Saturday, 15 December 2012

Student Claims of Abuse Not Reported by Yeshiva University

A Forward investigation into allegations that two staff members at Yeshiva University High School for Boys’ Manhattan campus sexually abused students during the late 1970s and early ’80s has led to a startling admission by the university’s chancellor: The school dealt with allegations of “improper sexual activity” against staff members by quietly allowing them to leave and find jobs elsewhere.

For years, former students have asked Y.U., the premier educational institution of Modern Orthodox Judaism, to investigate their claims that a former principal had repeatedly abused students in the all-male high school that is part of the university. Another former high school student said Y.U. covered up for a staff member who sodomized him.

Y.U. President Richard Joel said in a statement issued on December 3 that the school was “looking with concern into the questions” the Forward had raised.

But Norman Lamm, who was president of Y.U. from 1976 to 2003 and is now chancellor, indicated in an interview December 7 that he knew about some of the allegations and chose to deal with them privately. In one case, a suspected abuser of high school students was allowed to leave for a position as dean of a Florida school.

No law enforcement officials were ever 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,” Lamm said. “If it was an open-and-shut case, I just let [the staff member] go quietly. It was not our intention or position to destroy a person without further inquiry.”

Asked whether in the case of staff assaulting minors the abuse should have been reported to police, Lamm said. “My question was not whether to report to police but to ask the person to leave the job.”

Lamm would not reveal names of the staff members involved. But he stressed that the incidents took place at a time before abuse scandals involving Catholic clergy or schools such as Penn State University, when institutions were ignorant of how to deal with such allegations. “This was before things of this sort had attained a certain notoriety,” Lamm said. “There was a great deal of confusion.”

Lamm was speaking following a Forward investigation into allegations of sexual assault committed at Y.U. high school’s Washington Heights campus by a former Talmud teacher, Rabbi Macy Gordon, and by former principal Rabbi George Finkelstein.

Both men, who currently live in Israel, deny the allegations against them.

Lamm said he had no recollection of accusations made against Gordon, who served at the school for 28 years. But he did remember that Finkelstein was forced out of Y.U.’s high school in 1995 following accusations that he had inappropriate contact with students by wrestling with them in a high school office. Finkelstein, who worked at Y.U. for 27 years, subsequently took a post as dean of the Samuel Scheck Hillel Community Day School, in North Miami Beach, Fla. In 2001, he immigrated to Israel where he became executive director of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, where he served until stepping aside in November to become the synagogue’s ritual director.

“When [the wrestling] came up, [Finkelstein] had decided to leave because he knew we were going to ask him to leave,” said Lamm, who at 85 is a revered scholar, rabbi and communal leader. Asked why the university did not inform the Florida school about Finkelstein’s behavior, Lamm said: “The responsibility of a school in hiring someone is to check with the previous job. No one checked with me about George.”

Y.U., a 116-year-old institution, is perhaps the pre-eminent institution of Modern Orthodoxy, blazing a trail for Joseph Soloveitchik’s vision of “Torah Umadda,” or “Torah and secular knowledge,” the university motto. It includes several undergraduate and graduate schools, such as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, as well as affiliated institutions such as the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy Yeshiva University High School for Boys.

The very reverence with which the university and its staff is held by so many families made it all the more difficult for students to come forward with allegations of abuse.

One man interviewed by the Forward who asked not to be named said that in 1980, when he was a 16-year-old student at Y.U.’s high school, Gordon visited him in his dorm room after he skipped class. More


Anonymous said...

The former students who are now adults deserve credit for speaking out. I taught at Yeshiva College at the same time this occurred and was the go to person for students who had problems. Wish they had known this and come to me. I have shared my experiences with YU and the RCA. I love the school but have had issues with some people. Having raised over 1.5 million for YU in the eighties did not help me from being terminated recently from teacihng Public Speaking despite great reviews; most adjuncts were let go for supposed financial problems. I have served in my current Synagogue for 23 years. The only president who showed me kindness was Dr. Belkin of Blessed Memory I WAS bullied and harrassed by the president of the RCA. in those days. I was denied employment at any Orthodox institution because YU placed me originally in a Conservative Synagogue. It is time for these people to be exposed so it never happens to anyone again, child or adult.
Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

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Anonymous said...

Since the RCA is investigating issues they should investigate what was
done to a group of Rabbis including myself who received Smicha from YU,
were placed in United Synagogue congregations by YU and were members of
the RCA. We were either thrown out after 15 years or forced to resign.
The revisionist version is that Rav Soleveichik of Blessed Memory gave
Heterim for us to be place in non mechitzah shuls for two years to try
to make them Orthodox.The truth is I and others I know were never given
a heter by the Rav , but YU placed us and said it was ok and our
instructions were to raise money for YU which I did to tune of over 1.5
million dollars. Why not investigate Rabbis who are members of the RCA
who committed adultery and financial crimes in addition to molestation.
Many talented Rabbis were forced to enter other fields because they
were blacklisted in the Orthodox community because they served in non
Mechitzah shuls. I was told by a past placement director of YU that I
could not get a Mechitzah shul after serving in a conservative shul (at
YU's behest) and should drive a cab. My wife and I were told by a past
president of the RCA that we should "burn in hell" for being in a non
Mechitzah shul. In addition the shidduchim of my children would be
destroyed. I went public (see YU Commentator articles). Three of my
four children are already married and have frum households.
Regarding the current YU situation, face up to it, hire a private
investigator and make it public. In addition, it doesnt matter how old
the alleged molestors are, if the charges are proven, throw them out of
the RCA and put them in jail where they belong. If the RCA could ruin
the lives of many Orthodox ordained Rabbis whose only crime was to
spread Torah in non Orthodox synagogues, then the RCA must investigate
and act on these latest charges and the other questionnable actions of
members of the RCA.
Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

Anonymous said...

the Forward is only interested in attacking Orthodox Judaism and using all of you as a ploy. ALL SHOULD STOP COMMENTING AND perhaps this would die out. The students involved are now remembering things that happened in the 60′s and 70′s AND 80′S . D. The bottom line is why didnt the parents go to the police. The excuse that they were afraid the children’s reputations would be destroyed is ludicrous. I would have taken action immediately. DR. LAMM is being used as a fall guy. It would be best if all involved no longer made comments to the press. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

Anonymous said...

Having been both a student and teacher at Yeshiva University during these years, I pose one question: Why didn't the parents of these students call the police. If it was my child I would have confronted these instructors and gone to the police and administration immediately and hired a lawyer. Had any of these students approached me when I was a young teacher of speech at Yeshiva College and told me of this I would have acted with vigor. Yeshiva University is a great institution. Let's not forget that many of today's Jewish leaders are products of YU. It is good that this horrendous part of the history of Yeshiva University has gone public so the individuals can find some degree of justice and peace. We are all awaiting Yeshiva University's response. It is still a great institution with fantastic teachers and Rebbaim.
Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg