Guest Post: Rehabilitating the Reputation of Rabbi Tully Bryks

In December, 2014, I posted about the attempt by Rabbi Tully Bryks to start a new seminary. It was one of my most controversial posts ever, as Bryks has many supporters among the English-speaking community here in Israel who feel that an injustice has been done.  

Ever since then, my friend Shoshanna has followed the story as new posts supporting him appeared on the internet, disappeared, and then reappeared.

Here is Shoshanna’s analysis, in the form of a guest post. She has requested to withhold her last name.

Someone is desperate to rehabilitate the reputation of Rabbi Tully Bryks. So desperate that they will resort to manipulative and deceptive tactics in order to try to clear his name.

It’s not my goal here to establish what happened in May 2013 in Bar-Ilan, beyond what was reported at the time in the newspaper or by Rabbi Bryks himself. Rather, I intend to expose the inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and dishonest practices of the recent public relations campaign to clear his name.

On May 2, 2013, Haaretz published an article about Rabbi Tully Bryks, the director of the Israel Experience program, which had an arrangement whereby students could study at Bar-Ilan University. Rabbi Bryks was relieved of his duties when it was found out that he had authorized the installation of hidden cameras in some of the girls’ dormitory apartments. The article also mentions that according to sources at Bar-Ilan, the Board of Directors was expected to “give him the option to resign” at the time they went to press.

According to Rabbi Bryks’s Facebook page, he submitted a letter of resignation the same day that the article was published. In the letter, he explained that he had placed the hidden cameras because of complaints regarding maintenance staff, and that he acted with “legal advice.” He acknowledged that students were distressed by his actions, and that in retrospect “it would have been prudent to make everyone aware.” Bar-Ilan’s comment at the time was “Whatever reason he had for doing this, it was inappropriate.” The school, at the insistence of the students, requested that the police conduct an investigation into the rabbi’s actions.

In December of 2014, Haaretz published a follow-up article stating that the police investigation had resulted in all charges against Rabbi Bryks being dismissed, with a finding of “lack of guilt.”  The article goes on to explain that Rabbi Bryks had demanded a formal letter of exoneration from the Prosecutor’s Office, and filed a lawsuit against it and the police, because the incident had left him unable to find a new job. The Israel Experience at Bar-Ilan, when contacted by Ha’aretz, had no comment.

This story received some attention from the Jewish blogosphere, in this blog  and a few others. As A Mother in Israel documented, in the years after his departure from the Israel Experience, there was some effort on Rabbi Bryks’ part to start or work at other gap-year programs.

An article was recently published in The Jewish Press by a young woman who worked with Rabbi Bryks at Bar-Ilan and was motivated to speak out against the “devastating injustice” done to him. She clearly stated a goal of helping him return to the field of education, so that more students could benefit from his inspiring leadership. The article is a rather lengthy tribute to his sterling character and noble motivations, and the author claims to have seen documentation (not produced in the post) proving that Rabbi Bryks did nothing wrong and that he is the victim of character assassination.

Rabbi Bryks is entitled to his supporters, of course. The problem with her article, though, is that it has been written before, or at least large segments of it, and published under someone else’s name. This raises serious questions about the authorship of the article, the integrity of the author(s) (whoever that is), and the accuracy of any of the claims made in it.

The Jewish Press article appeared in nearly identical form as a Times of Israel (TOI) blog several weeks ago on February 9, 2016. It has since disappeared, but an archived version is available here. In addition, an earlier article, published under a different name, also appeared for a short time as a TOI blog post last July, and disappeared without explanation. The archived version of the July TOI article is available here.

I immediately recognized several similarities between the first TOI blog post and the article on the Jewish Press website. Both were written by women who know Rabbi Bryks personally. Both authors claim to work professionally with sex abuse victims and advocate for them, and they felt that the charges against Rabbi Bryks must be false. Like the author of the current article, the author of the July 2015 TOI post article set out to conduct a thorough investigation of the facts. She claimed to have seen a series of documents including the complete police report, testimony of previous employers, the results of a polygraph test, and the results of a private psychological investigation.

In fact, the lists of evidence produced by these two thorough investigations is identical, word for word. Yet the author of the current article does not give any credit to the author of the earlier article for her sleuthing efforts. In the comments on the July TOI blog post, the author of the current article even thanked the author of the earlier article for her work to clear Rabbi Bryks’s name. In fact, several commenters on the current article also wrote comments of support on the earlier TOI piece, in some cases using the exact same words. Yet no one acknowledged the obvious similarities between the two essays.

The similarities don’t end there. Both authors claim to have had the same private conversation with Rabbi Bryks, asking the same questions, and receiving the same verbatim response. Both authors reportedly asked him if he harbored any ill feelings, to which he responded at length:

Never! First of all, even today, most of the students still don’t know all of the details of the incident, so it wasn’t really their fault if anyone thought badly of me. In addition, I have always cared about my students and will continue to do so no matter what. To that end, I actively encouraged and supported the police investigation. Finally, I firmly believe that everything that happens is for the best.

Despite Rabbi Bryks’s admission that he used poor judgment in installing the cameras, both authors blame “bloggers” and gossipers spreading false rumors for forcing him to leave his position.” As the rumors, accusations, and blogs spread” (write both authors) incoming students and their families began to express concern to the Bar-Ilan program, leading Rabbi Bryks to decide, after careful deliberation, to sacrifice himself for the greater good. This claim, however, is patently false. Rabbi Bryks’s letter of resignation was submitted the same day that the story appeared in Haaretz. The first blog post didn’t appear until that afternoon in the U.S., when it was already evening in Israel. There was simply not enough time for the story to go viral and lead to parental pressure to have him fired. Furthermore, Rabbi Bryks acknowledged that he had in fact placed cameras in the girls’ dorm — this was never denied or proven false. As his letter of resignation makes clear, Rabbi Bryks clearly had no one to blame but himself.

Towards the end of both essays is an identical plug for Rabbi Bryks’ website and YouTube channel, and an invitation to “come meet him for yourself” and be amazed and inspired.

Something very fishy is going on here with this strange rehashed story and chorus of enthusiastic supporters. Is it plagiarism? Sock puppetry? Account hacking? All of the above? I don’t know, but I don’t trust it. Who’s behind it? Clearly it was someone very close to Rabbi Bryks, who had access to all the documentation that allegedly exonerates him, but which was never part of the published Haaretz articles. Nor were they confirmed by anyone else. As the author of the most recent article points out, the police closed his case and all records of the complaint were erased. How then did the authors of the two articles gain access to the complete police report? Who supplied the pictures of Rabbi Bryks at home with his baby and on family vacations? Or the results of the private polygraph test? Rabbi Bryks himself? If so, how can these investigations be thorough and objective?

If Rabbi Bryks and his supporters want to have their day in the court of public opinion, let them do so — but openly and honestly, without resorting to deceptive manipulation. Let them provide all the documentation for their claim that Rabbi Bryks’ intentions were only for the good. In the end, it probably won’t make a difference. As the Bar-Ilan administrator said, “whatever his reasons were for doing this, it was inappropriate.” They will have to face the fact that it was Rabbi Bryks’ own actions, and not any “false rumors” about his motivations, which culminated in his leaving the position.

 

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Comments

  1. I received this comment from a reader who asked to remain anonymous:
    Kol hakavod on this review. The only thing missing from your article is a critique of Ms. Haber’s underlying premise (though you hint at it). She states that she is a victim advocate and expert in this area, yet she spends the entire article extolling Rabbi Bryks virtues. Surely Ms. Haber knows that a person can be wonderful in every other area of life and also an abuser (in fact some abusers compensate for their abuse by being “overly virtuous”). I am unfamiliar with this case and not in any position to determine whether or not Rabbi Bryks had nefarious intent; regardless, Ms. Haber’s arguments set the anti-abuse field back. She does a disservice to victims everywhere by perpetuating the fiction that if someone is prestigious, respected, generous, or holy enough they cannot possibly be guilty of wrongdoing, and that the victims, or those who protect them, are the ones who guilty of “ruining a good person’s life”. The only proper defense to allegations of abuse are on the issues themselves. One cannot defend or prosecute based on character evidence – as an attorney Ms. Haber should know that.

    • Shoshanna says:

      This is an excellent point. I am very skeptical of Ms. Haber’s claim that she is an expert in sex abuse cases, so I’m not surprise by this unprofessional approach. However, the July 2015 Times of Israel blog post written by someone else is even more egregious in this regard. That author is a sex therapist and more plausibly has extensive experience working professionally with abuse victims. She wrote:

      “What we saw in the wild accusations laid against Rabbi Bryks proved that any anonymous student, or even a random internet blogger with no personal knowledge of the case, can easily point their finger and make public accusations, with little fear of repercussions. This is a dangerous platform. Religious leaders are in an especially risky position, as one of their many roles is to offer guidance and support to congregants or students, which often includes difficult and personal topics.

      If Rabbi Bryks could be falsely accused, a man about whom I and many others can attest exudes warmth, honesty, integrity and moral fortitude, then truly no educator is safe in today’s day and age. Knowing Rabbi Bryks personally for over two decades, in his many roles including, Young Israel of Kendall, NCSY and the Israel XP at Bar Ilan University, I was positive that the accusations laid against him were inaccurate and false, and it would just be a matter of time until that was proven.”

      What she’s saying is that if some student makes a complaint against a respected rabbi, we can dismiss it as untrue, even before learning all the facts. This is a very dangerous thing for a “victims’ advocate” to be suggesting.

      There are many other credibility issues with the Haber piece, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

  2. for me, the question is not about rehabiliting a reputation but whether we can assume that a person has done teshuvah and can be trusted in the future. In certain cases the professional advise not to assume that abuse will not repeat itself, but this may be different. Ultimately parents and students will make the choice. What would be their concerns , also putting obstacles in the way of his parnasah is also a concern.

    • Shoshanna says:

      You can’t do teshuva while denying any wrongdoing. I agree that if he were to come forward and say, ‘I’ve made mistakes, and did something inappropriate due to poor judgement, but I’ve worked on myself and I am confident I will never do it again”, that would be true teshuva and he may be worthy of being trusted again.

    • Pragmatist says:

      Wait a minute? Are you really questioning what parents’ concerns might be? And are you really suggesting that parents and school administrators should put young women at risk to avoid placing obstacles in someone’s ability to earn a living? Seriously?

      Why would any reasonable person think that the behavior wouldn’t repeat itself? You say that this case “may be different.” I can’t imagine why. There is not a shred of evidence that he truly understands how egregious his behavior was and that he’s made a commitment not to ever do something like that again. Even if it was simply stupidity and (monumentally) bad judgement rather than voyeurism at play, it was still an atrocious thing to do. Absent any indication that he gets it, the suggestion that anyone would seriously consider that he is unlikely to stumble again is foolish, at best.

      I would point out that if it really was just stupidity and bad judgement, in some ways it’s even worse. If he had an issue and went to therapy, etc. you might think about trusting him. Maybe! But, if he’s just THAT stupid and has SUCH terrible judgement, the the odds of him doing something ridiculous again are high.

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