Friday, March 15, 2013

Case of Rabbi Hershel Schachter

Case of Rabbi Hershel Schachter
Rosh Kollel at REITS, Yeshiva University - Washington Heights, NY

For years  Rabbi Hershel Schachter has been allegedly enabling sexual predators within orthodox Jewish communities, verses doing what it takes to protect children and adults from becoming the next victim of a sex crime.  Schachter has been connected to Yeshiva University since 1967 and has been the Rosh Kollel at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York since 1971.

March, 2013 -- Rabbi Hershel Schachter was recorded at a London conference railing against the dangers of reporting child abuse claims directly to police. He used a derogatory word to claim that false claims could lead to Jews being jailed with black inmates. 


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Table of Contents

  1. Bio: Rabbi Hershel Schachter (03/14/2013)
  2. Rabbi Hershel Schachter explains the laws of mesira pertaining to sex crimes
  3. Senior YU Rabbi Says He Didn't Try To Stop Child Sex Abuse At YU's High School Because He Could Not Be Sure Allegations Met Halakhic Threshold For Truth (03/14/2013)
  4. Yeshiva Rabbi Bluntly Warns Sex Abuse Reports Put Innocent Jews in Prison (03/14/2013)
  5. Yeshiva Rabbi's Shades of Bigotry (03/15/2013)
  6. Schachter, Y.U. dean, warns about reporting uncorroborated sex abuse claims (03/15/2013)
  7. Yeshiva Condemns 'Offensive' Racial Remarks by Rabbi Hershel Schachter (03/15/2013)
  8. Yeshiva U. Sex Abuse Probe Stalls Amid Fear and Mistrust (05/03/2013)

Bio: Rabbi Hershel Schachter
YU Torah OnLine - March 15, 2013

Rabbi Schachter, a noted Talmudic scholar, has had a distinguished career with RIETS for nearly 40 years. He joined the faculty in 1967, at the age of 26, the youngest Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS. Since 1971, Rabbi Schachter has been Rosh Kollel in RIETS' Marcos and Adina Katz Kollel (Institute for Advanced Research in Rabbinics) and also holds the institution's Nathan and Vivian Fink Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud. In addition to his teaching duties, Rabbi Schachter lectures, writes, and serves as a world renowned decisor of Jewish Law. A prolific author, he has written more than 100 articles, in Hebrew and English, for such scholarly publications as HaPardes, Hadarom, Beth Yitzchak, and Or Hamizrach. Seforim written include Eretz HaTzvi, B'ikvei HaTzon and Nefesh HaRav and MiPninei HaRav. At age 22, Rabbi Schachter was appointed assistant to the renowned Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt"l. Rabbi Schachter earned his B.A. from Yeshiva College, an M.A. in Hebrew Literature from the Bernard Revel Graduate School in 1967, and was ordained that same year.


Senior YU Rabbi Says He Didn't Try To Stop Child Sex Abuse At YU's High School Because He Could Not Be Sure Allegations Met Halakhic Threshold For Truth
By Shmayra Rosenberg
Failed Messiah - March 14, 2013 

Speaking at a rabbinical conference in London, England, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva University's rabbinical school, says every community should have a board of Jewish yeshiva scholars who are also psychologists. That board should screen allegation of child sexual abuse and other forms of child abuse to determine if the child [or, by extension] making the claim is lying or not. That board should decide whether or not the allegations or suspicions should be reported to police or child services. And he made a stunning admission about the child sex abuse scandal that rocked YU's affiliated high school.

Rabbi Schachter also talks about mesirah, informing, and rules that there is no violation of the halakha, Jewish law, forbidding mesirah when reporting child sexual abuse and most other crimes to police or child services.

Schachter, who is clearly very bright, is also clearly very emotionally immature, and you can hear that immaturity on this audio as Schachter in essence makes ridicules a child sexual abuse survivor who came to him for help. Schachter shows no grasp of the psychology of child sexual abuse and shows no empathy whatsoever for the survivor.

His behavior toward that survivor also explains why the Yeshiva University child sexual abuse scandal went on for decades rather than stopping when the survivor told Schachter about the abuse.

In essence, Schachter says he was unable to determine whether the survivor's claims had merit or not (had raglayim l'davar or not), and therefore Schachter did not report the abuse to police or do anything to remove the alleged abuser through internal Yeshiva University channels. Truly appalling.

The audio runs 10 minutes and five seconds. Please click the gray bar to listen


Yeshiva Rabbi Bluntly Warns Sex Abuse Reports Put Innocent Jews in Prison
Schachter Claims Student Rumors Lead to Jail With 'Schvartze'
By Paul Berger
Forward - March 14, 2013

A top rabbinic dean of Yeshiva University has warned rabbis about the dangers of reporting child sex abuse allegations to the police because it could result in a Jew being jailed with a black inmate, or as he put it, “a schvartze,” who might want to kill him.

Rabbi Hershel Schachter, one of the most respected faculty members of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, also said that children can lie and ruin an innocent man’s life.

“It could be that the whole thing is a bubbe-mayse [tall tale],” Schachter said.

Schachter said Jewish communities should establish panels of rabbis who are also psychologists to first hear such allegations and decide if law authorities should be informed.

Schachter, whose taped remarks were posted on the Failed Messiah website, said a student at Yeshiva University’s high school in Manhattan confided in him years ago that he had been abused.

Schachter said that he asked the student to tell his story to a rabbi who served as the school psychologist, but the child refused because of the humiliation it could bring on his family.

He said he did not report the abuse to the authorities because he could not be sure the allegations were true.

“So now, 40 years later, the guy’s spilling everything out to the newspaper,” Schachter said in the recording.

Schachter then suggested it was the former student’s fault if more children were harmed because he refused to speak to the psychologist.

He appeared to be referring to Simeon Weber, a former Y.U. high school student who, in previous interviews, told the Forward that he informed Schachter he had been abused by a Y.U. administrator, Rabbi George Finkelstein.

However, there were discrepancies between Schachter’s and Weber’s recollections. Weber said he told Schachter about Finkelstein after he left Y.U.’s high school, when he was a Yeshiva College student, during the early 1980s. He also had no memory of being asked to see a school psychologist.

When asked to comment on Schachter’s remarks, Weber stuck to a carefully worded statement.

“I had the privilege of learning torah with Harav Hershel Schachter for four years,” Weber said. “Though I was far from his best student, I treated him with reverence [and] with the respect due to a true Gadol B’Yisroel [giant of torah].”

Weber added: “Though I am deeply hurt by my rebbe’s comments, my underlying feelings of respect and fond memories of our deep relationship require me to say no more than that the issue itself has to be addressed by those greater than me.”

Yeshiva University has been embroiled in a mounting scandal following a series of reports in the Forward since December about abuse allegations against two former staff members at Yeshiva University’s high school for boys in Manhattan.

Several former students have told the Forward that they were sodomized by Rabbi Macy Gordon, a Talmud teacher employed at the school until the mid 1980s. More than a dozen students have complained of inappropriate behavior by Finkelstein who rose to school principal before he resigned in 1995.

Finkelstein was notorious for forcing students to wrestle with him in a school office and at his home. Several students told the Forward they could feel his erect penis grinding up against them during the wrestling sessions.

Schachter has not returned multiple calls and emails for comment since December, including attempts to seek an explanation for his recent remarks. Finkelstein and Gordon have both denied the students’ allegations against them. Rabbi Norman Lamm, who was president of Yeshiva University until 2003, told the Forward in December that several staff members were allowed to leave quietly because of “improper sexual activity.”.

Schachter told the New York Times, in December, that in addition to Finkelstein and Gordon he knew of another staff member who had been let go for similar reasons. He has never revealed the name of that member of staff.

According to Failed Messiah, Schachter was recorded in February, speaking at a rabbinic conference in London, the same month that the U.K.’s United Synagogue held its annual retreat in the city. Two independent sources have confirmed to the Forward that the voice on the tape is, indeed, Schachter’s.

Schachter told his audience that reporting abuse to the police or family service agency does not constitute mesirah — the traditional Jewish prohibition against informing on a fellow Jew to the secular authorities.

But Schachter emphasized that Jewish communities nevertheless had to first make sure children were telling the truth before going to law enforcement authorities. He cited several instances in America and in Israel in which he said false accusations were made.

Every community, said Schachter, needs a board of “talmida chachamim” —Torah scholars — who are also qualified psychologists who could interview victims to see if there is “raglayim la’davar” — or reasonable suspicion — of abuse.

He added: “Before you go to the police and before you got to family services, every community should have a board…to investigate whether there’s any raglayim la’davar or not.”

Schachter went on to say that federal prisons are acceptable for Jewish convicts because they offer needed services, such as glatt kosher food.

But, he added, Jews must be more careful where state prisons — to which the majority of sex offenders are sent — are concerned.

Schachter told his audience that in state prisons “the warden in the prison can kill you. They can put you in a cell together with a shvartze, with a…black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”

A spokesman for YU said: “As with all universities, our faculty members are afforded freedom of speech and expression. Not all statements made by faculty members are consistent with the views of the University.

“Any offensive or derogatory comments about any people or groups are inconsistent with the values or mission of Yeshiva University.”

Yeshiva Rabbi's Shades of Bigotry
Forward - March 15, 2013
By Larry Cohler-Esses

The lede, as we call it in the journalism biz, sat there silently on the computer screen, like an IED waiting to explode:“…or as he put it, ‘a schvartze,’” it said at the end.

The phrase reported accurately the word Rabbi Hershel Schachter used to describe the reason he resisted the idea of rabbis reporting cases of child sexual abuse within the Jewish community to the police. It was not, he said, that reporting such cases — after some rabbis judge them genuine — violated Talmudic strictures against turning a Jew over to secular authorities. But even if the accused Jew is guilty, said Schachter, he could end up in jail with a black man — “a schvartze.”

Forward staff reporter Paul Berger and I knew what kind of outrage would ensue once Forward web editor Dave Goldiner pressed the button sending this story out into the Internet. And we’d already been arguing over the wording of that lede sentence for something like an hour. It was getting late. We both had to go home. But as the Forward’s news editor, I knew that in its compression of the full quotation given in the story, this lede was missing something, and I couldn’t put my finger on what.

As a college student in the early 1970’s, I had lived for a year in Mississippi working for civil rights organizations. I learned a lot about racism then. I knew it came in many different flavors, even there. While arguing with Paul, I thought about how a few years before I arrived in Jackson, there were gargantuan battles there over the integration of municipal swimming pools. This was the fear of black people as contagion.

I read Rabbi Schachter’s full quote further down in the story once more, and it hit me. This was not that. Rabbi Schachter harbored a racist fear not of black contagion but of black violence. As stated further down the story, Schachter said that reporting even a Jew who was guilty of sexual abuse to the police was risky because “they can put you in a cell together with a shvartze, with a…black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”

I understood that this fear, as expressed by Schachter, was no less deeply racist than the fear of black contagion. But the lede, as written, left the impression that Schachter’s fear was of exposure to some contamination, and this was not so. Thinking back — purely anecdotally — on my own upbringing in Chicago, that had never been the Jewish racism I knew; one demanding a racially pure environment. The Jewish racism I knew was always fear of black violence beyond all rationality.

Suddenly, I felt I knew this man like I knew some of my own relatives. Moreover, I now knew what I needed to add to the lede to be fair even to him.

Thus Forward readers today saw a lede that read: “A top rabbinic dean of Yeshiva University has warned rabbis about the dangers of reporting child sex abuse allegations to the police because it could result in a Jew being jailed with a black inmate, or as he put it, ‘a schvartze,’ who might want to kill him.

It’s kind of Talmudic, I know. And, as the web editor complained, it made the lede too long. But given the power of these words, I wanted desperately to be fair—even in describing the kind of racism from which Schachter suffered; for you can’t develop a cure unless you precisely diagnose the disease.


Schachter, Y.U. dean, warns about reporting uncorroborated sex abuse claimsJTA - March 15, 2013

Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a rabbinic dean at Yeshiva University, has warned against reporting uncorroborated sex abuse allegations to police.

At a rabbinical conference in February in London, Schachter called “ridiculous” the idea that Jews should not turn fellow Jews over to secular authorities for fear of violating the principle of “mesirah,” or betrayal — the traditional Jewish prohibition on informing. However, he warned that that false allegations could lead to arrests and imprisonment with a “shvartze” — a derogatory Yiddish term for a black person — and that communal boards should be established to vet allegations before involving law enforcement.

“Before you go to the police and before you got to family services, every community should have a board… to investigate whether there’s any raglayim la’davar [substance] or not,” Schachter says, according to a recording posted on the blog

Schachter did not respond to inquiries from the Forward newspaper, which has been running stories since December about allegations of abuse by former faculty members at YU’s high school for boys. The alleged incidents took place decades ago.

In state prisons, “the warden in the prison can kill you. They can put you in a cell together with a shvartze, with a… black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews,” Schachter added.


Yeshiva Condemns 'Offensive' Racial Remarks by Rabbi Hershel Schachter
Anti-Defamation League Queried Dean's 'Shvartze' Comment

By Paul Berger
Forward - March 15, 2013 

Yeshiva University has condemned racially loaded remarks made by a top dean of its rabbinic school as “inappropriate” and “offensive”.

Rabbi Hershel Schachter, one of Y.U.’s most widely revered rabbinic deans, warned an audience of British rabbis last month that taking reports of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community to the police could result in a Jewish abuser being put “in a cell with a shvartze, in a cell with a Muslim, a black Muslim who wants to kill all the Jews.”

Schachter’s comments were captured on tape and posted Thursday as an audio file on the website FailedMessiah.

On that same day, a Y.U. spokesman responded to a request for comment from the Forward with a statement emphasizing the Y.U faculty’s freedom of speech. The statement added: “Not all statements made by faculty members are consistent with the views of the University. Any offensive or derogatory comments about any people or groups are inconsistent with the values or mission of Yeshiva University.”

But in response to a query from the Anti-Defamation League the following day, Y.U. harshly criticized the respected rabbi.

“The recent use of a derogatory racial term and negative characterizations of African-Americans and Muslims, by a member of the faculty, are inappropriate, offensive, and do not represent the values and mission of Yeshiva University,” a Y.U. spokesman told the ADL.

The ADL called the Forward to offer the quote from Y.U. several hours after the Forward asked the ADL if it had any comment on Schachter’s remarks. Michael Scagnoli, Y.U.’s executive director of communications, confirmed the comments to the Forward afterward.
Etzion Neuer, director of community service and policy for the ADL’s New York region, said: “We think it’s a proper response to an unfortunate situation.”


Yeshiva U. Sex Abuse Probe Stalls Amid Fear and Mistrust

Some Victims Not Contacted, Others Wary of Investigation
By Paul Berger
Forward - May 2, 2013

It has been more than four months since Yeshiva University hired an international law firm to investigate allegations of emotional, physical and sexual abuse at a Y.U.-run high school.

Yet investigators working for the firm of Sullivan & Cromwell still have not contacted several former Y.U. school staff and students who described the abuse in a series of articles published in the Forward last year.

Meanwhile, many other former students who have been contacted say they refused to cooperate with investigators because they do not trust Y.U.’s motives. Such mistrust has only increased since Y.U. retained another international law firm, Greenberg Traurig, to fight a possible multiparty civil lawsuit.

Barry Singer, a former student who has spoken to a Y.U. investigator, said the investigator “made it clear that she had nothing to do with any sort of defense that Yeshiva might mount.” But, Singer added, she also told him that Greenberg Traurig “can use whatever they gather” to defend against a civil lawsuit.

Singer said he believed that the investigator, Lisa Friel, a sex abuse expert hired by Sullivan & Cromwell to assist with its investigation, was well intentioned. But he added that Friel has no control over how much of the information she gathers will be made public.

“It’s not really about her investigation at all,” Singer said. “It’s about [the Y.U. board], of course, and what they do with it.”

Despite protests from Y.U. alumni, Y.U.’s board has not committed to making the results of its investigation public. Instead, the board’s most recent statement, published in January, said. “We expect the findings of the investigation will be communicated to the public following completion of the investigation.”

The board will not say which of its members are overseeing the investigation. Several board members reached by the Forward declined to comment. Jayne Beker, who is listed as a board member on Y.U.’s website, said she knew nothing about the investigation and had not taken part in board meetings for some time. Ronald P. Stanton, a chairman emeritus, declined to answer any questions. “I can’t help you, sorry.” Stanton said, and then cut off the call.

Y.U.’s board launched what it called an “independent investigation” into the alleged abuse in December 2012. The investigation followed an article in the Forward citing several men who said they were abused by two former staff members at Y.U.’s High School for Boys, in Manhattan.

Since then, about 20 former students have told the Forward they were emotionally, physically or sexually abused by Rabbi Macy Gordon, a former Talmud teacher, or by Rabbi George Finkelstein, the school’s former principal, over a period spanning three decades. Both men, who deny the allegations, served at the school for about 25 years. Gordon left the school around 1984. Finkelstein left the school in 1995.

Several former students said they or their parents informed Y.U. staff members of the abuse either at the time or after they left the school, but no action was taken.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, who was president of Y.U. from 1976 until 2003 and is now chancellor, appeared to suggest in a December interview at his home that the abuse was even more widespread. Lamm told the Forward that during his tenure, law enforcement officials were never notified, despite “charges of improper sexual activity” made against staff “not only at [Y.U.’s] high school and college, but also in [the] graduate school.”

Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a dean of Y.U.’s rabbinical school, told the New York Times in December that in addition to rabbis Gordon and Finkelstein he knew of another staff member who was dismissed for inappropriate behavior with students.

In the wake of the allegations, Y.U.’s board swiftly assured staff, students and alumni that Sullivan & Cromwell had been hired “to conduct a full and independent investigation of the allegations as well as to review our current policies and procedures.”
In statements posted to Y.U.’s website, the board assured alumni that it would “only be satisfied with a broad and far-reaching investigation” and that Sullivan & Cromwell had been given “the unrestricted authority to pursue any leads that may shed light on all matters related to the investigation.”

But the Forward has found that many people who were named months ago as having information about the abuse have yet to be contacted.

Elan Adler, a director of Y.U.’s school dormitory from 1981 to 1986, told the Forward in December that some boys complained to him about Finkelstein’s “inappropriately aggressive” wrestling. In an April 23 email, Adler said that investigators had not contacted him and that he had no idea an investigation had been launched.

Coby Hakalir, a former high school student, told the Forward in December about an atmosphere of “constant [fear]” that pervaded the school during the 1990s. Hakalir said on April 23 that he did not know an investigation was being conducted. “It’s not that hard to find me,” he added. Investigators contacted him on April 30, after the Forward asked about his case.

Investigators have also failed so far to pursue obvious leads that people familiar with Y.U. might explore. Abuse victims in the Orthodox community often turn to Rabbi Yosef Blau, a long-standing victims advocate who has been a spiritual adviser at Y.U. for almost 40 years. The Forward is aware of at least one person who contacted Blau during the past few years to say that a Y.U. staff member abused him decades ago. However, investigators have not contacted Blau.

Blau said that he had not taken the initiative to contact investigators, because they are only interested in “people who were personally abused.” In fact, the investigators’ mandate is much wider; they have interviewed several former students who have secondhand knowledge of abuse. “I can’t tell you for sure what are the full guidelines given to the law firm and how they chose to function,” Blau said. “Did they send a message to people working at Y.U., asking for anyone who knows anything to please contact us? I don’t recall that.”

Perhaps the most striking omission is the investigators’ failure thus far to contact Mordechai Twersky. Twersky wrote about his allegations of abuse at Y.U.’s high school in an online publication, the Y.U. Beacon, in February last year. Since then, he has been quoted extensively in the Forward about the abuse he says he suffered and also about his repeated attempts to alert first Lamm and then the current Y.U. president, Richard Joel.

Twersky is among about 20 former students who have retained a lawyer to launch a possible multiparty lawsuit against Y.U. He said that the potential lawsuit, as well as his deep mistrust of Y.U., meant that he would likely decline to speak to investigators. Nevertheless, he said, the symbolism of investigators “not reaching out” to him is striking.

Certainly, the investigation has been complicated by the potential lawsuit.

Abuse victims in New York have until their 23rd birthday to bring a civil claim of child sexual abuse. But that has not stopped some victims from winning settlements in cases where alleged incidents fall well beyond the statute of limitations.

Kevin Mulhearn won just such a settlement last year on behalf of 12 men who said they were sexually abused by football coach Philip Foglietta at Brooklyn’s Poly Prep Country Day School.

Now, he represents the former Y.U. students who, Mulhearn said, have helped him compile a dossier showing that Y.U. administrators “facilitated, condoned and excused” the abuse of students over decades.

Such a lawsuit could be embarrassing for some of Modern Orthodoxy’s most respected leaders. It could also deal a blow to Y.U.’s fundraising at a critical time.

Y.U., which recently launched a drive to raise $600 million toward a capital campaign and scholarships, has suffered significant financial problems lately. In June 2011, a Moody’s Investors Service analyst reported that “Yeshiva is reporting the largest operating cash flow deficits of any research university rated by Moody’s.” The analyst downgraded Y.U.’s credit rating, noting that “significant operating deficits and very thin operating cash flow are key components to the rating downgrade and maintenance of the negative outlook.”

The Y.U. investigation is being led by Karen Seymour, a co-managing partner of Sullivan & Cromwell’s litigation group. Seymour, who specializes in internal investigations, said she could not say when the investigation might be completed. “We want to follow all the leads, and so we’re still in the midst of a very active investigation,” she said. “We’re moving as quickly as we can, because we want to get this completed.”

Seymour was reluctant to disclose many details of the investigation on the record. But she did reassure victims who were reticent to talk to her out of fear that their information could be turned against them during a civil lawsuit that their identities would be “anonymized.” She reiterated that the information is not being “gathered for the purposes of the defense.”

Still, many former students say they do not trust a law firm paid by Y.U. to conduct a truly independent investigation. “I did not trust that through my talking to them I would reach any sort of closure,” said one former student, who is in his late 40s and who did not wish to be named, in an email. “I had no assurances as to what Y.U. would do with any information I shared with them.”

The man said that the Forward’s articles about Y.U. had reawakened terrible memories that he had suppressed for decades. “People can’t and do not realize that the mind can hide something like this for years and then suffer flashbacks,” he said.

“I have been seeing a therapist since December and have been diagnosed with [post-traumatic stress disorder],” he added. “It keeps me awake some nights, or I wake up having had a nightmare. I am typing this with one hand because I finally snapped and punched a… wall and broke my hand about three weeks ago.”

After more than four months, Y.U.’s investigation is now longer than a three-month probe that Deerfield Academy, an elite Massachusetts boarding school, conducted into abuse allegations at its campus. It is also just one month short of a five-month investigation into abuse at the Orthodox Union’s youth organization, NCSY, which was led by Joel before he became president of Y.U.

At its current pace, the Y.U. investigation threatens to take as long as the probe into abuse at Penn State University, led by former FBI director Louis Freeh. Although that investigation, which took about eight months, included more than 400 interviews and the examination of more than 3.5 million emails and documents.

Asked how Y.U.’s investigation was progressing and when it might be completed, a Y.U. spokesman said the probe “continues to be ongoing, and as soon as it has been completed in the proper way and to the satisfaction of investigators, we will have an update to offer.” Asked whether there was a conflict of interest between Sullivan & Cromwell, whose mission is to shed light on the abuse, and Greenberg Traurig, whose mission is to protect Y.U from abuse claims, the spokesman did not respond.

A spokesman for Greenberg Traurig said no one from the firm was available to comment.

Some former students who have spoken to Y.U.’s investigators remain cynical. Although Juda Engelmayer was not abused at Y.U., he said that he contacted investigators because he knew, secondhand, of abuse. Engelmayer said he was disappointed by the investigators’ line of questioning. He said that the questions seemed more designed to explain why abusive behavior might have taken place than to seriously investigate what happened. “I don’t think they’re being genuine,” Engelmayer said.

Others were more sanguine. Neal Lehrman, who also knew secondhand of abuse, said that Friel appeared to be sincere. “She said, ‘The only thing I can tell you is I have been doing this for 25 years and I am not staking my reputation on something that’s going to be swallowed up,’” Lehrman said. When he last corresponded with Friel, she told him that the investigative team continued to interview “numerous people a week” and that the investigation would be complete “in about a month.”

That was on March 5.



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