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Lawsuit Accuses Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi of Sexual Assault

Sep 3, 2014

An ultra-orthodox rabbi who runs seminaries for girls in Israel has committed sexual assault, a federal lawsuit alleges. According to the Chicago Tribune, the allegations against Rabbi Elimelech Meisels have been brought up in the past before rabbinical courts (called beis din) in Chicago and Israel; the courts came to different conclusions.

Due to the allegations of sexual assault, the parents of girls have filed a lawsuit demanding their tuition money back. For a decade, the rabbi recruited young women to his seminaries in Israel "under the guise of educational and spiritual development" the suit said. Meisels is allegedly guilty of "developing mentor-mentee relationships with girls," and subsequently sexually assaulting them on late-night coffee meetings.

After hearing the allegations against Rabbi Meisels, a Chicago beis din determined that "students in these seminaries are at risk of harm and does not recommend that prospective students attend these seminaries at this time," the lawsuit said. The ruling was based on documents and testimony, including a testimony from Meisels.

According to the lawsuit, parents attempting to get refunds have not been able to successfully contact administrators at the seminaries. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status, Chicago Tribune reports.

A parent not involved in the lawsuit described his experience to the Chicago Tribune. When his daughter was recruited to spend a year at one of Meisel’s four seminiaries in Israel after high school, his wife volunteered to work extra hours to cover the $20,000 tuition. Although the cost of the seminary would deplete the family’s savings, he and his wife considered the seminary to be worth the money. This type of experience is somewhat of a right-of-passage after high school that creates a distinction between childhood and adulthood, finding a husband and establishing a young woman’s own observant household. The lawsuit points out that the seminary in Israel "profoundly shapes and influences their marriage prospects."

When the man found out about the beis din ruling in Chicago, it was decided that their daughter would not be going. Their daughter was deeply upset by the news, her father said.

According to the lawsuit, Meisels "threatened his victims that if they shared their story he would draw upon his vast contacts within the Shiduch system to ruin their reputations and ensure that no viable candidate would want to take their hand in marriage."

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