Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Does Anyone Know What's Happening With Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel

Several months ago it was brought to every one's attention that Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel was working for Migdal Ohr. Rumors are he's still working there yet is being hidden.

Does anyone know if someone is monitoring him? Is he in sex offender treatment? Has he ever paid restitution to the hundreds of boys he allegedly sexually abused? Remember everyone says he's one of the worst child molesters out there.

According to The Awareness Center's site:

The past tradition in handling sex crimes was for the local rabbis to handled "situations" quietly within their own communities What ususually happend was the alleged offender would have no choice but to move to a new community.

In the case of Ben Zion Sobel, there were never any police reports made, which meant there was nver any official criminal investigation.

A rabbi who wishes to remain anonymous has stated:

"Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel is one of the most notorious pedophiles he has ever known. Leaving hundreds of boys he has victimized."

"At one point Rabbi Shach made a rabbinic decree stating that Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel could NEVER teach again."

"Ben Zion has left survivors in both the United States and Israel. "His modus operandi was extremely violent and barbaric."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do think it's important to strive for the most accurate facts when discussing these cases. Inaccurate statements, even if they don't directly pertain to the crime, diminish the credibility of the critics and give ammunition to those that say the accusers on the internet are smearing people without knowing what really happened.
As it stands there are opposing, posts pro and con Sobel both of which contain inaccuracies. There is room for opinion and conjecture in these discussions but they must start with (to borrow Joe Friday's phrase) "just the facts".
If you feel the Sobel case is old and enough has been said, I disagree. Sobel is still out there and there are those such as "Adam Harishon" who believe an abuser can repent and be once again put in contact with young potential victims.
Another aspect is that most bloggers when discussing these cases paint the accused as either evil criminals or innocent tzaddikim. The truth is many of the offenders may be truly well meaning people that have a critical personality flaw that they cannot resist when put in a tempting situation. This misleads the authorities who often figure "this guy can't be an abuser - he's not a lustful sinner, why look at the wonderful things he's done and the sacrifices he's made to do them" The Sobel case is a good example of this.
New generations of rabbeim/administrators/teachers need to learn about these cases and understand that there are warning signs that could, if pursued, prevent future victims.
"If you don't study history you are doomed to repeat it".
I was a student at Neveh Yehoshua/Zion in the early eighties. I must state out the outset that I was never abused by Sobel nor was I aware of anyone else being abused by him. This does not mean nothing happened during the time I was there, though I personally doubt it.

I had heard about Sobel's departure (it was a few years after I left, so 1985 is probably correct) and wondered what the story behind it was . Some years ago I searched the internet and only found references to R. Sobel's internet writings but recently I came across this site. I would like to correct some statements and add some comments.

The name change from Neveh Yehoshua to Neveh Zion happened years before Sobel's departure, it came with the Yeshiva moving to Telshe Stone near Jerusalem .

I don't remember Sobel ever mentioning learning or living in Baltimore ; he did say he grew up in Queens , went to RJJ and later lived in Monsey. The only Matis Weinberg "links" I am aware of were the visit(s) of Noach Weinberg to the yeshiva and that some students had attended Kerem in CA (so it is likely Sobel met Matis Weinberg on recruiting visits).

When I wrote the above "Adam Harishon" and his respondent had not posted ( I meant to finish this and post it weeks ago but couldn't find the time). I'd like to correct/verify some statements I’ve read and add some things from my perspective.

I spent two years at Neveh starting in the fall of 1980. The yeshiva had just moved out of Bet Yehoshua to a campus among farms closer to Ashkelon and Rechovot than Jerusalem . I recall hearing the yeshiva was in Bet Yehoshua for 2yrs. In the fall of 1981 the yeshiva did indeed move to Telshe Stone and change it's name reflecting the proximity to Jerusalem (I do recall cynics grumbling that it had more to do with the "Zion" in Sobel's name!).

Regarding "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". The mashgiach was in place in 1980 - I know he had been with the yeshiva for some time before but I don't know if he was there from the start. There was also a rabbi referred to as "the Rosh Yeshiva" who was in charge of the learning curriculum. R Sobel was called "The Rav", the mashgiach was known (and I believe still is) as "The Mash".

"Rabbi Sobel at Neve Yehoshua had an office door that locked. If a kid walked in, the door automatically locked behind him."

True. Sobel's office door (at both Neveh locations I attended) would be locked when closed and was equipped with an electric latch - Sobel had to buzz you in. He did have a couch in the office but I never saw anyone but Sobel on it.

"I remember once he went around quoting some Billy Joel song.".

Yes, when he made his recruitment speech (at MTA) I recall him quoting I from "Only the Good Die Young". (More on the recruitment speech later).

(Sobel quote:) "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 "

"the sicko sets up a yeshivah in a remote area outside of Netanya so that he can easily molest boys."

In my opinion interpreting the "proliferating Torah; by supporting it or being an askan or the like" quote to mean Sobel had a plan to leave chinuch doesn't make sense. I believe it is just referring to what Sobel declared as his plan for the yeshiva - to create baalai-batim that learn. It filled a real need and would lead to a source of future income for the yeshiva (he spoke of how the way things were, yeshivas had to accept money without looking at where it came from and he wanted a source of "kosher" income). If he had a plan to get out before his problem caused harm then he should have left before he became intimate with students.

Did he create the yeshiva so he "could easily molest boys"? - I don't think so. If he had then I doubt the yeshiva would has survived his departure. In fact one thing I noticed even when I was a student was Sobel did not hire a bunch of "yes men" rebbies. The staff, particularly the mashgiach (who is still there) were smart and independent minded (and for the most part did not grow up in the yeshivishe world). They did not always agree with Sobel and different groups of talmidim gravitated toward different rebbies. It could be argued that this was a clever strategy by Sobel to cull the most vulnerable into his inner circle, but were this his primary objective I believe the staff would have figured it out. I do not agree that the mashgiach etc were hired to "distance himself from the students". When I attended Neveh, Sobel had an inner circle of students and did give sichot to small groups behind closed doors. Students would come alone to the office to serve him food, and of course he was alone with those that drove him. That does not fit the behaviour of someone who knows he has a problem and has a plan to deal with it.

When Sobel came to MTA and gave his recruitment speech he not only referred to a Billy Joel song, he also talked about how boys our age are controlled by their genitals. He actually referred to it as "going up or down" (I forget the exact quote). Even at the time I thought it a bit odd and did have some subconscious question about his leanings. Nevertheless he was charismatic and seemed to understand us. More importantly I had heard Neveh's reputation for being a "country club" yeshiva (someone had even been caught with pot!). At that time I knew I was either going to a secular university and drift away from frumkeit or I'd go to Israel for a few months to see what it's about. I had no intention of going to a hard core yeshiva - I had my fill of that. I think I represented the typical Neveh student at the time. Interesting to note that this speech was given in the main auditorium in front of MTA staff (including R. George Finkelstein - uh oh what if that guy on one of the blogs is right...). Anyway I was probably less naive than the H.S. administration (I suspect the guy they appointed as the live-in H.S. dorm councilor was gay - not that he did anything, but hopefully school administrators are becoming more worldly).

I was living in Monsey when I heard about Sobel's departure. I was not involved with the yeshiva at the time but a fellow student told me Sobel had left, that he had "some kind of nervous breakdown". I also recall hearing the embezzlement story but never gave it much credence. I suspected inappropriate behavior with students based on my previous suspicions and also because a family friend involved in education called Sobel a very bad man but would not elaborate. I later heard that he had been caught doing something inappropriate in Monsey before he founded Neveh and the rabbis decided he should get out of town. That story was not from a reliable source.

So is BenZion Sobel an evil predator or a Godol B'yisroel that had a problem he's overcome? I think the answer lies between the extremes. In my opinion (obviously based on my incomplete knowledge of the man) he founded and ran the yeshiva with good motivations but put himself in a position of closeness and power with boys that ignited urges he couldn't resist. Is he a victim of psychological weakness that should be forgiven and forgotten now that he's sought help? Not so fast. As "Adam Harishon" stated: "Rabbi Sobel was always aware of his problem and recognized it." Yet Sobel put himself in the position to be tempted. I remember being taught in Neveh that a person should avoid confrontations with the yetzer hara, not to put themselves in a position where they might be tempted. Perhaps the "prominent people" convinced Sobel he could do it, but when the urges became strong, certainly when he started to get physical with the students, he should have left immediately - not after 10 students were involved and a prominent rabbi had to tell him what to do.

What about Sobel now? After all 20yrs have passed, he has a hechsher from the Bidatz, why let this into the public? Well perhaps that rabbis (according to “Adam”) have apparently again given Sobel a green light to enter chinuch is reason enough. I’m glad to read Sobel has chosen to remain away from students but it should not be a matter of his choosing. Frankly I find the rabbis handling of these cases odd. Were someone to go to the Bidatz and show them he has gone into therapy and is no longer attracted to women would they give him permission to spend time alone with women? to listen to kol isha etc? Of course not – the rules regarding interaction between the sexes would remain. In America when a person is convicted and serves time the conviction remains on the record. And a sex offender ends up on a special registry so he can be monitored. I would not endorse plastering the story of Sobel on the front pages of the newspapers but these posts should remain. Let anyone who seeks these comments be able to read all of them and decide on his own. Yes I do feel sorry for what the rebbitzen and the kids (I remember them as little ones) have to endure. I wish Sobel had thought of them before he touched those students.

Finally I’d like to say I consider my time at Neveh a very positive experience. I’m glad Neveh is still out there and still helping the “hard cases”. The son of a friend of mine just finished 2 years there and really became quite a mensch. I believe Neveh is one institution that has learned the lesson of the Sobel case (not “we need to do a better job covering it up”). Perhaps R. Sobel should return to Chinuch – not to teach kids but to teach rabbeim and administrators how to protect the students.

February 08, 2007 6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Badatz was and is not in any way equipped to proclaim that one has "reformed" in the area of (sexually) abusive behavior. Any such assessment needs to come from competent third-party professionals. Years ago, his "clean bill of health" was certified by a "psychologist", of dubious credentials, who was selected/paid by him.

Having an office with a door that locks automatically as well as one with a closed circuit TV is highly irregular for someone who is a Rosh Yeshiva. It demonstrates not only paranoia but is a clue that he has something to hide. Add a private bedroom and a bathroom in that space and you have a setting that is predisposed for bad things to happen.

Bottom line is that this case happened at a time when abuse was not in the public consciousness. Plus since it happened in Israel, any legal or tracking mechanisms that we have in the U.S. do not exist there. Parents were only remotely in communication with their children and would not have had much insight as to what was going on. Most of the Rabbis of stature who were knowledgable about him and his activities are long gone. So, this is a classic situation of where he and his victims have been effectively kept under the radar screen--especially happening almost 30 years ago. But, the victims are still out there with permanent damage and no recourse.

He was a smart, cunning, and charismatic sociopath for the textbooks. I would agree that the best thing at this point (on his "path to recovery") would be to avail himself to psychiatrists to be interviewed so that it can be uncovered what makes sick people like this tick. That information should then be catalogues and shared with educators and parents to help ensure that cases like this will not repeat themselves--in the U.S. or in Israel.

February 09, 2007 6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was there in the first year of opening when it was in the Netanyah area and Sobel used to hang around the swimming pool. It was pretty ugly overall for myself and some of my friends who he hit upon. I fortunately got out early, recognizing something was terribly wrong, but a friend of mine was the famous case that led to Sobel's being caught.
I was at YU when that speech was given, so I'm glad for the confirmation. Sobel has someone who always "rises" to his defense who calls himself "adam harishon" (this all gets very freudian) at any rate, it was an incredibly ugly story affecting a rather large number of targeted prey, and were he in the USA he'd be listed and have to report in to the authorities rather than having his Torah thoughts up on the internet.

February 10, 2007 9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

His charisma and mind control overshadowed what would have otherwise been objective judgment by his victims to reject his depraved behavior and expose him to the powers that be. After all, 18 and 19 year olds, expecially those with social and religious issues are especially susceptible and vulnerable.

There has never been any independent corroboration of his claims of being reformed or born again.

It is a positive sign that the erroneous facts and details have been corrected here and elswehwere in order to enhance the credibility of the claims against him.

February 12, 2007 10:44 AM  
Blogger i helped take sobel down said...

first, a little background. i too was a student at neveh for 2 years prior to the telz stone move.there were many things related to sobel's behavior that at the time,to 17 and 18 year olds seemed a little odd, but in hindsight fit the profile of a well thought out megalomaniac, sexual predator. to list a few, the decision to locate neveh on moshav beit yehoshua,a truly isolated moshav, miles from netenya ,while nearly all other yeshivas catering to americans were in yershalayim, only makes sense if your goal is to geographically ,and psychologically isolate the boys(your prey)and yourself from civilization and the the talmidim, neveh was our whole world, and sobel our leader.we were only allowed to leave on thursday nights after maariv, friday mornings,and every third shabbos.these restrictions ,violation of which would lead to an i.e. (instant expulsion)added to our isolation.the pious rabbi never seemed to be able to make it to minyan fri. nights until well into kabbalat shabbat.guess he had more important places to be every friday night. on his frequent fundraising trips to states, there was almost always a boy travelling with him,ostensibly to help him get from place to place.i suppose our esteemed genius rabbi couldnt read a map.upon his return,we were frequently told to line up in a row,to thank him and kiss him to show our appreciation.makes a lot more sense now.prior to one of those trips,the yeshiva was so low on money that for about a week our lunch was potatoes and the same time,the "rav" was having a new buzzer release locking door put in his office.this use of scarce funds caused a murmur amongst many of us, including many of those closest to him.when the rav got word of this,he announced an emergency sicha in which he,of course, cried and explained how much it hurt him not to be able to buy us real food instead,but he was unable to as the "donor" of these funds.who was never revealed,had placed a specific restriction on said funds that they be used only to beautify the ravs office,lechavod hatorah that he was imparting.seems to me that only one who is so planned in his predatory tactics would see a pressing need for a locking door .all the better to molest you with. and i'd love to know how the extra lock served to beautify his office. i hope the "donor" wasnt upset. the sicha ended with vicious attack on all who had dared to question his integrity,as well as a threat to leave the yeshiva were it ever to happen again.i remember his exact words,"dont ask questions on the rav!"how fortunate to his victims that he didnt carry it out. studies have shown,and interrogators know that as you tire, you become more open to many influences as your defenses weaken.with that knowledge, the sicha reserved for only certain bochrim started at 11 p.m. and frequently ran past 1 a.m. many sichot referred to us as an army of hashem,with guess who as our general. the more he was feared and revered and respected, and the less he was to be questioned,the more likely he would be to succeed in molesting boys, and the less likely to be questioned or caught.sounds like a pretty good plan. lets remember, he didn't just have a sudden urge he couldn't control and run up to random boys on the street for quick gratification. that might be the action of someone who is trying to control his urges but at certain moments loses control.on the contrary, the actions we know of involve meticulous planning,including his personal selection of boys that were accepted into yeshiva, isolating the yeshiva, instilling fear and reverence in him,with a healthy dose of how important it was to please the rav. oh, i forgot to mention that the highest honor at neveh was if you were selected to get "close" to the rav, spiritually, of course. if one were so selected, you would be encouraged to speak privately to him upon completion of the thuirsday night sicha, at 1 in the morning.i was lucky enough to have that honor,and numerous times ,upon entering his office would find him lying on his couch covered in a blanket,too tired to raise his head,after a gruelling day of doing what,i dont know as he was never in the bais medrash.i was told on 2 occasions that in order to speak to him i had to move very close,since he was so hoarse he had to whisper.while he never tried to molest me,i think he was working towards it,unless i was just too unattractive to him.but i had been warned cryptically by a bochur who was very close to him,NOT TO GET CLOSE, with no reason offered.hindsight being so 20/20, the reason is clear now.the other bochurs strange behavior and complete disregard for all neveh rules makes sense now. the victims i know of all shared certain attributes, vulnerability and might have stemmed from problems at home to having alienated their parents by either coming to yeshiva or staying past agreed upon return date,or to having had problems in america which made returning difficult. but all were vulnerable to a brilliant ,charismatic predator. jumping ahead, years after i had finished neveh,a person close to me had returned to neveh and stayed on as a driver/secretary to the rav(please do not read ant respect or reverence into my use of the term "rav" as i am dripping with sarcasm when i write it nad only do so because of its historical accuracy. i believe he is an animal who escaped justice and should have faced criminal charges.)back to the story,this person returned unexpectedly to our neighborhood and when i asked what he was doing home in the middle of the year,his only response was to curse sobel. he was afraid to tell me what happened, only that he saw something accidentally.due to his access to all the inner offices. apparently there was a miscommuniction with the rav and my friend thought he was gone the whole day, when in fact he was in his friend had used his keys to go in office ,which he could only do when he knew rav was away. oops.anyway,he said that if he went public with what he knew he'd bring dowan the whole yehiva which he was reluctant to do because it actually did a lot of good for a lot of guys.i told him that if what he knew could bring neveh down ,then neveh should be downed. the ends cannot justify all means. he finally relented and told me that he had seen with his own eyes the rav in ,shall we say, a compromising position with a bochur. i and another friend convinced him to tell his story to a rabbi we trusted, at which point my direct knowledge ended. through various sources,i believe this rabbi contacted many others,had a bais din convened and many other victims were found. as far as adam harishon's comments, i think its obvious who that is,and let me take issue with some of his "teshuva defense". first of all, he did not go out without a fight. he was negotiating the whole time as to what he could get .he ended up with some expensive computer and electronic equipment which had been donated by my friends father to neveh, not him.i was told there was also an emptying of the bank accounts, which ,to my knowledge only he had access to, without even a board of directors to answer to, as there was convenient.hardly the actions of a remorseful, penitent tsaddik who had a brief lapse in judgement. these facts are bolstered by the emergency fundraising campaign undertaken by the hanhala to save neveh from immediate collapse. i believe that adam harishon's posts are quite self serving.due to his closeness to situation, many might have wondered why he was so unaware of all the strange behavior.why didnt he recognize all of the signs which were clearly present
? perhaps his desire to believe that the rav did teshuva assuages some of his guilt feelings, and allows for a small modicum of rationalization, that not having brought the matter to the police,even after the fact,was a good decision ,since the pious rav is clean as a whistle.and has not reoffended, as far as we know.i , however, having read the recidivism rate for sex offenders,do not believe it is ok to take a chance of one more boy being a victim,even at the expense of a chillul hashem. the catholics used that policy and it hasnt turned out that well. to me. peoples lives are more important.he destroyed many. and the lives affected were not limited to his victims. there was a core group of guys who had delayed or dropped their college goals, engagements,and alienated family ,because they believed he was their just, brilliant leader,who would march them straight to olam haba. when the story broke, their worlds came crumbling down,some never to recover. i wont be more specific to protect them. if he wants to make it right with god,though i suspect he doesnt believe a word what he says,then let him do tshuva for god. but on this earth potential future victims rights to a life free from molestation exceeds a molesters right to be treated with respect or forgiven. would adam harishon bet his life that there has never been another victim since? i dont think so. and despite that he works in an office,is he being watched 24/7 dark people with these problems and his mind would have no trouble convincing gadol after gadol of his "cure" while crefully planning his next assault. dont believe it adam harishon. he manipulated you quite easily for many years,and could easily do it again. you have a good heart, and to him that is your weakness. he laughs at people like you because you are so ready to believe in good. as far as the baltimore angle, i never heard it. my sources are that he had been a dorm mashgiach, or something similar at a chofetz chaim branch in monsey,had been caught with a boy,but because there was only one witness, he was permitted to stay in chinuch ,and encouraged to go to israel and start fresh,by a very esteemed gadol, who i wont mention as i'm not 100% sure, though the fact that this rabbo=i was a guest speaker at neveh while i was there supports the notion. this rabbi ,like you, adam, wanted to believe good and risked many .many futute talmidims well being on it. oops. sobel fooled them. oh well. so he ruined a few lives, at least there was no chillul hashem,chas v'sholem. just some collateral damage. whats the big deal if lives of some teenagers were destroyed beyond repair. the l.a, story was certainly not how the story broke,as adam correctly points out, but i think there was some testimony at beis din regarding a prior fundraising trip there and an incident with the rav and aboy in a pool. if anyone has anything to add, please post.. thanks for reading.

June 15, 2008 1:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was a R' Ben-Zion Sobel giving occasional parsha shiurim in 2006 in Yeshivas Derech Hamelech in Mattesdorf in Jerusalem.

I don't know if he is the same person described here as I knew very little about his personal life. I suspect it was due to the uncomfortable physical proximity that the Rabbi would take, though he never tried to molest me or the like.

December 22, 2009 8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

can anyone supply a photo of this person?
the only one which i can find is too small to identify him

December 22, 2009 8:28 AM  

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