The Sins Of The Fathers

A sad day for YU, as scandal casts shadow on Rabbi Lamm's accomplished tenure.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Reading The Forward’s thorough article about alleged sexual abuses against a former Judaic teacher and a principal at MTA, the Yeshiva University Boy’s High School, in the 1970s and 1980s, I felt profound sadness on many levels.

First, of course, was the pain of the victims, teenage students at the time whose psychic suffering was deepened by the fact that their complaints were not sufficiently acted upon by those in power at the school. And it was disturbing to read how Norman Lamm, a rabbi and scholar and leading voice of Modern Orthodoxy, protected the accused abusers, and YU, the university he led and loved, rather than the students who were victimized.

It is a fact but not an excuse to point out that until about a decade ago, issues of sexual abuse were not recognized or dealt with seriously. Mandatory reporting was not common at the time of these events, and was still in its infancy. If rumors were heard about a possible abuser in a school, administrators tended to either ignore the reports or quietly dismiss the alleged perpetrator, who most likely would move on and continue his behavior in a new environment.

Unfortunately, this is still a common scenario, but in those days there was not even a vocabulary or culture for young people to discuss abuse or for institutions to establish policies on the subject.

As Rabbi Lamm, now 85, noted, “this was before things of this sort had attained a certain notoriety,” adding, “there was a great deal of confusion.”

All too true, as is the reality of a man whose proud career, marked by his saving YU from financial catastrophe, is now at the center of a dark chapter in the university’s past, reflecting the poor judgments made in dealing with allegations about abuse by choosing not to deal with them.

Then, too, there is the situation YU President Richard Joel finds himself in today, forced to deal with a controversy that arose long before his watch. At a time when YU is dealing with financial troubles that go back to its heaving losses resulting from the Madoff scandal, Joel can point to the dramatic and impressive changes he has made in improving the school academically and culturally, during his decade as president, marked by his emphasis on “enabling and ennobling” students and improving their morale.

Ironically, Joel, whose leadership of an Orthodox Union committee in 2000 investigating the abuse charges against Rabbi Baruch Lanner enhanced his own profile as a possible successor to Rabbi Lamm, is now embroiled in another abuse scandal. Only this time he has been cast in the role of defender of Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship institution.

To his credit he issued a prompt, forthright and detailed statement in response to the Forward article condemning the alleged abuse and expressing “profound apology” on behalf of YU.

How frustrating this episode must be for Joel, a man of integrity who recognizes the moral obligation of his religious institution to do the right thing while well aware of the negative fallout that can come about from this latest scandal, made public on the eve of YU’s Chanukah dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, its primary annual fundraiser.

And how unfortunate that Rabbi Lamm is the “heavy” in the investigative report, having accomplished so much throughout his long career at Yeshiva.

The only bright spot here is that the abuse victims have, at last, had their moment of recognition. It’s more than a shame, though, that it took so long.

 gary@jewishweek.com

Comments

YU is just another institution that begs money for "students" but most of it goes into salaries of the managers. It all fraud. As to the abuse, I personally was at MTA in the late 1970s and a certain "Rabbi" - Rabbi H slapped me because my grades - in his view - were subpar. My experience suggests that in that time frame an atmosphere prevailed where students could be mistreated.

Fine article, but it's not true that issues of child sexual abuse were not treated seriously until a decade ago. The need to report child abuse was well known in educational circles by the late 1980s.

“this was before things of this sort had attained a certain notoriety,” adding, “there was a great deal of confusion.”

What an odd explanation to come from an Orthodox Jewish "leader". Aren't we supposed to follow the torah, a book of justice and compassion? And what a joke that a man who heads an organization which purports to be able to ascertain the exact moment of sexual purity in a woman's cycle, which shames "immodest dress", which claims to know the morality of almost every aspect of human sexuality...didn't have the moral strength and wisdom and spiritual integrity to figure out what to do with people who are the sexual predators of children!! Yeah--that's a really "confusing" ethical problem--good grief. Though his point about "notoriety" is good and accurate: people like Lamm more-and-more seem to be revealed as nothing but self-aggrandizing political figures.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2012/06/that-1985-2002-clergy-abuse-gap-revisited/

the above article, recently published in response to an unrelated news event, shows that the issue of abuse is not a product of the post-2000 era but rather had been a matter of public concern in the 80s

on you kippur, one says sadly "v'anshei hashem k'lo hayu" - the "men of name" (or the great and respected men) -it is as if they never were.

One after another, heroes lose their luster as we see how at times of their greatest test, they failed.

I am reading the accusations that are being made, and the responses from my alma mater, Yeshiva College. These allegations are to actions that were allegedly done in the late 1970's. The reporting requirement for health care professionals and educators did not come into effect until the late 1980's. That is not to excuse anyone, but put into the context of the time, they were handled as well as could be expected. The accusations are not of penetration, or actual sexual activity, and although ANY accusation must be thoroughly investigated, it seems strange we are equating the vile deeds we have read about at other institutions with a idiot administrator wrestling with high school students, and getting an erection. CONTEXT is necessary. That Dr. Lamm let the administrator go and did not ruin his career is an act of generosity. It did not hurt the victims, it did not endanger others.
I did not go to the YU High School, but to another Yeshiva High School in the Metropolitan Area, where the actions of teachers of the time, would get them fired today, and possibly jailed [hurling desks at Kids, corporal punishment] but THAT WAS then and now is now. CONTEXT.

Let me offer another perspective on the unfolding scandal at MTA. I am a former student who attended the high school during the 1970s. I was a lackluster student who had a very poor relationship with George. Despite this, I find the allegations against him disturbing. Though I had no experience of wrestling with George, I was aware that he engaged in this practice with some students. I considered the practice bizarre then and still do today. However, I never heard a single suggestion at the time that his wrestling with students was anything other than an attempt to break down barriers with certain students. I feel sorry for both George and his accusers. Let's move on.

all I have heard is heresay which would never hold up in court. Use real names and give dates, time and place. So far two reputations have been ruined and where is the solid proof, witnesses, pictures, RECORDINGS, anything. THIS WILL NEVER GO TO COURT . SO FAR THERE IS A LOT OF HERESAY AND NO REAL PROOF. Dr. Lamm is a hero at Y.U. He saved Y.U. THERE were others who should have handled the alleged sexual issues. Where are they and who are they? Rabbi DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

How come no one is questioning how weak and tenuous the claims against Finkelstein sound? Does no one else get the impression that the Forward article makes the accuser sound like a psychopath but then nevertheless presents the claims?

Richard Joel did not expose the NCSY scandal, he covered up for it. He refused to release the "internal" report which listed the names of the protectors of the abuse for over 20 years. This cover-up continues to this day. Who knows the identity of these protectors and where they are today. Richard Joel, according to the Forward article, was made aware of these allegations over 10 years ago, and did nothing to investigate them. The article states that YU seems to be saying that they are shocked by the allegations. But there is no question they knew, and Joel is now trying to excuse his own current behavior for the last ten years, not the acts of decades past. He has no integrity on this issue whatsoever.
rotectors of the abuse,

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