The Sins Of The Fathers

A sad day for YU, as scandal casts shadow on Rabbi Lamm's accomplished tenure.
12/13/2012 - 19:00

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.

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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.


Make no mistake the physical and psychological terror that many of us experienced going to Yeshivah in 'Modern" day schools back in the 60's and 70's will be with us for the rest of our lives. Watching a "Rebbe" who we later found out abused his kids beat the hell out of classmates in 7th grade or being verbally abused by other "Rebbeim" for not being frum or smart or whatever their pet peeve that day was or having a "Rebbe" squirt you with hot scalding tea from a water gun for one reason or another in 5th grade was business as usual and a perfect set-up for what followed for many of my classmates in MTA.
By 9th grade, the abuse probably seemed normal to many. To many of our parents it was business as usual because many were European immigrants who themselves were used to being hit a time or two by the "Rebbe".
Not that there weren't many, many exceptions. I was blessed to have had those exceptions as Rebbeim.
What everyone is missing is that there was a culture of abuse that was simply ignored. A Rebbe was not trained as a teacher and many inherently reverted to the brutality they themselves experienced in order to manifest their superiority or control the class or for other more nefarious reasons. What is not a headline is that many "Rebbeim" encouraged and acted as the gang leader for the bullying of the weakest, and picked on kids that were the weakest and had everything from speech impediments to cancer, thereby destroying their self-worth.
Many are shocked, thinking that Y.U. was better than that or above it all. Why? That generation of Y.U. Rebbeim wasn't trained any better than anywhere else; nepotism was always a fact of life at Y.U. and like everywhere else, the institution was always more important than the individual.
So, why do these incidents shock us now! Richard Joel's statement reminds me of Captain Renault "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here."

I was a student at MTA in the late 60s when Finkelstein was assist. principal. He was a strange guy, but I never heard any suggestion that he was doing anything inappropriate with students.

I find it reprehensible that anyone would in today's day and age say where is the proof. As an educator myself, I can not even believe that Rabbis (one of our most important leaders) would say things like, what good can come of this now? That these people can not be tried in court because it's been too long, therefore it is just hearsay and what's the point we are just ruining their careers and lives. How dare anyone, say such things. What about the many lives that have been ruined because in the 70's and 80's Rabbi Lamm didn't have the guts to do his JOB!!! To protect every single one of those HS students.

To say that these victims should now again be victimized in public by using their real names and giving dates, times and places is astonishing to me.

Let's get the perspective here. Some students who were very brave back then went to their parents, their parents or they themselves went to Rabbi Lamm for help. Rabbi Lamm choose to take their accusations and DO NOTHING, no that is not correct Rabbi Lamm chose instead to promote George to Assistant Principal, take the door off of his office, then promote him again to Principal and then when YU couldn't keep him any longer to ship him off to some other school (where he could potentially harm additional children). And today in 2012 (almost 2013) his response is it's not his fault that he was hired by the other school, because that school should have done its homework, no one from the other school called to check with him if there were any issues. WHY THE HE?? would they, this is a man that Rabbi Lamm and YU promoted and allowed to be with children for years. To have the audacity to say that Rabbi Lamm is a hero. Sure a financial hero for YU, that my dear friend is not a HERO. A HERO is someone who risks EVERYTHING for the sake of others. Rabbi Lamm has never risked anything!!!!

I think that it was very brave for these men to come forward now. It is going to be difficult for many, many more. Let's not forget that now there are more victims who were not yet ready or perhaps had hoped they would never have to EVER relive what had happened to them when they were young and vulnerable. Who were able to put these incidents in the back of their minds, in a much hidden place. It’s even possible that some of the victims will never ever have a say, because they couldn't live with what happened to them and they killed themselves, or they don't have it so well now because they got messed up with drugs and alcohol. Some are lucky and they have families who love them and would do anything for them, something they did not feel or have when they were so young and vulnerable.

Who else should have helped these young men in a time when this kind of stuff was not made public, where the victims were tried and not their accusers. We want to do the same things to them now today!!!

Rabbis you should all be ashamed of yourselves. Do your jobs and speak up for these men (these boys who no one spoke up for before). Be the HERO. All any of you who are speaking out are doing is making it difficult for those who are suffering and for any one to come forward NOW!!!!!!!!

In my opinion the same way the Church has handled these types of allegations from the same time frame, and how Penn State has decided to remove Joe Paterno is what YU should be doing with Rabbi Lamm. Rabbi Lamm should no longer be associated or on any boards at YU. That would at least be the start, of possibly helping these men begin their healing process.

Good Bye Lamm and take the rest of them with you.

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