
The bet din is affiliated with the Badatz Eida Haredi, a well-known religious court in the fervently Orthodox sector of the community.
The bet din's decision to take the case was based on hearings conducted in New York in early May by Rabbis Shmuel Kaminetsky of Philadelphia, Feivel Cohen of Brooklyn and Moshe Hauer of Baltimore, prompted by a report in The Jewish Week. The report included allegations against Rabbi Weinberg made by former students, some from earlier this year and others going back more than 20 years. Rabbi Weinberg denies all the charges.
Several of the former students appeared before the three American rabbis to offer testimony. The American bet din provided the Israeli court with transcripts from the May proceedings.
Several alleged victims in Israel say they will seek permission from the bet din there to press civil and criminal charges against Rabbi Weinberg, in addition to a finding that would publicly attest to the rabbi's guilt. Rabbi Weinberg is the scion of a prominent Baltimore rabbinic family and has published a number of highly praised volumes of Torah study.
Rabbi AWOL At Court Date On Molest Rap
By ELLI WOHLGELERNTER - FORWARD CORRESPONDENT
FORWARD - AUGUST 22, 2003
Note: A correction to the following story was run in the October 3rd issue of the Forward. That correction appears at the bottom of this page, below the original story.
JERUSALEM A charismatic, American-born rabbi and educator accused of sexually molesting his yeshiva students over a 25-year period failed to appear at a rabbinical court hearing convened to consider the accusations last week.
The no-show by the educator, Rabbi Matis Weinberg, prompted expressions of outrage from several of his alleged victims, who called it the latest in a long series of steps by Weinberg to avoid an inquiry into his conduct. One accuser said he was close to a decision to bring the case to the secular authorities.
But the head of the rabbinical tribunal, Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, said he was unperturbed by Weinberg's failure to appear, and voiced confidence that Weinberg would cooperate after he returned from a visit to the United States. "A person can go to America when he wants," Shternbuch said. "Why should we be surprised? I hear he goes every year."
The case against Weinberg comes at a time of acute sensitivity within the Orthodox community over accusations of rabbis abusing minors and in some cases enjoying the protection of a wall of silence put up by other Orthodox rabbis and Orthodox institutions.
One rabbi, Baruch Lanner, formerly a regional director of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, was sentenced last year in New Jersey to seven years in prison for abusing two teenage girls while serving as a yeshiva principal. He is currently free on appeal. A special commission appointed by the Orthodox Union, which sponsors the youth group, had concluded in a December 2000 report that Lanner had been abusing both girls and boys over two decades and that other union officials had known of the suspicions and covered them up.
Another rabbi, Israel Kestenbaum, pleaded guilty last week in a New York state court to attempting to disseminate indecent material to a minor and attempting to endanger the welfare of a child. Kestenbaum admitted that he sought sex with an e-mail pal named "Katie" in an Internet chat room called "I Love Older Men," who he believed was a 13-year-old girl but turned out to be an NYPD detective. In a plea bargain, he was sentenced to five years' probation and treatment in a sex offenders' program.
Some Orthodox Jews say the cases are part of a pattern of abuse and cover-up. One Web site www.theawarenesscenter.org lists 42 cases of rabbis and cantors accused of abuse, and another 40 involving other trusted officials, including parents, teachers, camp counselors and others.
Responding to public anger, the main rabbinical body associated with the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America, adopted a resolution at its convention this past spring saying the organization is "committed to reporting acts or suspicions of child abuse as required by civil law." The conference ordered a review of its own procedures for dealing with accusations of abuse, with a June 2004 deadline for developing new rules.
Weinberg, 56, a charismatic, Baltimore-born teacher, author and lecturer, is a member of a rabbinical family of near-legendary renown in Israel and the United States, descended from the Slonimer chasidic dynasty. Weinberg's father Yaakov Weinberg was a dean of the respected Ner Israel Yeshiva in Baltimore, and his uncle, Noach Weinberg, founded Aish HaTorah, a Jerusalem yeshiva and outreach organization with affiliates around the world.
The case against Weinberg dates back to the 1970s, when he was in his 20s and teaching at a school he founded in Santa Clara, Calif., the Kerem Yeshiva. Several former students have told similar stories of Weinberg engaging in elaborate demonstrations of physical affection, at times crossing over into seeming sexual overtures.
The California accusers began to come forward earlier this year, after similar accusations against Weinberg surfaced in Jerusalem, prompting the New York-based Yeshiva University to sever ties with a Jerusalem school where Weinberg was teaching. The Jerusalem school, Derech Etz Chaim, a post-high school boys' academy, was founded five years ago by Weinberg's former students.
Yeshiva University said it was terminating its association with the Jerusalem school because of "compelling evidence" of a history of alleged sexual abuse by Weinberg and cultlike behavior toward his students. The university made its findings known in a letter sent to parents of current Derech Etz Chaim students, following an international investigation in which the university concluded that maintaining its association with the Jerusalem academy would be "betraying the trust between Yeshiva University and its students."
Weinberg immediately stopped teaching his once-weekly class at Derech Etz Chaim. The school has since filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Yeshiva University in U.S. District Court in New York, alleging that the university financially crippled the school by severing its ties.
But the university's action opened the floodgates. Former students, knowing an Orthodox institution knew what they had experienced, were emboldened to come forward. Speaking to journalists, students described Weinberg over the years kissing their cheeks and necks "making these noises that one would make if eating something delicious or making love to a woman," nibbling on their ears, and "embrac[ing] guys for longer than what would be considered a friendship hug," according to alleged victims who spoke on condition of anonymity.
One told how Weinberg had called him into his room and started unbuttoning his shirt, kissing his chest, unbuttoning his pants and fondling him. Another told how Weinberg had come into his dorm room and hugged him, and then put his hand inside his robe and fondled him.
Weinberg has denied any kind of abuse, but has admitted that he once slapped a boy wearing braces in the mouth so hard that it drew blood, while the whole student body looked on. He also acknowledged that he had once extinguished a burnt cigarette in the palm of a student's hand.
As for his alleged sexual contact with students, Weinberg maintains that while he was physically demonstrative to his students, often hugging them, it was never in a sexual way. "I don't get a hard-on" from such encounters, Weinberg told an interviewer this year.
Some of the alleged victims said they had tried to report what had happened to other rabbis at the school, but were ignored, or told it wasn't true. Others said they stayed silent, either because they were overwhelmed by Weinberg's personality and position, or because they were ashamed.
The flood of accusations led to the convening in New York in May of a rabbinical tribunal, comprising Rabbis Shmuel Kaminetsky of Philadelphia, Feivel Cohen of Brooklyn and Moshe Hauer of Baltimore, who heard testimony from several students. The rabbis referred the case and provided transcripts to the rabbinical court of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community.
The Jerusalem court ordered a hearing on August 14, summoning Weinberg and two of his accusers to appear. However, the court learned on the day of the hearing that Weinberg had left for America without informing them, said the court's head, Shternbuch.
Shternbuch said he would reconvene the panel "immediately, right away" after Weinberg returned to Israel, which he had been told would be the end of August.
But one alleged victim who appeared for the court hearing expressed outrage at the latest delay in the case against Weinberg. "They are assuming that he's cooperating with them. I feel he's taking advantage of them," said the alleged victim, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He's playing with them. My feeling is that with all the time that's gone by, if there is no immediate progress, that we will turn to the secular courts. Our objective is to protect the innocent boys who have anything to do with Matis, and we are willing to do everything we have to, take any legal means possible, to achieve that end."
Weinberg's case appears similar in some respects to Lanner, an admired educator whose success with disaffected youth gave him a charismatic aura that discouraged accusers. Lanner was said to have abused both boys and girls over a period of 20 years, but to have escaped punishment because of the refusal of colleagues and superiors to believe his accusers. His case was brought to light in a press exposé in June 2000, leading to a furor among Orthodox Jews.
The resolution by the RCA is the first of its kind in North America's Modern Orthodox community, and signifies a growing attentiveness and hypersensitivity to sexual misconduct in the Orthodox community that until a few years ago would have been unmentionable.
"Events of the past have proven, to our great dismay, that organizations and individuals have not always dealt with these incidents in the best possible way," the resolution said. "The Rabbinical Council of America recommits itself to fulfilling its responsibility for the welfare of the members of the Jewish community at large and the general community as well, especially to those who have been victims or who claim to be victims of an act of sexual, physical or emotional violence, abuse or impropriety."
In our August 22 issue, the Forward published an article about charges of misconduct against Rabbi Matis Weinberg that were to be considered at a rabbinical tribunal in Jerusalem. The article reported that Weinberg failed to appear at an August 14 hearing and referred to him as "AWOL" and a "no-show." The Forward subsequently has learned that Weinberg was not summoned to the hearing until August 12, by which time he already was out of the country, having left earlier for a previously planned trip. On the day of the hearing, a representative appeared before the tribunal to explain why Weinberg could not appear on that date.
The Forward also reported, based on an interview with the head of the tribunal, Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, that Weinberg was in the United States at the time. We have subsequently learned that Weinberg was in Finland.
The Forward did not intend to imply that Weinberg left Israel after receiving the summons and regrets if any reader took that impression from the article. We also did not intend to imply that Weinberg's absence from the hearing had any bearing on his guilt or innocence of the charges the tribunal was to consider. As our article reported, Shternbuch did not criticize Weinberg's nonappearance, voicing confidence that Weinberg would cooperate after he returned to Israel.
Finally, the discussion in the article about other cases of alleged misconduct by rabbis was meant to put the news report in the context of other public controversies on the same subject and not to imply any point of view on Weinberg's guilt or innocence of the charges the tribunal was to consider.
As the Forward reported in our September 19 issue, the Jerusalem tribunal has dismissed the case, citing a lack of witnesses to recent alleged misconduct.
Molestation Case Is Dismissed By Rabbinical Court
by Elli Wohlgelernter, Forward Correspondent
Forward - SEPTEMBER 19, 2003
JERUSALEM The rabbinical court that was to hear testimony from American-born Rabbi Matis Weinberg regarding accusations of alleged molestation of yeshiva students has dismissed the case because of a lack of witnesses to recent alleged impropriety.
Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, head of the three-rabbi beit din, or rabbinic tribunal, told the Forward that there was only one allegation relating to the past year and that the panel would not deal with the other accusations involving incidents alleged to have occurred in the early 1980s. "They're not going to judge now what happened 20 years ago," he said. "If there come witnesses in the last year or two, then they'll decide if they are going to go and call him."
Weinberg, 56, a charismatic, Baltimore-born Torah scholar, author and lecturer, has been accused of impropriety in his relations with students in the early 1980s at a yeshiva in California and more recently at another school in Jerusalem.
Weinberg, who has denied the allegations, declined to speak to the Forward for this story.
The decision by the Israeli rabbinic court was greeted with surprise by alleged victims, a rabbi who is advising them and the head of a rabbinic panel in New York that accepted written and oral testimony last spring and referred the case to Israel.
"I'm very surprised," said Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky, who headed the panel that met in New York on May 1. "Is there a statute of limitations? I didn't know there was such a thing in Halacha," he said, using the Hebrew word for rabbinic canon law.
Kaminetsky said that he had agreed to convene the tribunal in New York in order to keep the matter within the rabbinic legal system but that there was nothing more for him to do now. He said he had no advice for the alleged victims who testified before his tribunal.
"We thought we'd prevent it going to [civil] court, but if we can't do it, then it's up to them; they have to do whatever they want to do," he said.
One alleged victim in San Diego said that he and another complainant were considering whether to take further legal steps.
The alleged victim, who had submitted written testimony to the Kaminetsky tribunal, exclaimed, "I can't believe it," when told of the Jerusalem panel's decision. "My question is, why did they decline to deal with it? What's important is that people are made aware of the situation."
Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, a former rabbi at the California yeshiva who has been advising the alleged victims, said: "By no means do I feel that at this point that things have concluded. We'll see where it goes."
Yeshiva University Countersues School In Rabbi Dispute
By NACHA CATTAN
Forward - December 12, 2003
Yeshiva University, defending itself against a lawsuit by an Israeli religious academy with which it severed ties, is countersuing the Israeli school, alleging that it "utterly refused to protect" Y.U.'s exchange students from a rabbi affiliated with the academy.
The Israeli school, Derech Etz Chaim yeshiva in Jerusalem, accused the university in a federal suit filed last spring of "disparagement" and breach of contract for severing ties based on allegedly false concerns about the school and the controversial rabbi, Matis Weinberg. The university's countersuit, filed in the same Manhattan federal court last month, claims that the Israeli school and its dean had fraudulently "misrepresented" their connection to Weinberg.
According to Y.U.'s countersuit, the dean of the Israeli school, Rabbi Aharon Katz, was aware of at least two allegations of sexual misconduct made against Weinberg. The Y.U. countersuit claims that such allegations were brought to Katz's attention by a student who attended a yeshiva run by Weinberg in California more than 20 years ago and more recently by a student at Derech Etz Chaim. The Israeli school denied the accusations in a reply filed in court last month.
The university severed ties last February to Derech Etz Chaim, which had been a participant in the Yeshiva University Israel Program. The university explained in a letter to parents that the decision was based on a "review" of the school's "educational standards and learning environment."
The Jerusalem school charged in its complaint, dated May 30, that the university had "disparaged" the school by telling callers who asked about the severing of ties that Weinberg "was creating a 'cult-like atmosphere' at DEC" and "had been accused of engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct" with a student. The school said the charges against Weinberg were false and were "not properly investigated by Y.U."
The suit also alleged that Yeshiva University defamed Katz by claiming he had prior knowledge of Weinberg's alleged history.
In its countersuit, the university denies making either claim to the public at the time. However, it says that Y.U. advised callers that there were allegations of misconduct against Weinberg. The countersuit claims Y.U. officials discussed the allegations directly with Katz, telling him that "after a diligent, good-faith investigation, they had concluded that there were credible allegations that Matis Weinberg had sexually abused students going back 20 years."
Katz, the countersuit said, "was defensive about Weinberg and refused to make any commitment to investigate the allegations of abuse" or to "take any action to safeguard students." Derech Etz Chaim has denied these allegations as well.
Although Weinberg is not a party to the lawsuit, he has repeatedly and vehemently denied the allegations of sexual abuse as baseless.
The Israeli school has filed a reply to the countersuit, denying Y.U.'s allegations. Both parties are now gathering evidence regarding their claims.
Weinberg, an American-born educator, held weekly lectures at Derech Etz Chaim, which the school claims were open to the public and attended by many people who were not from the yeshiva.
The Derech Etz Chaim civil action alleges that Yeshiva University financially "crippled" the school by severing ties and passing along its concerns to other institutions, which also cut off ties, drastically reducing the academy's enrollment. The school is seeking a minimum of $75,000 in damages and is asking for an injunction to prevent the university from making further "disparaging" comments about it. Both the suit and the countersuit are filed under the same case number in the Manhattan federal court.
The university claims in its countersuit that when one Derech Etz Chaim student complained to Katz of "sexually inappropriate conduct" by Weinberg, Katz did not investigate the complaint or report it to governmental authorities, Y.U. or the student's parents.
The attorney representing Katz in New York, Kenneth Lapatine, said in an interview that the dean, in fact, took action as soon as the university mentioned its concerns about Weinberg to him. "Rabbi Katz took appropriate steps to ensure that the student body knew that they would not have anything to do with Rabbi Weinberg," Lapatine said. "That does not mean he was accepting the allegations as being true."
Referring to the student who brought his allegations to Katz, Lapatine said, "By the time that student had come forward, the relationship had already been severed." However, he said, "Rabbi Katz had been asked by that student not to disclose" the claim of abuse. Lapatine also said that the student alleged the abuse took place when he was no longer studying at Derech Etz Chaim, but was attending Y.U.
"He came to Israel just for a visit," Lapatine said about the student. "It allegedly occurred when they were traveling together."
Katz was a former student of Weinberg at Kerem, a yeshiva in Santa Clara, Calif., founded by Weinberg in the late 1970s. According to the university's countersuit, "there were allegations that Weinberg's employment with Kerem was terminated in the 1980s because he allegedly sexually molested yeshiva students." The countersuit also claims "Rabbi Katz was well aware of these allegations."
Using the acronym for Derech Etz Chaim, the countersuit states: "Neither DEC nor Rabbi Katz disclosed that Rabbi Katz has been a devoted disciple of Weinberg since the 1970s. In fact, Rabbi Katz considers Weinberg his 'Rebbe,' which means his spiritual guide or mentor. In fact, Yeshiva University did not know that Rabbi Katz has shaped DEC into a community advocating Weinberg's 'Hashkafah,' which means his world outlook."
According to the countersuit, students were taught at the academy that only Weinberg and DEC's philosophy were correct, "that DEC had the right idea, and that everyone else was wrong." Moreover, the countersuit states, "Many students returned from DEC and refused to take part in Yeshiva University's Judaic Studies programs. Instead they engaged in independent study and consulted with DEC regarding their religious studies."
Although Weinberg was not formally employed by Derech Etz Chaim, the university alleges that he had "constant contact" with its students." DEC conducted class trips to Weinberg's home in Jerusalem, the university states.
In its suit, the school claims that Weinberg was never employed or paid by Derech Etz Chaim, that the Jerusalem yeshiva had no prior knowledge of the accusations against Weinberg and that the statements about Weinberg are false.
The academy acknowledges that its students were urged to attend Weinberg's "public" lectures and that Weinberg had an office at Derech Etz Chaim for two months. But Derech Etz Chaim denies that Weinberg's relationship to the school was kept hidden.
"Witnesses have been deposed at Y.U. who have testified that before contracts were renewed they were aware that Rabbi Weinberg was lecturing at DEC," said Lapatine, the lawyer.
Lapatine added that no one at Derech Etz Chaim discouraged students from attending classes at Yeshiva University.
Yeshiva Countersues Derech Etz Chaim
By Michael Rosman
The Commentator News - December 28, 2003
In response to a May 2003 lawsuit against Yeshiva brought by Derech Etz Chaim (DEC), a Jerusalem yeshiva that is part of Yeshiva's S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program, the University is countersuing DEC, claiming that DEC and its dean have misrepresented their connection to Rabbi Matis Weinberg, who allegedly has a history of sexually abusing students.
Last May, DEC filed a breach of contract lawsuit in a Manhattan federal court, alleging that Yeshiva financially crippled DEC by severing ties with it, which, DEC officials claimed, was based on false concerns about the school and the rabbi.
Following a meeting May 12 to discuss the discovery of evidence that a rabbi integrally associated with the yeshiva had a history of allegedly sexually abusing and engaging in cult-like behavior with his students, Yeshiva officials had decided to cut all ties with DEC, a popular school among students in the Israel Program.
Because Yeshiva stamps its approval on all the schools affiliated with the Israel Program, it decided that allowing DEC to remain in the program would be betraying the trust between Yeshiva University and its students.
"Yeshiva is protecting its interests as well as the interest of the Yeshiva community," said Jed Marcus, Yeshiva's lead attorney on the case.
Marcus explained that the decision was based on a close review of the yeshiva's educational standards and learning atmosphere. "We established that DEC did not live up to its contract with Yeshiva and did not accurately identify Rabbi Weinberg as a member of the school's faculty," he said.
Marcus further said Yeshiva was not eager to run to the legal system to handle the situation, but once DEC decided to sue, Yeshiva felt it had no choice but to respond in kind. "Now that DEC has filed a suit, Yeshiva who firmly disagrees with DEC's claims will aggressively defend itself until we win," he said.
DEC charged in its complaint on May 30 that Yeshiva had defamed DEC by advising callers who asked about Yeshiva's decision that Rabbi Weinberg was creating a harmful environment at DEC and that he had been accused of engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with a student. DEC said that the charges against Rabbi Weinberg were false and were not appropriately examined by Yeshiva.
The university's countersuit, filed in November in the same Manhattan federal court, claims the Israeli school has "utterly refused to protect" Yeshiva students from Rabbi Weinberg.
The countersuit is based on the claim that the dean of DEC, Rabbi Aharon Katz, was aware of at least two accusations of sexual misconduct made against Rabbi Weinberg and chose to ignore them. Yeshiva claims that these allegations were brought to Rabbi Katz's attention by a student who attended a yeshiva run by Rabbi Weinberg in California over 20 years ago, and more recently by a student at DEC.
DEC's suit also accused Yeshiva of defaming Rabbi Katz and DEC by announcing that he had prior knowledge of Weinberg's alleged background. Kenneth Lapatine, who represents DEC, said Rabbi Katz as well as DEC "were not aware of any allegations of sexual misconduct against Rabbi Weinberg until Yeshiva University started making those allegations public." Mr. Lapatine went on to say that "Whether or not Rabbi Weinberg is indeed a 'sexual predator,' Yeshiva has no right to make disparaging comments about DEC, an institution of which Rabbi Weinberg is not even a faculty member." DEC is asking for $75,000 in damages and has asked the judge to issue an injunction preventing Yeshiva from further damaging their academy.
In its countersuit, Yeshiva denies making these claims to the public at the time. The university does admit that they warned callers of the accusations of misconduct and warned the families of DEC students. Rabbi Yosef Blau, director of religious guidance at Yeshiva, said, "Yeshiva notified the families of those students who were attending the school or had attended DEC in the recent past, to inform them that several students approached the administration at Yeshiva alleging that Rabbi Weinberg had sexually abused students while serving as a rabbi at the school."
Yeshiva's countersuit says that Rabbi Katz was defensive about Rabbi Weinberg and refused to investigate the possibilities of abuse or take any action to protect students. DEC has denied these allegations.
Rabbi Katz is a former student of Rabbi Weinberg at a yeshiva in Santa Clara, CA, called Kerem, founded in the late 1970's. "There were allegations that Weinberg's employment with Kerem was terminated in the 1980's because he allegedly sexually molested yeshiva students," according to the countersuit.
The countersuit also claims that Rabbi Katz was well aware of these accusations, and neglected to act out of conscientiousness for his relationship with Rabbi Weinberg. "Neither DEC nor Rabbi Katz disclosed that Rabbi Katz has been a devoted disciple of Weinberg since the 1970's. In fact, Rabbi Katz considers Weinberg his 'Rebbe,' which means his spiritual guide or mentor. In fact, Yeshiva University did not know that Rabbi Katz has shaped DEC into a community advocating Weinberg's 'Hashkafah,' which means his world outlook," the countersuit says.
The university says that Rabbi Weinberg had constant contact with his students and that DEC conducted class trips to Rabbi Weinberg's home in Jerusalem.
Yeshiva claims that many students, upon returning from DEC, refused to take part in Yeshiva's Judaic studies programs. Instead they engaged in independent study and consulted only DEC regarding their religious pursuits. The countersuit states that students were taught that only Rabbi Weinberg and DEC's philosophy were correct. Mr. Lapatine denied accusations against Rabbi Weinberg, and added that no one at DEC discouraged students from attending Yeshiva University classes.
When asked to comment on the situation, a DEC alumnus and current YC student said, "I only wish that Yeshiva could put this all behind them. Every time this resurfaces we are the ones that have to deal with it. Maybe Yeshiva could think about their students for once."
"Yeshiva wasn't the one who filed the first lawsuit; students who are upset should go to DEC and complain," said Rabbi Blau.
Many guidance counselors have been hindered from helping students from DEC, fearing any violation of the suit filed by DEC, asking the judge to issue an injunction preventing Yeshiva from further damaging DEC, said Rabbi Blau.
Another DEC alumnus said, "When people ask you what Yeshiva you went to, you can say Shaalvim, Yeshivat Har Etzion, or KBY and be proud. I, on the other hand, have to sheepishly answer, 'Derech Etz Chaim.'"
A third DEC alumnus declined to comment on the specifics of the case. "It's very difficult when you are stuck in between the college you attend and a rabbi with whom you are still very close with," he said.
Derech Etz Chaim: A Yeshiva Worth Saving
By Eric J. Adelman
YU Commentator - Feb. 3, 2004
As a former talmid (student) of Derech Etz Chaim (DEC) and a current talmid of Yeshiva University, I am very disappointed that my current and former yeshivas seem to be unable to resolve their differences. Prolonging this situation is extremely hurtful to all involved, including many DEC alumni. At this point, I think it's important to ask: why does YU still wish to exclude DEC from the S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program? This exclusion clearly makes it significantly more difficult for DEC to attract talmidim, and perhaps this is intended. Why would YU do this?
Granted, there are currently two lawsuits that must be resolved before any true reconciliation can be contemplated. This responsibility falls on both DEC and YU. I believe, however, that all parties agree there is no longer any physical danger whatsoever to DEC's talmidim. I visited DEC over Succos, and I saw with my own eyes that Rabbi Weinberg is no longer personally involved, even on a peripheral level, with DEC. The fact that DEC's hashkafa involves learning at a faster (ok, sometimes a lot faster) pace than YU does not seem to be reason enough to crush a fine institution. In fact, DEC encourages its talmidim to maintain their involvement in the world. Far from being single-minded, DEC alumni at YU are involved in a plethora of activities, including the Commentator, the Arts Festival, The SOY Sefarim Sale, YCDS, student government, the chess club, WYUR, the volleyball team, the break-dancing club and the Writing Center.
The charges of "cult-like activity" seem to be nothing more than a way to discredit those defending DEC. During my two years at Derech Etz Chaim, I was always encouraged to examine issues honestly, to question the status quo and to think outside of the box. Yet for some reason, YU, which I love dearly, considers me a cult member.
I realize that reconciliation is a two way street, and that both YU and DEC must be interested in settling their differences. I call on both sides to do so.
Another point that I have not seen addressed has to do with DEC alumni at YU failing to attend shiur. I admit that my attendance last year was less than consistent. (I have since corrected this problem, somewhat. I am currently in Rabbi Reichman's shiur, which I am enjoying immensely.) My poor attendance, however, had nothing to do with learning with my former rabeyim in lieu of shiur or seder, because I never did so. Rather, I bounced from shiur to shiur, never finding one where I felt that I could excel. In fact, I even discussed this issue with Rabbi Katz, the Rosh Yeshiva of DEC, early in the year. He told me that it was imperative I find a shiur within YU. I know every single DEC alumnus who was in YU at the time, and none of them were learning with any DEC affiliated Rabeyim during seder or shiur.
I approached the powers that be at Yeshiva's Mazer Yeshiva Program to discuss the issue (well before the 'scandal' broke). I told them what I was looking for in a shiur, and the response was something along the lines of "that's not how we do things here." I even volunteered to collect the names of other talmidim who might also be interested in a faster, more "on the daf" shiur, but the administration remained uninterested. Such unresponsiveness is the reason why many talmidim (DEC or otherwise) quickly become jaded with the shiurim at YU. The need for smaller shiurim, taught by Rabeyim who can relate to their talmidim and who have time to spend with them, is a topic of frequent conversation. Last semester, one of my friends compiled a list of over 20 people who would be interested in a faster shiur. This list included a significant number of talmidim who attended yeshivas other than DEC. Again, his efforts were for naught, as both MYP and BMP failed to establish such a shiur. While students who fail to attend shiur are certainly in the wrong, their behavior is often the result of the administration failing to meet their needs as talmidim.
I am proud to have gone to Derech Etz Chaim for two years, and I am proud to attend YU currently. One key YU administrator who has thus far remained uninvolved in this situation is President Joel. I place a lot of faith and hope in our new president. I believe that if he were involved, the situation could be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved, and this pointless parade of lawsuits might come to an end. I call upon him to look into the matter and guide YU in the right direction.
Letters to the Editor
Derech Etz Chaim and Abuse
YU Commentator - Tuesday, February 17, 2004
For several weeks, I have followed the stream of published letters concerning the DEC litigation but have not commented. I am a musmakh of RIETS, where I contributed a regular column to Hamevaser for three years. I also am a graduate of UCLA Law School, former Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, and former federal appeals court clerk to the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Presently, I am Rav of Young Israel of Calabasas and continue to practice complex civil litigation. In those last capacities, I am providing pro bono representation for a witness in the DEC litigation.
When the first allegations broke several years ago in the New York Jewish Week regarding the scandal centering around a New Jersey rabbi, some wrote vigorously on Hilkhot Lashon Hara, applied the halakha to the facts as initially understood, yet ultimately recanted as they learned more facts. In time, they better understood how complex the halakhic application was. At first some rushed to defend, and some rushed to condemn. However, in time, facts sorted themselves out, and a New Jersey state conviction now is on appeal. As a result, countless future teens, at the height of their idealism, will not experience what some NCSYers did before the Orthodox Union's New York office woke up to a brewing rebellion within the ranks.
I understand why DEC has brought its case, and I also understand why I am providing thousands of dollars in my pro bono legal time representing a witness who feels compelled by halakha to blow a whistle. Every one of these types of litigation matters - from those impinging on the Catholic Church hierarchy to that of Michael Jackson in Neverland, to the case of the New Jersey rabbi -- begins with the universal recognition that the alleged tortfeasor never wronged 99.999% of the people with whom he came into contact. The question is whether one or two or three or half a dozen incidents occurred over several years -- incidents so heinous that they fall outside a certain pale.
The right yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael can be critical for a young person's Torah growth, and the wrong seminary can be a disaster -- for the child, for the parent. When Yeshiva University lists and endorses seminaries, it not only provides a service for parents and students, but it also assumes a serious burden, not less serious than a rabbinic body listing approved kosher bakeries. If, G-d forbid, Yeshiva gives a haskamah to a seminary that participates in forging a bond overseas between a student and an authority figure deleterious to that child's mental, physical, or emotional health, Yeshiva must remember that its pockets not only are deeper than are those of the seminary but also are easier to reach in a United States courthouse if litigation ensues and an adverse judgment rendered.
Yeshiva got caught in a tough vise here. However, if it had failed to act promptly with moral clarity, its administration could later have found itself in much the same place that the Orthodox Union's New York leadership found itself when the New Jersey matter erupted. Much like Dr. Lynn Gimpel of Emory, who initially wrote The Commentator to criticize Yeshiva's action but subsequently wrote to reverse that position substantially after reviewing apparently privileged evidence, I have seen enough documentary evidence to echo Dr. Gimpel's assessment of the matter's central figure: "At worst I fault him; at best I suspect him." I would not let my son or any other person's son go to Neverland for the night, and I would not let any son respectful of my influence get near the subject of the unproven allegations in this case matter. The stakes are too high, the risks too great, the unproven allegations too disturbing, the few testimonies too unnerving.
Rabbi Dov Fischer
Young Israel of Calabasas
Trial Here To Focus On Abuse Charges
By Gary Rosenblatt - Editor And Publisher
Jewish Week - April 30, 2004
Contract dispute between two yeshivas centers on allegations made against Rabbi Matis Weinberg.
On the surface, the suit and counter suit filed by a small Jerusalem yeshiva, Derech Etz Chaim, and Modern Orthodoxy's flagship institution, Yeshiva University, are about an alleged breach of contract.
But underneath, at the simmering center of the case to be heard in federal court in Manhattan next week, are questions about the behavior of a charismatic, American-born rabbi, Matis Weinberg, 57, a prominent Torah scholar and author alleged to have a history of sexual abuse against yeshiva students.
Rabbi Weinberg's association with Derech Etz Chaim led Yeshiva University in February 2003 to cut its ties with the 6-year-old yeshiva, which had been a favorite "feeder" school for YU. Derech Etz Chaim, which takes about 30 students a year, mostly from the U.S., claimed that the move by YU dealt it a severe financial blow. It is suing for breach of contract for at least $75,000, arguing that the allegations are false, and that Rabbi Aaron Katz, the dean, was defamed.
In response, YU is counter suing, claiming that Derech Etz Chaim "utterly refused to protect" its students from Rabbi Weinberg. It also charges that Rabbi Katz chose to ignore allegations of sexual misconduct made against Rabbi Weinberg, which first came to light in The Jewish Week last May.
Though Rabbi Weinberg is not officially listed as a member of the Derech Etz Chaim faculty, he is considered to be its spiritual mentor, and offers weekly lectures at the yeshiva. Rabbi Katz is a former student of Rabbi Weinberg, having attended the Kerem Yeshiva in Santa Clara, Calif., that Rabbi Weinberg founded in the 1970s and left suddenly in 1982 amid rumors of sexual abuse against students. Rabbi Weinberg then settled in Israel. Two of Rabbi Weinberg's sons have been on the Derech Etz Chaim faculty, and favored students in the yeshiva often were invited to Rabbi Weinberg's home for Shabbat and other occasions.
Rabbi Weinberg is not a party to the lawsuit, and he has strenuously denied the allegations of sexual abuse. He has not been deposed in the case and is listed as a potential witness, but observers believe that YU will make his behavior the centerpiece of its case, calling as witnesses former students who allege that he made sexual advances to them.
If so, it would mark the first time that such charges against Rabbi Weinberg some going back more than two decades were made in a public setting.
Last May, a bet din (religious court) in New York heard testimony from at least six former students, some of whom attended Kerem in the 1970s, and at least one who attended Derech Etz Chaim several years ago, charging that Rabbi Weinberg had abused them, or sought to. The testimony was passed on to a bet din in Jerusalem, which chose not to pursue the case.
Rabbi Weinberg is expected to be in New York at some point in the next two weeks, scheduled to officiate at the May 9 wedding of the son of businessman Stephen Rosenberg of Monsey, a longtime supporter of the rabbi who is said to have provided major funding for the Derech Etz Chaim legal case.
Rosenberg did not respond to efforts to reach him.
YU is being represented in the case by Stephen Fuchs and Jed Marcus of Grotta, Glassman and Hoffman, a New York firm. Marcus said the counter suit was undertaken "reluctantly," based on the belief that Derech Etz Chaim "misrepresented itself when it came into the [Joint Israel] Program" five years ago.
Derech Etz Chaim had been represented by Greenberg, Traurig, a major firm based in New York, but it recently withdrew from the case, which will be handled at trial by Hayim Gross, a devotee of Rabbi Weinberg and original co-counsel from Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Gross denied that the case would center on the allegations against Rabbi Weinberg, but did not elaborate.
The series of events leading up the trial began in February 2003, when YU, after an internal investigation of Derech Etz Chaim prompted by allegations from students and former students associated with Rabbi Weinberg, terminated its affiliation with the school. The decision was based on a "review" of "the educational standards and learning environment" there, according to a letter YU sent to parents of Derech Etz Chaim students slated to attend YU explaining the situation.
(As part of YU's Joint Israel Program, Derech Etz Chaim was one of a number of Israeli yeshivot attended by American post-high school students for at least a year before entering YU with sophomore status.)
Derech Etz Chaim officials, claiming the review was false and "improper," filed suit in May 2003, asserting that YU had "disparaged" the school by telling those who made inquiries that Rabbi Weinberg "was creating a cult-like atmosphere" at the yeshiva, and "had been accused of engaging in appropriate sexual contact" with a student.
YU's counter suit said that Rabbi Katz, the Derech Etz Chaim dean, was told of "credible allegations" of abuse, "going back 20 years," against Rabbi Weinberg, and that Rabbi Katz "refused ... to take any actions to safeguard students."
Negotiations were held between Derech Etz Chaim and YU officials in an effort to avoid the trial, but the talks were said to have broken down when Derech Etz Chaim insisted on being reinstated in the Joint Israel Program and YU refused. n
Weinberg Case / Protocols - Blogspot
Below are some of the comments made regarding the case of Rabbi Matis Weinberg
A thought @ 1:28PM | 2004-04-30
If years ago the Jewish community had stepped in and cleaned things up we wouldn't have gotten to this point. These problems go back at least 4 decades when the first signs began emerging at Ner Israel (Baltimore and Toronto) and today we have the following Ner alumni making news:
1) Rabbi Israel Kestenbaum - probation, trying to meet underage teenage girls for sex on the internet
2) Rabbi Ephraim Bryks - resgned from the RCA under cloud of child molestation allegations
3) And now Rabbi Matis Weinberg
A thought @ 1:31PM | 2004-04-30| permalink
60's article on Ner Israel Toronto when it was run by Matis' father before they returned a year later to Baltimore:
Student Rabbi expelled for 'causing unrest'
Toronto Star (Canada), Sat., May 31, 1969 p.6
An American student has been expelled from Ner Israel Yeshiva College on Finch Ave. for allegedly causing unrest among studentd at the associated Ner Israel high School on the same campus.
Faculty president Rabbi J. S. Weinberg said Joseph Markin, 22, a visiting student was "out permanently" for "deliberately provoking younger students into feeling that injustices had been done before discussing the matter with me."
Markin studying to become a rabbi, said he was accused of instigating a protest demonstration last wednesday. He said he knew about the protest but did not suggest it or take part.
Rabbi Weinberg denied that there had been a demonstration, but said some people had tried to cause trouble. A mimeographed list of "abuses" by Rabbi Weinberg, including staff changes, was circulated at the high school and the college.
The rabbi said a high school student had been "interrogated against his will." He said he was taking disciplinary action against those responsible.
(Alleged Victims Name withheld), 16, a high school student, said he was assaulted by two college students seeking names of those behind the protest.
(Alleged Victims Name withheld) said he and 14 other students were suspended for a day on Wednesday morning to prevent them from holding the protest. Rabbi Weinberg said 15 students were suspended for oversleeping and missing morning prayers.
me @ 11:07PM | 2004-05-04| permalink
The Awareness Center also has this story of abuse regarding Ner in the 50s. I think it gives at least a sense of part of the problem.
1) young vulnerable children from dysfunctional family being sent to remove them from that dysfunctional situation
2) same children at the mercy of older children, bullies and other troubled children
3) unaddressed systemic sexual abuse problem in institution
4) victims treated as guity party and tossed out just like abusers
5) staff does not have the training or experience to deal with the problem
6) victim is made to feel they have no where to turn
7) the more isolated they are, the easier they become prey
Yeshiva`s Case Ends Before It Begins: YU, Derech Etz Chaim near accord on contract dispute; Weinberg questions remain.
Gary Rosenblatt - Editor And Publisher
Rabbi Matis Weinberg: Allegations of sexual abuse remain.
An 11th_hour agreement was expected to be finalized this week between Derech Etz Chaim, a small Jerusalem yeshiva, and Yeshiva University, the major Modern Orthodox institution, canceling out competing lawsuits on the eve of a federal court hearing in Manhattan, according to sources close to the case.
What remains an open question, though, is what, if anything, will come of the allegations of sexual abuse against Rabbi Matis Weinberg, a leading Torah scholar and author, which were at the crux of the case.
One source close to the case said that charges of criminal behavior against Rabbi Weinberg have been filed with Interpol, the international police, which is investigating the matter, according to the source.
Derech Etz Chaim is said to be dropping its breach-of-contract charge against YU, which had been prompted by YU cutting its ties last year with the 6-year-old yeshiva located in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem. The YU decision was based on reports that Rabbi Weinberg, who is seen as the spiritual mentor of Derech Etz Chaim, had a history of abuse, a charge he strongly denies.
Derech Etz Chaim had been one of a number of Israeli yeshivot attended by American post-high school students who then went on to attend YU.
Derech Etz Chaim had been seeking reinstatement in the YU program, claiming that its removal was a severe financial blow. It had sued for at least $75,000, arguing that the allegations against Rabbi Weinberg were false, and that Rabbi Aaron Katz, the dean of Derech Etz Chaim, was defamed.
YU, in turn, is expected to drop its counter suit that claimed Derech Etz Chaim "utterly refused to protect" its students from Rabbi Weinberg.
Charges about Rabbi Weinberg's behavior, dating back more than 20 years and including an alleged incident from 2003, first came to light last year, and were taken up by a bet din (religious court) in Brooklyn. The bet din's findings, including testimony from at least six of the rabbi's former students, were then passed on to a haredi bet din in Jerusalem, which decided not to pursue the case.
Several former students of the rabbi claiming abuse, here and in Israel, were set to appear as witnesses in the federal trial here.
Now that the trial will not take place, questions have been raised about whether former students will press criminal charges in Israel or whether the original bet din in Brooklyn will take up the matter again.
Observers note that the case points up one of the weaknesses in the Orthodox community in that it has no mechanism in place to investigate or pursue such allegations, either to punish or clear an individual. The Rabbinical Council of America, the rabbinic arm of the Orthodox Union, is planning to put in place next month a new committee to deal with rabbinic abuse.
Rabbi Mark Dratch, who is chairing the committee, said he hopes that "investigating and making a determination of veracity in a case should give sufficient strength to the community to take proper action." He added that he had no direct knowledge of the Weinberg case and that the RCA group will only deal with its membership. Rabbi Weinberg is not a member of the RCA.
Daily Learning with Rav Matisse
LivingTree.org - April 28, 2005
Daily Learning with Rav Matisse
"I was listening to daf yomi at www.thelivingtree.org when I realized that the voice was familiar. So was the picture of Rav Matisse, the Rabbi with no last name. Why was it so familiar?"
Google Search: "Matisse Weinberg"
01-mp3search.exe N°1 among the Mp3 searchers Artists RAU - RAY
... Rav Matisse Weinberg, Raving Dave, Ray Cruz, Ray, Rimpy, Chris, Nick & Matt (.Rav Meir Goldwicht, Raving Poets - Ian Walker, Ray Cummins, Ray Rosas, ...www.01-mp3search.com/top56-R-008.html - 92k - <nCached - Similar pages
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