NEW YORK (JTA) — Rabbi Elimelech Meisels, who runs four religious seminaries in Israel for young Orthodox women, is being sued for sexual assault and fraud.
The civil suit was filed Monday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of four parents with daughters signed up for Meisels’ haredi Orthodox seminaries for the 2014-2015 school year. The parents are seeking to recover their tuition deposits.
The suit alleges that Meisels would lure girls under his charge “into late night coffee meetings and other private settings and then sexually assault them.” It says he threatened to ruin girls’ marriage prospects if they told and would “intimidate his victims by telling them that no one would believe that a rabbi and author with his reputation would have done such a thing.”
Meisels denies the allegations.
“The allegations are completely false,” Meisels told JTA in an email. “My attorney has advised me to pursue legal action against all those who are wronging myself and the seminaries.”
The seminaries named in the suit are Peninim, Binas Bais Yaakov, Chedvas Bais Yaakov and Keser Chaya.
The complaint said that seminary attendance has had negative impacts on the marriage prospects of the Orthodox women who have gone there. The parents involved in the lawsuit allege that Meisels is committing fraud by misrepresenting the seminaries as institutions that help Orthodox girls become upstanding Jewish women. Aside from Meisels, other administrators at the seminaries are named in the suit.
The matter was initially brought to the attention of the Chicago Beit Din, a Jewish religious court, which concluded that “students in these seminaries are at risk of harm and it does not recommend that prospective students attend these seminaries at this time,” according to the lawsuit. Following the Beit Din determination, two institutions that offered college credits to students attending Meisels’ seminaries suspended their affiliation with them.
Though Meisels claimed to have sold his seminaries following the Beit Din ruling, the Beit Din did not accept the sales as legitimate, according to the complaint.
Though the schools are based in Israel, Meisels and the other defendants named in the suit are U.S. citizens, and the non-profit organization that processes funds for the seminaries — Peninim of America — is a nonprofit charity in the United States, according to the complaint.