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Originally from New York, Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel (in the mid eighties) ran a yeshiva for troubled kids -- Neve Yohoshua (which became Neve Zion) in Israel.

He was pushed out in 1987 after (sexually and otherwise) abusing (many, perhaps most) of his male students. I've heard of at least one suicide following this and other yeshiva bochers giving up on Judaism. Many kids disappeared from the radar screen of the Orthodox world.

At that time, rabbis in such a position were pushed out quietly.

For years, other rabbis had warned kids about Sobel: "Stay away from that guy." That was a classic response then. Rabbi Sobel had a sexual scandal in the United States that was hushed up. Then the scandals in Israel were so bad and hurt so many kids that he was fired.

Before Sobel was fired, rabbis noticed that his kids weren't graduating from his yeshiva and moving on with their lives. It was a yeshiva that specialized in troubled kids. They were supposed to move on.

There were rabbis who treated kids damaged by Rabbi Sobel who never turned the rabbi in to the authorities.

Sobel did not go willingly. "He did not turn himself in," says an Orthodox rabbi. "He fought it." He only left his position of religious leadership when he was forced out.

Rabbi Kokis in Monsey pushed for Rabbi Sobel's firing along with Rabbi Yehoshua Less (from Yeshiva Ner Yaakov, both rabbis taught at Neve Yehoshua and left over Sobel's bad behavior). Many boys came to Rabbi Kokis complaining about what had been done to them. In the past with regard to Sobel, when boys complained, the boys were dismissed as troubled kids.

Rabbi Kokis had taught many of these kids. He had more faith in them. Rabbi Kokis took the matter to Philadelphia's Rabbi Eliyas Szvi, a major player in the yeshiva world who's been ill for several years. Rabbi Szvi also fielded the complaints about Rabbi Matis Weinberg at Kerem Yeshiva in Santa Clara in the 1980s.

Many people found Sobel charismatic. He combined being hip with being frum. "He reached kids nobody else could reach," says an Orthodox source. "He specialized in troubled kids. He had all the signs [of a sexual predator]. Some kids did turn their lives around."

Soon after he was fired, Sobel claimed he had done teshuva (repentence) and spent thousands of dollars getting psychiatric help.

It seems like most rabbi-predators claim the same thing.

"The people I trust in Israel," says an Orthodox rabbi who's been a leader in combatting rabbi-predators, "none of them trust him at all. Rabbi [Yitzchak Dovid] Grossman [aka the Disco Rabbi] would not be the first person to be taken in by someone who's said he's done teshuva. Sobel is good at this stuff. They're all good at this stuff. If they weren't good at it, they'd be long gone."

Sobel is charismatic and strong-willed. He's convinced people over the years that he's a big Torah scholar and beyond reproach.

One Orthodox rabbi I trust says Sobel is a big Torah scholar, the equal of anyone in Los Angeles, and as far as we can tell, his behavior over the past 18 years has been above reproach.

After losing his rosh yeshiva position in 1987, Sobel got a number of jobs in Jewish publishing, including with Feldheim Publishers. He's tried to get out of the book business but I do not know of him teaching kids in the past 19 years. He has tried to get back into the teaching Torah business.

You can sign up for parsha lessons from R. Ben Zion Sobel. Various people tried to stop this.

A reliable source writes me May 22, 2006:

But how come you have nothing on the worst offender of all time, Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel, who convinced Itri Yeshiva to open a yeshiva for wayward American students for him in Neve Yehoshua, which he famously used to serially sodomize perhaps 30 or more victims? Then it turned out he had done it before in Baltimore as well, but since he was a "rosh yeshiva" they couldn't just leave him without a job, so they gave him a cushy position at Feldheim Publications, apparently, while many of his victims, who were not gay (shows you the power of seduction) had to be institutionalized when the story broke. The yeshiva did renounce him and reopen as Neve Zion in Jerusalem.

The guy they found him cuddling with was his driver.

[Before Rabbi Baruch Lanner got busted] NCSY [had] the operative standard "make the girls fall in love with you so that they'll become religious."

I got an email about Sobel in early 2006:

There is a piece about Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel which has very little truth to it. I happen to know the man personally. He has absolutely no links to Mattis Weinberg, whatsoever, and never did. He does not even come from Baltimore. No one committed suicide because of him. He never claimed to be beyond reproach, although he is a big Torah scholar who has given sacrificially to help hundreds - perhaps thousands - of students around the world.

It is to his credit that he left quietly and quickly in 1985 because of his unfortunate problem. He immediately went into intense therapy and spent thousands of dollars for treatments.

After about half a year, his doctor signed a document for the Bidatz, saying that he was cured. He then underwent a very intense teshuvah process, asigned to him by the greatest Rabbis and Mekubalim of the generation (I think he's still involved in teshuvah things like fasting and the like).

It has been 20 years since then and I know that he is being watched very carefully. If he had done anything wrong since then, we would surely know about it. Although he has been given written permission from the Bidatz and other great Rabbis to return to teaching, he has not yet done so. He wants to be 1000% sure that he is not a hazard for anyone.

I don't think it is fair to him or his family to publicize now, 20 years after the scandal, what happened then - especially using wrong information. He poses no threat to anyone and he and they have suffered enough for his mistakes.

The Torah commands us to accept the ba'al teshuvah (see Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah 4,1) and without teshuvah we all are lost. I believe that that when a Jew has a problem, it is very easy to just kill him and rid the world of the problem. But the Torah wants us to help that person overcome his problem and continue to live and benefit the world with his good qualities.

Sometimes publicity is beneficial, but in this case, at this point, I think it is wrong. Whenever people search for his name on Google (he writes very inspiring Torah on the Net and many people are benefiting from him in this, safe way), some degrading lines from Protocols pop up and stare them in the face.

I call another source who believes that Rabbi Sobel has done teshuva (repentence). "What do you do with a guy who's smart, talented and believes he should not be near kids? Feldheim is a private publisher. They stuck him in a room and made him an editor. Does Rabbi Sobel have a right to support his family? Would it be better for him to be a cab driver picking people up at random?

"Years ago, Aish HaTorah hired him to do research. He wasn't teaching kids."

Israel's 'Disco Rabbi' brings meals, hope to children

Charity work helps some 6,000 immigrants and orphans find a life outside crime, drugs, and alcohol.

Amelia Thomas writes for the Christian Science Monitor Nov 23, 2005:

...It's not all smooth sailing for Migdal Ohr. Recent budget cuts have led to a cut in government financing of the charity to the tune of $4 million per year.

"We receive financing from a number of government departments," explains Rabbi Ben-Zion Sobel, executive director of Rabbi Grossman's Jerusalem office, "from the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Welfare, and others. So we were on everyone's list when the budget cuts came through. We were afraid to answer the phone, and every letter began 'We regret to inform you.'"

The result is that Migdal Ohr, whose annual operating costs are roughly $25 million, is relying more heavily than ever on its supporters around the world.

"But because of the crisis in the Israeli economy, more and more families are sinking below the poverty line, and are turning to Migdal Ohr for help. And 'no' isn't a word in Rabbi Grossman's vocabulary," says Rabbi Sobel. "He told me 'If I don't take these kids, they'll end up on the streets.' So on one hand, our financing's been cut, and on the other, we've just taken in 700 more needy kids."

Grossman is, as ever, undaunted. "As soon as I finish one project, God gives me another one," he laughs. "The problems never stop, so the answers never stop.... But this is my raison d'ętre - to keep children from the streets."

Rabbi Grossman and Rabbi Sobel used bad judgment in having Rabbi Sobel speak to the press. If Rabbi Sobel is living an honorable life, that's great, but he should not be speaking to the media (unless he's OK with getting heat for his previous bad behavior), and he particularly should not be speaking publicly on behalf of an organization for children. He just makes himself, his superiors, and his organization look bad.

Rabbi Grossman saw Rabbi Sobel davening at a shul with incredible fervor, tears streaming down his face. Rabbi G. walked over and introduced himself at the conclusion of the prayers and asked Rabbi S., "Why are you praying like this?" Rabbi Sobel then told him the whole story and that he's trying to do teshuva.

Rabbi G. took him to various places for rehabilitation and gave him a job away from kids.

A reliable source says: "Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel is not the all-time worst rabbi-predator. It's Rabbi Moner Owitz.

"He called himself a rabbi and a psychologist. He'd speak at highschools. He was a cool hip outgoing rabbi before kiruv (outreach) became a household name. This guy was going out there in the trenches and working with kids no one else was working with. Apparently he was working them to his own satisfaction.

"He told this yeshiva high school that Judaism said masturbation was absolutely fine, which is weird as almost no Orthodox rabbi will say that and the Torah has traditionally been interpreted as condemning masturbation.

"When Rabbi Owitz worked a room, he knew right away which kids he should go after -- the kids who were lonely, he befriended them.

"Rabbi Owitz worked with the orphanage Ohel in Brooklyn. He was counseling for them. Eventually there were charges brought against him and about 20 years he ran away from America to Israel. When he got to Israel, signs went up all over the place warning people against him. There were counter-protests that the charges were not true. That you should not spread gossip. And Rabbi Owitz settled down to a nice life in Israel. He can't go back to America without facing arrest.

"When Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel left Neve Yehoshua, the case was brought to Rabbi Shach. The official announcement was that Rabbi Sobel embezzled money, because that was a respectable Jewish sin.

"Rabbi Sobel at Neve Yehoshua had an office door that locked. If a kid walked in, the door automatically locked behind him. Rabbi Sobel would tell the kid to lie down on his couch and close his eyes. Rabbi Sobel would say to him, 'I know it is very hard to be a yeshiva bochur [student]. It's hard to grow. What difficulties are you having?'

"The kids would often say, 'Being away from girls is very hard.' Rabbi Sobel would say, 'I'll give you strength to deal with it,' and put his hands on the kid's crotch and help him.

"Rabbi Sobel would get them in a vulnerable state and do what he wanted."

Rabbi Sobel apparently still teaches classes (at least as of 2001):

Date: Sun Mar 11, 2001 10:40 pm
Subject: Parsha Shavuah Shiur with HaRav Ben Zion Sobel

Pnei Shmuel is pleased to announce the popular, topical Shiur by HaRav Ben Zion Sobel, Shlitah Tonight, Monday night at 8:15 pm. At Pnei Shmuel Nachal Refaim 21/1, Ramat Beit Shemesh. The Rav comes to Ramat Beit Shemesh especially from Ramot, Yerushalayim to enlighten us with deeper insights and understanding of the Parsha Shavuah, including aspects of Hashkofa and Mussar. For details, contact Yechiel Lewis at 9994938 Yechiel_Lewis@icomverse.com

'Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel spoke of how each individual child is loved as much as the next and that they are all a family, in the true sense of the word'

From John Hagee Ministries:

A $1,000,000 check was presented to Migdal Ohr, which is a home in Israel to over 4,000 Jewish children. Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel spoke of how each individual child is loved as much as the next and that they are all a family, in the true sense of the word.

Pastor John Hagee gives sodomizer Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel a fat check.

A reliable source writes me:

Here's a picture of the bastard getting money from the Christian Right. Now Migdal Ohr is a fine institution, but this is so painful to see.

I was disgusted by someone's defence [of Sobel]. How primitive is it to maintain that a serial sodomizer of minors under his care can "do teshuvah" and be cured enough to be trusted among young sephardic boys who wouldn't be believed if they complained. And the fact that he had a string of similar activity in Baltimore years earlier and did teshuva, as it were, is encouraging. I just wonder if that right wing Christian leader in the photo I sent you knew that he was shaking hands with a rapist and molester of boys?

Everyone in Neveh Yehoshua was a high school student, and if you think about the planning- the sicko sets up a yeshivah in a remote area outside of Netanya so that he can easily molest boys. As "rosh yeshiva," he was hanging around the swimming pool with the kids. I can't imagine a more horrible story, all those shattered kids, and somehow just by chance he's up north in the remote Migdal Haemek in a little boys school, and I'm supposed to believe that he's cured of gay pedophilia? That's pretty progressive.

Migdal Ohr is a home/school for wayward and underpriviledged boys, and far from Jerusalem and Feldheim. I don't know what he does, but even if he has an office job there, he has ready access, and remember, the way these guys operate is that they use their "holy rabbi" status as a force and a legitimizer (such was Gafni's approach, and I know for a fact that it was how Sobel used to work, since his victims were not gay, but he would transfix them with some religious argument that it was what God wants, etc (remember, his victims were... classmates of Gafni).

The way the story broke [about Sobel] was fabulous and well known. He used to come to the US every year to recruit students, he would always try to be "with it." I remember once he went around quoting some Billy Joel song. Anyway, he had his driver with him, who was also a student at the yeshiva who was supposed to also represent the yeshiva. When in California, a local rabbi gave him use of his house while the rabbi was away for some family business. Apparently the trip was cut short and when he returned he found Sobel and his student in a, well, compromising position. Quickly the story got around, the yeshiva took out ads that Sobel was no longer there, and relocated to Jerusalem, now Neve Zion.

Rabbi Grossman is a good man. Still, one doesn't have to be a Freudian to figure out his enthusiasm for the job, and it doesn't excuse the way he's been covered for, having done far more bad stuff than Lanner or Gafni combined. We used to joke that it was because of the Haredi world's disdain for women, so that if someone spent time with women he should be punished, but with other yeshiva boys, well that's more understandable...

[Sobel] did manage to work his way through that group [sent by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin]. One of them was running around trying to tell people, but the kid was not that frum and no one believed him (he has long hair and the other guy is a Rosh Yeshiva, the people would say). His defender on your site should be embarrassed. Particularly since it was this kind of "honor to Rabbis" that covered for him in Baltimore and allowed him to prey again. I don't know what he's like today, but you know about the rate of "cure" in these guys. As good as Gafni's is likely to be.

I feel like finally justice may be served. I've been carrying this sore for a long time. Sobel deserves a page like some of the others, being worse than all of them. The sheer number of victims and the calculated depravity is mind boggling. Setting up a yeshiva specifically set up for his sick needs? Not even Gafni went that far (although he certainly worked his way through Bayit Chadash, and even there at least they weren't confused 17 year olds away from home in a foreign country for the first time).

Never underestimate the power of teshuva! You can't really know if you've done repentence until you place yourself in the same position where you once sinned.

"The true lesson is really the reverse: The power of appearing to do teshuva is that it gives one a vicious opportunity to get back to that place again."

Sexual Predator Rabbi Ben-Zion Sobel Saves The Children From Hezbollah

From The Jerusalem Post July 31, 2006:

Camp offers northerners respite from shelters

Children and their mothers from communities in the North have gone to summer camp to escape from the constant danger in their towns.

Rabbi Yitzhak Dovid Grossman, known as the Disco Rabbi, started the 10-day camp, initially for children to help lessen their trauma and get them out of the bomb shelters.

"He talked to psychiatrists and psychologists," said Rabbi Ben-Zion Sobel, assistant to Grossman. "They said, 'First, the danger is very real, very serious and something should be done and second, it's [camp] a great idea."

...Those wishing to donate or help can call the camp's Jerusalem office at 02-537-4337 and ask for Rabbi Ben-Zion or Rabbi Fogel.

9/6/06

'The Truth about Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel'

Adam Harison emails:

At the risk of being naďve, I’ll assume for a moment that the bloggers who are revealing information about alleged sex offenders mean leshem Shamayim, to protect the community, and want to know the true facts. This assumption may be challenged by the fact that even when someone who really knows sends in corrections, the blogger does not erase the rumor that was previously posted, no matter how damaging or ridiculous it might be, but leaves it there and just adds the correction. This is in spite of the fact that the blogger wants to be believed and considered credible.

A typical case at hand is this. Although someone, who knows Rabbi Sobel personally, wrote that he never learned in Baltimore nor did he ever have any ties with Mattis Weinberg, the headline of the blog remains “Here is another shady character from Baltimore…he had ties ….”

Bearing this in mind, I hesitate to take so much time to “set the record straight” regarding Rabbi Sobel, if all my efforts are going to be futile because the bloggers’ attitude is, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve already made up my mind!”

However, since we are dealing with the most serious offenses in the Torah, embarrassing a Jew publicly - which under certain conditions applies also to a sinner too – I feel that I am obligated to try my best and hope and pray that my words are not falling on deaf ears, or, in this case, eyes.

However, I am sending you this information on condition that you print all of it (it took me a long time to write it – your readers can take the time to read it) and that you delete all wrong and mistaken information others wrote based on things they heard, think they heard, and/or fabricated.

First of all, in dealing with blogs, one should always remember the Gemara (Bava Metzia 59a; Sanhedrin 107a) which tells us that after King Dovid’s incident with Bas Sheva, there were those who were probably concerned about the Halachic implications of his act and the Chilul Hashem, and if it was legitimized by him etc. and therefore they would ask King Dovid publicly: “One who has relations with a married woman, how should he be killed?” To which King Dovid replied, “He should be killed by choking but he has a part in the World-to-Come; however, one who embarrasses someone in public, has no part in the World-to-Come!”

Another important halachah. When someone sees a rodef – someone who is pursuing someone else in an attempt to kill (or otherwise harm) him, he is obligated to save the victim at all costs; even if he must kill the rodef in order to do so. However, if he could have saved the victim by merely wounding the rodef, yet he chose to kill him, he is considered a murderer and is responsible for the blood of the rodef which he spilt unnecessarily.

Therefore, even if we assume that the blogs are permissible in order to protect victims from harm, and, of course, that is our primary concern, nevertheless, at the same time we are obligated by the Torah to take into consideration the perpetrator too. If we can protect the innocent victim by merely “wounding” the perpetrator we must do so. If we do more than we have to, then we have sinned and may be worse than the person we are attacking.

CERTAINLY WHEN THE PERSON WE ARE ATTACKING POSES NO THREAT TO ANYONE, THERE IS NO HETER (PERMISSION) IN THE WORLD TO DISGRACE HIM PUBLICLY OR EVEN PRIVATELY, FOR THAT MATTER. There is a specific Torah prohibition to say (even privately) to a ba’al teshuvah (a penitent), “Remember your previous acts.”

I am, once again, risking being naďve by assuming that I am addressing Orthodox, observant, Jewish people to whom the mitzvahs of the Torah have meaning and value, and, with the best of intentions, do not want to violate any prohibitions, certainly not Torah ones. If the blogs are just being run and participated in by a bunch of slanderers and gossipers who couldn’t care less about what is permissible and what is prohibited then I really am wasting my time.

Finally, whenever the Chofetz Chaim teaches a rare situation when it is permissible to spread lashon hara, he always lists the conditions. One major condition is always that the one who is speaking has no personal gain and no ulterior motive. He is not the person’s enemy who regales at the opportunity to take “kosher” revenge at the person being attacked. Furthermore, he may never exaggerate or add any more detail to the story than is absolutely true.

One last word. Whereas the Torah commands us not to believe nor relate harmful information unless it has been proven true by at least two kosher witnesses in Beis Din, some bloggers are not ashamed to admit that they will add any rumor ever whispered to their site. That is really a strange way to conduct business when the business involves people’s lives and the lives of their families.

After this rather lengthy introduction, let us deal with the case at hand: Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel.

First of all, I am probably one of the most reliable authorities on him. I have known him for many, many years and I know his attributes as well as his faults. I have thoroughly researched the unfortunate incidents of his very colorful life and I know what is true and what is not. If anyone has unanswered questions about him after reading what I write, you may ask me by e-mail. My address is: Hamashgiach@yahoo.com and I will be glad to respond privately; not in a public forum.

To set the record straight, let us begin at the end. Rabbi Sobel currently resides and works in an office in Jerusalem. It is the office of Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman shlita, Chief Rabbi of Migdal Ha’Emek, Founder and Dean of Migdal Ohr, which campus is situated in Migdal Ha’Emek, almost a hundred miles away from Jerusalem. Rabbi Sobel’s job is strictly administrative; PR and fund raising. He is not involved in the chinuch of Migdal Ohr IN ANY MANNER, neither directly or indirectly. He has absolutely no contact with the students or campers or even the staff, for that matter. He has nothing to do with the schools. He works with his computer and his telephone to solicit donors. That’s it! He has been working in this position for over 15 years and nothing has changed.

The very documents which apparently made some people nervous and which appear on blogs bear witness to what I just wrote. The articles in the various newspapers clearly identify him as Rabbi Grossman’s assistant who runs his office in Jerusalem. He discusses the camps, solely in an attempt to raise funds for them. In the picture with Pastor Hagee, we see him receiving a check on Migdal Ohr’s behalf. That is his job - and he seems to doing a very good job, baruch Hashem – finito!

Much ado about nothing.

He is not involved in chinuch and has not been since he left Neveh Zion in 1985. As some other, apparently knowledgeable, person wrote, he did not return to chinuch even when given permission to do so (as we will soon discuss). Therefore, he is absolutely no threat to anyone, and parents in Israel do not have to be warned about him.

Rabbi Grossman always says: “When someone has a very bad disease, the doctor can take the easy way out and just kill him on the operating table. Does that mean that he cured him of his illness? Of course not. On the other hand, the learned professor will try to cut away the bad part and save the good so that the sick man can recover and continue to live and function properly without the negative component.

Rabbi Grossman is a very big tzaddik but he is also no fool. His life’s mission is rehabilitating people who fell; but he will never do that by putting someone else at risk. He checked very carefully into Rabbi Sobel’s situation before he took him to work for him 6 years after he had left Neveh Zion. He checked with the doctor who had treated him and was convinced that he is “clean” (more about this later). And after all that, he gave him an office job in Jerusalem, far away from the campus, with nothing to do with chinuch.

Someone claimed that Rabbi Sobel never “fessed up” like someone else did. This, like most of the things written about him, is not true. He always acknowledged and dealt with his unfortunate problem and fully cooperated with the authorities when he was approached by them (more details soon). He did not make a public apology over the internet since that is not called for. He apologized to those victims he was able to approach and accepted full responsibility. Whenever attacked by zealots, his response was always filled with deep humility and remorse (there are many documents to prove this). Recently, his typical reaction when he was told that he is being scandalized on blogs was: “I deserve any and all abuse I may get. I desecrated Hashem’s Holy Name internationally, and, in return, my name is similarly being disgraced. Halevai that it be enough penance for my grave sins. I only feel bad that my wonderful, innocent family must suffer disgrace due to my big mistakes!”

DOES THIS SOUND LIKE THE MONSTER BEING DESCRIBED BY SOME IRRESPONSIBLE PEOPLE ON THE BLOGS?

Let’s discuss now the size of Rabbi Sobel’s sin, before we get to the sin itself. People on the blogs are debating whether or not he is the greatest predator or not. People have claimed that he hurt hundreds of students etc. That he is a pedophile.

Let’s get the record straight. The amount of boys Rabbi Sobel “got involved” with is less than 10 – I know them personally. I AM IN NO WAY UNDERESTIMATING THE SEVERITY OF HURTING EVEN ONE STUDENT – but we must keep things in proper proportion. There is a big difference between a murderer and a serial killer.

None of the boys were minors (he is not a pedophile as someone suggested nor a “serial sodomizer of minors”). Nor were they “troubled kids” as some have written. Neveh Yehoshua and Neveh Zion were not created for “troubled kids” who may not be responsible for their actions. On the contrary, whenever Rabbi Sobel met with the parents of potential students, he told them that if their son has a problem and needs professional help, then Neveh is not the place for him. It was geared to boys who lacked motivation in learning and commitment to Judaism. Today there are many yeshivas for high school boys who were not successful in their yeshivas and were even, perhaps, turned off to learning and often to being religious. Rabbi Sobel is the father of all of these yeshivas. Until he came along, these guys were considered “lost cases” as far as Yiddishkeit was concerned. He designed a learning program and a method of chinuch which successfully turned hundreds of these rebels into religious, G-d fearing people. Many of them even became educators themselves and are to be found all around the world teaching their students.

All of the students he got involved with were capable of making their own decisions. It is true, of course, that he misused the trust they had in him as their Rebby whom they highly respected, and that is very unfortunate. But none of them learned from him to do the same to others (so much for fear about the Torah Ohr “link”). (There is a very good reason for this which I don’t want to get in to since it is too complicated for this post.)

Someone argued that every predator who gets caught says that he’s going into therapy. That may or may not be true but in the case of Rabbi Sobel, he didn’t just say it – he did it – and there are doctor’s records to prove it. He spent thousands of dollars on therapy for half a year and not until three years later – after testing him unknowingly several times – the doctor signed a letter for the Bidatz proclaiming him cured and able to return to chinuch, which, as I’ve already written, he chose not to do, even when the Bidatz, and other prominent Rabbis subsequently signed documents giving him permission to. (By the way, Harav Shach never claimed that he may never teach again. The opposite is true.)

Now, let’s go back to the beginning and refute the vast majority of what people have written about him. Many of the descriptions seem to be written by people with perverted minds who apparently have read many exciting pornographic novels and are trying to write one of their own, using Rabbi Sobel as the main character of their insidious plot. However, most of their “facts” are total fabrications and those few who know the truth defended him. It is not the defenders who should be embarrassed but those who believe every rumor they hear or think they heard.

First of all, get it straight – Rabbi Sobel has absolutely nothing to do with Baltimore except that many of his best students went on to learn there. That reference should immediately be removed from the blogs because it is meant to add shame to the yeshiva and to him and it is totally not true.

He learned in RJJ (and has absolutely no connection to Ner Yisroel Baltimore or to Mattis Weinberg whom he hardly ever met) and was one of the best students in his era. Even as a bachur he was teaching other bachurim and many of them are the finest educators today, thanks to him.

After he was married, he lived in Monsey. He never owned a house and never sold it – as some misinformed person wrote on a blog. There were no major sex scandals about him in the States except for one boy whose family admitted that he is not well adjusted and falsely accused many others before.

In 1977, he moved to Israel. He didn’t run away from the USA. He was offered a prestigious job as a mashgiach of the Americans in Itri – Chadera. He didn’t convince anyone to make a school for him for troubled students in a remote place so that he could molest them. When the hanhala of ITRI noticed how successful he was with American students, they approached him and asked him to establish a school strictly for Americans on a campus they had purchased in Bet Yehoshua, Netanya. This was subsequently called Neveh Yehoshua. After four years, due to Itri’s financial problems, Rabbi Sobel became independent and moved the yeshiva to Telz-Stone and renamed it Neveh Zion.

Rabbi Sobel was always extremely highly respected by Gedolim, Roshei Yeshiva, parents and students alike for his sacrificial dedication to his students and his success with them. Klal Yisroel owes him a lot. His students are scattered around the globe and many of them – whether educators or askanim – are having a very positive effect on the Jewish People. Many called him “The greatest Rosh Yeshiva of the generation.”

Now comes the bad – sad – part. Many wondered how Rabbi Sobel was able to succeed with students with whom so many before him had failed. One of the answers is: with genuine love. He loved each student as if he were his own son and he cared for him as if he were his father. Unfortunately, since Rabbi Sobel had a serious problem (which he was apparently born with) this genuine love sometimes crossed boundaries that are taboo and led him to inappropriate behavior with several students over the years (not hundreds as I’ve already explained – and never with minors – and no one committed suicide because of him nor was anyone institutionalized because of him).

The “fabulous and well known story of how he got caught” (either in California or with his driver) is all total hogwash – as is his “method” of telling boys to lie down on the couch and tell him their problems. These were all apparently fabricated by people who find this kind of writing and reading titillating. That was not his “method.” And he was never “caught” at all. What happened was that one of his students told Rabbi Elya Svei what he had experienced with Rabbi Sobel (sorry if it’s not exciting enough for your warped imagination).

Now we come to another interesting point. Rabbi Sobel was always aware of his problem and recognized it. He tried therapy several times but, unfortunately, it did not help. On his own, he felt that perhaps he should leave chinuch. However, when he asked advice from prominent people they told him not to do so. It’s very possible that at that time (over two decades ago) they did not yet understand the severity of the problem and knew, on the other hand, how much good Rabbi Sobel was doing for the community. So they insisted that he stay.

He, however, decided that he must limit his direct contact with the students on an individual basis, and only deliver his famous, inspiring sichot to a public audience. Therefore he hired a mashgiach and eventually a menahel to do the work that he really was best cut out to do; in order to distance himself from the students. He let himself get more and more involved with fund raising and less and less in chinuch.

When he was finally told by Reb Elya Svei to leave chinuch, he immediately agreed and left quietly and with no battle a few weeks later. He then contacted a professional therapist he had met (by Hashgachah a few weeks earlier) and he proved to be the shaliach who could successfully heal him (as he had healed others before him) after many months of therapy. Rabbi Sobel was not given a clean bill of health overnight. Only three years later, the therapist was totally convinced that his patient was healed and could be trusted to return to chinuch and issued a formal letter to the Bidatz of the Edah Hachareidis who also did not rush to give Rabbi Sobel permission to return to chinuch. When they finally did, Rabbi Sobel decided on his own that he would not rush to return to formal chinuch.

Over twenty years have passed since then and Rabbi Sobel has been watched like hawks by his neighbors and acquaintances. If he had done anything wrong since then, it would be known. But, although he has had many opportunities (some of which were deliberately set up in order to test him), he passed every test. He has earned for himself the honorable status of a sincere ba’al teshuvah and he should be honored and admired, not disgraced. He should be used as an example of what a person who, unfortunately, fell should do. Psychologists say that only a small per cent of people with his problem are sincere and strong enough to straighten out and he is one of them. This is a proven fact – not like all of the other rumors collected by and from irresponsible people who have no idea of the truth. He is no danger to anyone and it is absolutely forbidden to cause his family any more anguish by publicizing what happened over two decades ago.

And, by the way, a note about teshuvah – which some bloggers seem to think is a light matter. Teshuvah is a very difficult process, if done properly. Indeed, when the Rabbeinu Yonah suggests that one who has sinned should do teshuvah as soon as possible, he writes (in Sha’arei Teshuvah, Chapter One, Os Daled) one of the reasons as being that if the yetzer hara tries to tempt him again, “He will remember how the cup of bitterness passed before him and he will not drink of it again.” We see by the fact that he calls it a “cup of bitterness” that teshuvah is no simple matter – certainly no cup of tea.

I am not aware of the particulars of Rabbi Sobel’s teshuvah, but I know that he consulted many Tzaddikim and Mekubalim about it. They prescribed many difficult things which include fasting and other means of suffering which he has been doing for the past twenty years and continues to do so.

Someone wrote how happy he is that justice may finally be served. My dear misguided friend; justice was done over twenty years ago. There isn’t a judge in the world who would not agree that Rabbi Sobel paid for his crime – big time. He was one of the most prominent Roshei Yeshiva in the world and lost it all to public, international disgrace. He fell from grace and lost the empire he had built with his own hands. Today he is a humble office worker (not a “holy rabbi” image), struggling to make a living and marry off his children (the big check was for Migdal Ohr, not for him). We should all just let him be. He has suffered enough.

Since he is a brilliant talmid chacham, many have sought ways that he may continue to teach with no danger involved. Some suggested he write his Torah and you, too, may benefit from his marvelous thoughts on the weekly parashah which are praised and recommended all over the internet. He is invited from time to time to speak for various groups and these are the ads that sometimes appear. But he is not involved in chinuch - and certainly not in Migdal Ohr.

A famous blogger wrote in a letter of June 16, 2004: “At the same time, if you or anyone else wants to provide us with documentations that prove that …(or any other of the alleged or convicted offenders on the site) took steps to not only take responsibility for wrongdoings, asked forgiveness of victims, had entered and completed treatment with a psychotherapist who has recognized experience with treating sexual offenders and who is willing to give a written letter that they are no longer posing a risk to others--we would not only be thrilled for the steps to healing taken by members of our community, but will seriously consider taking the case off the site, or moving it to a link for offenders who made “teshuvah” (not only between them and G-d but also between Adam-Lechavero) and can be models to others who erred.”

All of this applies fully to Rabbi Sobel!

In conclusion, it is Halachically and morally wrong to persecute someone who has paid for his crime and is now living an exemplary life with no danger to anyone. I implore all bloggers to place my FACTUAL report on their blogs, to set the record straight, and immediately remove all of the false rumors they have accumulated. After a while, my report too should be removed and Rabbi Sobel’s name should not be mentioned at all on any blogs. As I mentioned before, the Torah says that it is strictly forbidden to say to a baal teshuvah, “Remember your previous acts.”

Kesivah vechasimah tovah.

A source responds:

Hey, I was at Neveh Yehoshuah from the very opening Elul (fortunately, escaped early to a real yeshiva), and what this guy is saying isn’t true. The story with the driver was not only well known, but I know the individual personally. In fact, after the story broke in California, Neveh Yehoshua put out ads in all the Jewish papers stating that Sobel had been removed, it was the talk of Boro Park, etc, and they relocated to Jerusalem to become Neveh Zion. Furthermore, what “lacked motivation” meant was in fact, kids who had a troubled time in high school, I remember one of the kids in that first cohort had a drug problem, and was close to Rabbi Sobel, who used to hang out with him in the swimming pool. I saw it myself, daily. (I ended up at that nightmare place through a different process, as Rabbi Riskin initially wanted to use the program for his twelfth grade half year in Israel program, and managed to dissuade him from sending most of the group there; in fact, one of the people Sobel attempted to hit on was from that group; he then left to Diaspora Yeshiva, all messed up, trying to convince people of what Sobel was doing, and was only believed in retrospect). We had all heard that he taught for some time at Ner Yisrael, not that he was a student there, and had to leave under similar circumstances. As one can see, that information came from multiple sources (I only first mentioned this issue to you recently), and I heard it from the Itri people. I had been asked by Rabbi Elefant to make an appeal for the school, from his personal telephone in Jerusalem, to Rabbi Riskin to send the rest of the class there, so I was provided with the full background of the founding of the yeshiva, initiated by Rabbi Sobel, etc. It is also worth noting that the revelation about Sobel occurred several years after the founding of the yeshiva, so this business about him hiring others and how the story broke is false, and again, he traveled routinely until the last day of his time at the yeshiva, with his “driver”. Hard to call public announcements in all the Jewish media of the time “leaving quietly”, as stated by your correspondent. As for the boys not being minors, well, we were all seventeen. And I think the fact that so many different respondents confirm these stories should say something. The fact is, what Sobel does or doesn’t do is less the issue than how the community covered for him at the time, which was rather than press charges, etc, they quickly got him a job at Feldheim, since after all, “he was a rosh yeshiva”. There never was a public apology or even an admission that this happened there. As far as having light views of teshuva, I think real teshuva is a very serious manner, but the lighthearted expedient use of the concept politically by some elements is what was being critiqued.

9/29/06

The Truth about Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel (Part 2)

Adam Harishon writes:

I don’t usually read blogs, especially these. However, when someone brought to my attention that there was a lot of inaccurate accusations being hurled at Rabbi Sobel, I checked it out and decided to reply. Naively, I thought that if I take the time to present the facts as they really are, bloggers and their readers would be satisfied and would stop spreading misinformation and would even remove his name from the blogs completely. Therefore I decided to take the time and respond only once – although I gave my email address for anyone who might still have had some issues to deal with (and it was used by some honest people). I really did not intend to reply again since I don’t have the time, especially during this holiday season.

However, since a former student of Neveh (I’m pretty sure I know who he is) had the audacity to argue that what I am writing is not true and that he has the real facts, which he admits himself are based on rumors, I felt that I had to reply once more.

I am not saying that he is lying – I believe that he heard these things said – but that does not make them true, no matter how many times he may have heard them. I am not Rabbi Sobel but I did check all of my facts with him (I mentioned that his reaction was that he deserves the international embarrassment and did not want me to fight it at first until I convinced him that it could hurt his innocent family more than they have already been hurt. Everyone who knows his Rebbetzin knows that she is an absolute tzadeikus and that their children are very fine. They certainly don’t deserve to have their lives destroyed because of his mistakes).

I call myself Adam Harishon because I was with Rabbi Sobel from the very beginning of this very sad parsha. I have a file of all of the events with names, dates and sometimes even the times that they occurred (many of the meetings I witnessed myself). No one can argue with me based on rumors he heard. I don’t deny that there were many, many rumors. But they are not true.

Although this former student (for a short period of time) wants us to depend on his reliability, he doesn’t even know the name of the yeshiva. He repeats the often mistaken claim that Neveh Yehoshua was renamed Neveh Zion after Rabbi Sobel left, in an effort to hide its identity. Anyone who knows anything about the basic history of the yeshiva knows that it was named Neveh Yehoshua when it was founded by Itri in 1977 on Moshav Bet Yehoshua, and was renamed Neveh Zion 4 years later, in 1981, when it became independent of Itri and moved to Telz-Stone. In 1985, Rabbi Sobel left.

He further claims that he knows better what kind of boy the yeshiva was made for – troubled teenagers – and tells a story about a student who left to Diaspora and spoke against Rabbi Sobel but was not heeded.

Anyone who learned in Neveh and attended the very first orientation (as well as the initial interviews before being accepted) knows of the “I.E.s” = “Instant Expulsion.” One of them was drugs. As a matter of fact, the boy he is referring to was sent away because he used drugs and that’s why he went to Diaspora Yeshiva where it was tolerated. Of course he was angry at Rabbi Sobel for sending him away and spoke against him then. But he straightened out over the years and today runs a program to train avraichim for Kiruv in Chutz La’aretz – AND HE INVITED RABBI SOBEL TO SPEAK FOR THEM, SEVERAL TIMES! Does that tell you anything?

He also argues that Rabbi Sobel didn’t leave willingly. There were many newspaper outcries demanding that he leave.

I’m not sure on what planet he, or anyone, saw these newspapers. On another blog, Rabbi Blau himself mentioned that there was absolutely no media coverage – and that is the truth. Rabbi Sobel left so quickly and quietly (a few days after he spoke with Rav Shach on Shushan Purim) that most people had no idea why he had left. The rumor was that he had embezzled money from the yeshiva.

He continues to argue that Rabbi Sobel comes from Baltimore because “we all heard it.” Unfortunately, in spite of what you heard and how many times, Rabbi Sobel never studied there nor taught there. I’m sorry if the facts disagree with the rumors and you choose to believe the rumors.

He insists that Rabbi Sobel was indeed caught with his driver – whom he knows personally. Well, I know him personally too. First of all, he didn’t have “A driver.” No driver could last more than one day of his unbelievable hectic schedule – from early morning till late at night – and he had a different driver every day. Yes, it is true that some of the (few – less than 10) guys he got involved with drove him around occasionally, but they were never caught - period! One of his victims went to Rabbi Svei and exposed him. I know the guy and I know what he said. That’s it. Sorry, but no dramatics. (Why don’t you write me his name to my email Hamashgiach@yahoo.com and I’ll check the story with him. I would like to see if he’ll tell ME that he was ever caught with Rabbi Sobel.)

And as far as LA is concerned, hey, I am the one who made all of the arrangements for his stay in LA. I know every house he was at and everything that went on there. And he was not caught anywhere! (I understand how this rumor may have gotten started since right after he met with Rav Svei he went to LA, and then the story began to break in some places so they probably assumed that something must have happened in LA which caused it. But the driver story is total hogwash.)

I must admit to one thing though. This guy claims that the students of Neveh were confused. Well, he’s certainly convinced us that he was, and apparently still is, quite confused. And now I understand where most of the misinformation on these blogs has been coming from.

Finally, he admits that what really bothers him is “how the community covered for him at the time, which was rather than press charges, etc, they quickly got him a job at Feldheim, since after all, ‘he was a rosh yeshiva.’”

More misinformation. I was the guy who personally interceded for Rabbi Sobel with “the community,” and let me tell you, no one covered up for him and no one pitied him. There were no charges to be pressed since the boys were all legal adults. But they threw him out on his behind with absolutely no mercy. No one got him a job at Feldheim. He and his family had no food to eat for a long time including after he found himself the job at Feldheim (about a year later) which paid him a very meager salary for a job that, at the beginning, was in no way respectable. Little by little, Hashem had rachmanus on him (no one else did), since he did teshuvah, and he built himself up to be able to support his large family.

And there was no public apology or admission is because Rabbi Sobel contacted everyone he could and asked their forgiveness and offered them restitution. This does not have to be done publicly since it is a matter strictly between him and them and is of no one else’s concern. (By the way, you may find it interesting to note that Rabbi Sobel told me many times that he does not expect them to forgive him nor does he feel that he deserves it. Nevertheless, he feels that he owes it to them to humble himself before them and try to be mefayes them even if they will not accept his pius.)

But you know what; all of this is totally irrelevant. If you want to believe that his past was much worse than it actually was; go ahead and believe what you want. I won’t confuse you with the facts if you’ve already made up your mind.

If you want to believe that he was not healed; go ahead and continue to be choshed him. Never come too close to him if you think it’s dangerous.

But you cannot argue with the fact that today he is not a threat to any student anywhere and no one has to be warned. He has not even attempted to get back into chinuch since he left Neveh over 20 years ago and I challenge everyone to find one person who will say, “Yeah, he called me and asked if he could teach in my yeshiva,” or anything like that. No one is discussing whether or not he should be trusted again with children. That is not the issue at all. He is supporting his family by helping Klal Yisroel in a way that is healthy and safe and we should use him as an example of what we expect other people in his situation to do.

Someone asked why Rabbi Sobel works in the office of a yeshiva where he is subject to maris ayin? I guess he didn’t read what I wrote last time. He is not in a building where the office is downstairs and the students are upstairs. He works in Jerusalem where only the administrative offices are – 2 hours away from the campus where the children are. He has zero to do with them and there isn’t any maris ayin for anyone who has proper vision! Every news article put up on the blogs declared that he is a FUND RAISER who works in the offices in Jerusalem. He has nothing to do with the students or the campers or even the staff of the school.

As for why he chose this profession, I will tell you something interesting. Anyone who heard his very marvelous sichot (which guys came from all around Israel to hear) must have heard him say many times that a person should dedicate his life to Torah. The best way, he said, is by learning and teaching. But if one cannot or does not want to do that, there are plenty of other ways of proliferating Torah; by supporting it or being an askan or the like. Then he would say, “If I could not teach Torah, I would raise funds for a yeshiva that does!”

At the time, we thought he was just making a point. Years later, in retrospect, we realized that he had apparently been planning to leave chinuch because of his problem and was preparing for his next undertaking in life to which he would dedicate himself fully for the sake of Torah.

There is absolutely no heter in the world to embarrass his family in public and make them problems concerning shidduchim and the like. It is not our job to punish anyone or take revenge for sins of the past. That is solely Hashem’s department. If someone is a danger to society we must protect them from him (according to the ways the Torah allows) but that is not the case here.

I appeal to all bloggers to recognize the truth of my words and ignore rumors which were spread by slanderers. I think that it would be a big zechus for Yom Kippur if the story of Rabbi Sobel’s unfortunate past were removed from all blogs since it is not relevant to anyone today.

An Orthodox Jew emails:

To my horror, I just caught that long letter defending “rabbi” Sobel. I’m not going to argue the points one by one, because his argument is riddled with errors; the boy who had been smoking dope all the time and hanging out with Sobel in the swimming pool is not the one I was describing who went to Diaspora Yeshiva later (that second 17 year old was part of our high school class that came in January), and I’m amused by his tone in that your respondent thinks he knows who I am (not likely, there is only one person from that cohort who could possibly remember me, and that person would not likely doubt my credentials). I’m happy to openly state who I am. Luke can probably verify that I’m not under any sort of suspicion either professionally or Torah-wise; au contraire (after three weeks I recognized something was wrong there, warned Rabbi Riskin, and moved to well known yeshivot, then studied with Rabbi Soloveitchik, was a fan of Rabbi Blau, went on to leadership roles professionally, etc). Anyway, its not about me. The attempt by this guy to defend Sobel falls flat in his own words. He admits that Sobel only molested “about ten boys”. How many boys does a rabbi have to sodomize before he’s called a predator?

Let’s see now. Lanner is doing time for two girls, Gafni for one or two (maximum if all accusations are believed, about five). A rabbi was caught in a sting operation and is going to do time for soliciting sex with minors. Congressman Foley lost his position for innappropriate emails. So we’re supposed to think that a creep who sets up a yeshiva far away from the organized community, in a resort area far from Netanya, and admits to predatory relationships with at least ten boys, is supposed to be thought of as some kind of saint, and his accusors should feel like they are defaming a tzaddik?

Now I don’t know about this guy, but if I sent my troubled son to a yeshiva to be set straight, and I found out that the “Rosh yeshiva” (pun intended) was sucking my son’s (or daughter’s) genitalia, I don’t think my first response would be to contact an accountant to see if enough other children were also sexually abused, before I’d reach for a shotgun (or at least complain to a blogster). What more horrible type of predatory behaviour can there be? Did Sobel have to go Jeffrey Dahmer on the kids before being removed?

I suspect this poor fellow defending Sobel has some serious denial issues, starting from his not being aware of Neve Zion being a place for kids who can’t go to mainstream yeshivot, and this was clearly stated in all the write ups last year after a student OD’ed while at the school. I don’t see this as a flaw, its actually wonderful that such a program exists, but it seems to be an issue for your correspondent. I say the Rabbis who banned him from ever being in chinuch again deserve credit. This paragraph from Dan Savage’s commentary on the Foley case is appropriate, and may be why some religious elements want to believe in his so called teshuva (what did he do, have boys tie him up and beat him? I think Luke can tell you whether disgracing oneself in this context is teshuva or part of the syndrome, and note the self degrading behaviour documented in the Gafni case):

So why would they bend over forward to accommodate Foley? Because, in their eyes, Mark Foley was doing everything right. The religious conservatives in the GOP's base don't seriously believe that gay men can become straight. (Wanna stop a straight person from making the ex-gay argument? Ask him if he'd let his daughter marry one.) What they believe in—what they demand—are closeted homos, homos like Mark Foley, a single man who refused to answer direct questions about his sexual orientation. (Has any straight man ever refused to reveal his sexual orientation?) The religious conservatives in the GOP's base want all gays to be like Mark: deny who we are, live our lives alone, refuse to answer any questions about our sexuality. To them, Mark Foley was a good, closeted homo, deserving of every consideration. The GOP was willing to cover for Foley because Foley, by being closeted, covered for them for years. So what if closet cases act out in sexually inappropriate ways? A few raped altar boys and skeeved-out pages are a price the gay-haters are only too willing to pay if it means fewer out homos.

So let’s do one little thought experiment here. Imagine if Sobel had decided to come out of the closet, and say, as an unabashed gay man I want to be a Rabbi, as did famously another Orthodox Rabbi who would now as a result, be considered on the fringe (although never a predator or even inappropriate with anyone). Or even more oddly, imagine if he had touched a girl, (which would in other circumstances be thought of as less odd than molesting boys). Would this poor soul be defending him? So what should Sobel do? Be grateful that he’s not doing time, and that none of his former victims have shown up at his house with a rifle, as has been happening lately to his predatory colleagues in other religions. Perhaps some of them might contact Rabbi Grossman’s supporters and inform them of his current position (though I note that his name has been removed from all the Migdal Ohr webpages, baruch Hashem).

Although not a direct victim of his (though I was in the pool when he was hanging around, so who knows what was in his head), friends of mine were, and we were all potentially vulnerable. And as a person with children, the lesson has to be that vigilance needs to be constantly maintained to protect our own children. I think Dan Savage’s challenge is correct. Would this defender allow him to hang around his children?

One last note. If this fellow is hanging around Sobel, ask him to clarify once and for all where the American episode happened. Many of the posters to the various abuse sites refer to an American episode; I myself heard this from a prominent Rosh Yeshiva in Bnai Brak. Perhaps he can ask Sobel, now so full of penance, if he can enlighten us where this happened in the US if not Ner Yisrael (I had heard Baltimore. Perhaps he was hired at the high school, or some other yeshiva he might have been hired at after finishing up at MTJ).