A prominent rabbi and educator living in Beit Shemesh has been accused of misusing his authority and position for his sexual gratification.
An ad hoc rabbinical court of senior rabbis in Israel and the US issued a warning instructing women to avoid all contact with Rabbi Meir Pogrow, the founder of a website and study program called Master Torah, designed to aid the study of religious texts and retain the knowledge acquired.
According to the Master Torah website, Pogrow has rabbinical ordination from several authorities, including from the Chief Rabbinate, and is qualified as a rabbinical judge.
He has taught at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles, the Michlala seminary in Jerusalem, and was head of the Kollel (program for married yeshiva students) of Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem and Austin, Texas.
Following the publication of the rabbinical court ruling, Tamara Schoor, Pogrow’s former student, welcomed the decision but said the ruling had been “a long-time coming” and that the rabbinical court “should have addressed this a long time ago, but better late than never.”
Schoor told the press she met Pogrow at the age of 15 when “the process of grooming and manipulation began.”
She was introduced by a camp counselor who had been in contact with Pogrow while she was at Michlala, and was told the rabbi would be able to help her regarding questions about Judaism and religious faith.
Schoor would meet with Pogrow in New York at his mother’s house and he built up a mentor relationship with her over several years.
When Schoor came to Israel to study at Michlala at the age of 18, she made contact with Pogrow again, and would often meet with him at his home in Beit Shemesh, where she was also a frequent guest for Shabbat.
“Over the course of my year of religious study in Israel, he carefully broke down my personal boundaries, creating a high level of dependence and isolation, ensuring I was fully reliant on him for spiritual guidance, love and support,” she said. “Alone in a foreign country, he became my mentor, role model and family. A brilliant manipulator, he was able to convince me that his sole intention was to care for and empower me and my every action.”
Schoor said it took years for her to recognize and accept the insidious mind games, betrayal of trust and carefully orchestrated destruction of her innocence.
“It was only when I became aware of the existence of other victims that I was determined to take action and prevent additional abuse. I began a campaign of phone calls and emails, reaching out to anyone I could identify in the hopes of finding additional victims to speak out with and a safe and reliable method of publicizing it anonymously.
“But at every turn a door closed: victims afraid to be exposed, rabbis finding excuses not to address it, organizations lying to protect themselves and much more.”
When contacted by The Jerusalem Post, Pogrow said he would not comment on the allegations themselves.
He said however that “I was never presented with any specific allegations when I visited the rabbinical court,” and added that he was never contacted by the rabbinical court after his one and only meeting with the rabbis concerned.”
Schoor has provided a statement to Israeli police.
In the ruling issued by the ad hoc rabbinical court on June 14, Rabbis Menachem Mendel Hacohen Shafran, Gershon Bass and Haim Malinowitz said several rabbis and community figures had reported Pogrow’s “deviant” behavior.
Having spoken with Pogrow, the rabbis issued a ruling prohibiting him from associating with women in any way and for any reason, including married and unmarried women of any age.
The rabbis also warned all women against meeting with Pogrow for any reason publicly or privately, and from contacting him in any way including by phone or email and any other form of electronic correspondence.
The rabbis added that a woman in the US has helped Pogrow establish meetings with other women and said therefore that all women should avoid all contact with this individual as well.
Rabbis Bass and Malinowitz, along with Rabbis Yitzhak Berkowitz, Mordechai Willig, and Elimelech Kornfeld, issued a separate document entitled “Warning to the Public.”
“It is our obligation to notify and warn women and girls in the strongest and most urgent terms, to distance themselves from any interaction from this individual, from his lectures, and from any area of his influence in any way,” the rabbis wrote.
Schoor herself issued concerns she had with the process of the rabbinical court in dealing with such issues, including that the system is reliant on the victim to bring additional victims forward as a part of the investigative process, and that the victim has to deal with rabbis and other officials who have no training in this field and don’t always have the qualities of empathy and sensitivity that are crucial in dealing with victims.
“While I wish the process hadn’t taken so long I want to thank the Beit Din for their leadership on this issue in making a strong statement about the danger Meir Pogrow poses,” said Schoor.
“Rabbis have an undeniable role to play in these cases and can effect tremendous change. In light of the impact the Rabbinic statement has had, I implore community leaders and rabbis to follow the precedence that has been set for exposing dangerous predators. I know that the downfall of a well-respected and admired rabbi or community member causes confusion, fear and turmoil but the community relies on their leaders to protect them.”
The Kol v’Oz organization for tackling sexual abuse in the Jewish community said Pogrow “has effectively been found guilty by the Beit Din [rabbinical court] of misusing his authority for his sexual gratification.”
Manny Waks, director of Kol v’Oz, welcomed the ruling of the court, but said the process must be reformed.
“While it’s pleasing that the Beth Din in Israel has issued this strong and public ruling, the process must be examined so that other victims don’t endure what Ms. Schoor has endured. It’s important to emphasize that if not for the courage and determination of Ms. Schoor, this ruling would never have occurred. Ms. Schoor has achieved a remarkable victory despite her difficult journey.”