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Yeshiva‘s Case Ends Before It Begins

Yeshiva‘s Case Ends Before It Begins

Gary Rosenblatt is The NY Jewish Week's editor at large.

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.

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