Rabbi Meir Pogrow, a prominent rabbi and educator living in Beit Shemesh, has been accused of misusing his authority and position for his sexual gratification by an ad hoc rabbinical court of senior rabbis in Israel and the US, which issued a warning notice instructing women to avoid all contact with the individual.
Pogrow is the founder of a website and study program called Master Torah, designed to aide 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 Michlahlah seminary in Jerusalem, and was head of the Kollel (program for married yeshiva students) of Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem and Austin, Texas.
Tamara Schoor was introduced to Pogrow at the age of 15 by a camp councilor who had been in contact with Pogrow while she was at the Michlalah seminary for girls in Jerusalem, and said the rabbi would be able to help her regarding questions about Judaism and religious faith.
Schoor would met 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 Michlalah 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.
Schoor said she became dependent on the rabbi for spiritual guidance and that he was her only support system in Israel. She alleged that Pogrow used his mentoring relationship to initiate physical contact with her, telling her that it was part of the process for her spiritual growth and development.
Following the publication of the rabbinical court ruling, Schoor welcomed the decision but said that 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 says she first brought the case to the attention of the rabbis on the rabbinical court five years ago.
Said Schoor in a statement to the press “I met Pogrow at the age of 15 when the process of grooming and manipulation began.
“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. 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.
“It took years for me to recognize and accept the insidious mind games, betrayal of trust, and carefully orchestrated destruction of my 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 TOT, 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 the Israel Police and is looking into other options “to obtain some semblance of justice, and to protect girls and women.”
In the ruling issued by the ad hoc rabbinical court on June 14, rabbis Menachem Mendel Hacohen Shafran, Gershon Bass and Haim Malinowitz said that several rabbis and community figures had reported to them about 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 my phone or by 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.”
Wrote the rabbis “After the ruling was issued by the rabbinical court which determined with absolute certainty and established by reliable and credible witnesses and other proofs [all conducted in a manner which leaves no room for doubt], regarding the most terrible acts and the most severe transgressions regarding issues of forbidden sexual relationships, Heaven protect us, by Meir Pogrow (of Beit Shemesh – and America) and hearing about the damages he inflicted on women (including single, married Jewish and otherwise) who were under his influence (many of whose lives he destroyed)… 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 Kol V’Oz organization for tackling sexual abuse in the Jewish community said that “Rabbi Meir Pogrow, a prominent rabbi, formerly of the US and currently Israel-based, has effectively been found guilty by the Beth Din of misusing his authority for his sexual gratification.”
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; that the process leaves the victim entirely at the mercy of the rabbinical court; and that the victim has to deal with rabbis and other officials who have no training in this field.
Manny Waks, director of Kol V’Oz, welcomed the ruling of the rabbinical court, but said that 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.”