Needed: Independent Investigation On YU High School Scandal
Mon, 12/24/2012

The media has reported serious accusations against two former employees of Yeshiva University’s High School (known as MTA), Rabbi Macy Gordon, a Talmud teacher, and Rabbi George Finkelstein, the principal. 

According to reports in The Forward and The New York Times, currently a total of 14 former students have said that there was inappropriate sexual abuse by these educators, going back two to three decades.  Some of the students claim that they brought their complaints to Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, who was then President of the University.  These complaints were ignored for a long time until finally, these men were let go, but they were allowed to keep their reputations intact and thus continue in their careers as Jewish educators.

I went to MTA from 1988 to1992, and during that time Rabbi Finkelstein was first assistant principal and was then promoted to principal.  I never felt any abuse from Rabbi Finkelstein, thankfully, but then again I stayed far away from him. Even at that time, I remember hearing students say that all was not kosher with his behavior.   Although I don’t know enough to say that these accusations are accurate, I can say that I was not surprised to read them in the Forward.

If Rabbis Finkelstein and Gordon did what they are accused of then they deserve to be punished.  But there is another story here as well – not regarding whether Yeshiva University acted inappropriately in its past behavior with respect to Rabbis Gordon and Finkelstein.  We now know that they certainly did.

The question is whether the university is acting appropriately today. 

An independent investigation is needed to study the culture that allowed this behavior to go unchecked, unreported, and unchallenged for decades.  An independent investigation would study whether administrators and board members knew about these charges and hushed them up and whether or not any of these administrators continue in positions of authority to this day.  Faculty who were in leadership positions in the school when I went there are still teaching at MTA today. 

An independent investigation would also study whether or not the current President, Richard Joel, knew of these charges and ignored them.  The Forward reports that at least one student shared his charges almost a decade ago directly with President Joel and that he was ignored.  An independent investigation would clarify what University officials knew and when they knew it. 

The investigation should not only be limited to Yeshiva University. One former student claims in the Forward that he shared his accusations with Rabbi Michael Broyde of the Beth Din of America who dismissed his charges without giving him a proper hearing.  We need to know whether or not this accusation is accurate.    

On December 13, Yeshiva University President, Richard Joel sent an email to the school’s supporters saying:

“At this institution we continually review and strengthen policies….  Anyone who may have suffered harm is invited to contact us in confidence….  I welcome the opportunity to personally and confidentially discuss any issues with anyone who may have suffered harm. I can be reached at president@yu.edu or (212) 960-5300.”

Sorry, President Joel.  You are not the address to which concerned students should go. When I attended Yeshiva University (for High School, College, Graduate School, and Rabbinical School) I was taught the phrase nogea badavar, which roughly means “conflict of interest.” 

The responsible thing is to hire an independent firm to review the school’s record, past and present. 

Senior administrators of the University have told me that the school has hired an attorney to lead an investigation. But such an investigation will be of limited value if it is not truly independent.

The Jewish community needs Yeshiva University to answer these questions.  There is too much at stake.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld is rabbi of The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C.

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the Jewish community can react to YU's lack of transparency by withholding support both financial and recruitment.

Many of you have posted comments concerning sexual abuse that occurred at YUHS. My name is Lisa Friel and I am a former prosecutor from the Manhattan DA’s Office where I was in the Sex Crimes Unit for over 25 years, the last 10 as its Chief. Because of this background, I have been retained to assist the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in conducting a full and independent investigation of the reported sexual abuse at YU. We have been contacting and interviewing anyone who has any knowledge regarding such abuse. If you have any such knowledge, we want to hear what you have to say. You may contact me in confidence if you choose and your personal information will not be shared with the school unless you grant us permission to do so. Please contact me at your earliest convenience to set up a time we can meet and talk about your experience at YUHS. If you have any questions or concerns about having such a meeting, please call me and let’s talk about them. We truly want to get to the bottom of what happened at YUHS and we hope you will help us do so.

Sincerely yours,
Lisa M. Friel
Vice President
Sexual Misconduct Consulting &
Investigations
T&M Protection Resources
212-417-9160
lfriel@tmprotection.com

Please sign this petition to pressure YU to release the FULL details of their investigation and to support all victims of abuse. This has gone on way too long. It's very sad and outrageous but so important that it's coming to light and it can no longer be hidden.
Anyone blaming victims - try to open your heart to really feel what it's like for them to have gone through what they went through. Words are so powerful and important to feel before you say them to people who have been devastated. And hats off to Rabbi Herzfeld - one of few orthodox rabbis with the courage to stand up for justice.
http://signon.org/sign/an-open-letter-to-yeshiva

Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg now I know why Yeshiva University and Rutgers University both gave you the
exit door and said your services.are no longer needed.

Rabbi Hertzfeld's call for an independent review is quite appropriate and the two comments above mine are legitmate and reasonable.

Rabbi Herzfeld's pieces are always well-written and always failing in balance. Whose agenda is being advanced by a gratuitous suggestion that is usually made by seasoned attorneys, counsellors, or well-respected supporters? I have tried to fill in with some balance in a recent blogpost. You may read it at http://shalombayitblog.wordpress.com.

The grievances are poignant but let's try for some sense of context and fairness. I suspect Rabbi Herzfeld is not a person whose rabbinic ties connect him to YU, so why keep up the pretense of being an "honest broker"?

I am tired of this crybaby stuff.Rabbi Rosenberg is telling a truth people cannot handle.It is one thing to deal with a powerless child.It is another for middle aged men to hide behind a veil of anonymity and cry "victim".There parents were not children.They knew what was going on.How many even pulled their kids out of YU?You mean to tell me that they knew but let their children remain.Gordon and Finklestein should be held responsible.But where were the parents and why didn't they act?

I did not understand this opinion peice. Why shouldn't YU do the investigation? If something happened in Rabbi Herzfeld's shul before he was the rabbi, would any one doubt that he should look into it first? Rabbi Lamm's comments need to be addressed, and Rabbi Broyde's view is straightforward -- he tells people who come to him about abuse to go to the police and not to bet din. That seems reasonable.

I also thought that this piece was of little value -- his attack on Rabbi Broyde was just dumb if one actually read the Forward and his attack on President Joel was without basis. YU should do the investigation.

Hillel

I think David Weissman's comment is correct. Whatever YU should have done, Shmuel Herzfeld's comments are just off point, and not very helpful.

I agree, Rabbi Rosenberg, that parents should have called the police. But YU is a powerful institution and Rabbis are persons who deserve respect and deference. The fact that so many children appear to have been abused but none of the parents went to the police speaks loudly ---- plainly, there is something significant about the setting (the institution, the relations between parents and administrators, etc.) that inhibits parental challenges. It is important to ask why parents did not go to the police and to explore how changes in our community can encourage that, but of course that question does not bear on whether the educators, the school, and the leadership acted properly then and now.

My goodness!Have you ever heard such narshkeit???You mean to tell me the parents are also afraid of authority just as their teenage boys were.I am not a slow and befuddled individual.What kind of argument is that?There were at least twenty parents who did nothing!Worse they left their children there for the most part.I don't buy that phony assertion.Obviously they had a number options and chose none of them.The victims themselves (many of whom are very prominent) could have acted at least by age 25.35?45??No!They didn't even do that.Had they done that there might have been less victims.I guess for some strange folks a YU High School Diploma is so very meaningful.It is only high school!

I guess that is true, about the diploma, probably why I never bothered to collect mine. My time at MTA was awful. I still don't have much clarity. The headmaster jumped on boys grinding his erection into kids backs while breathing heavily. Even now some respondents to these posts don't think anything wrong happened hiding behind legal bullshit. Isn't it enough that the behavior was highly inappropriate?

Paul- would like the opportunity to speak with you regarding your experience at MTA. We are private investigators representing 20 plus alleged victims of abuse. 845-359-5645 Thank you, Janice

This whole editorial is somewhat silly. Not really wrong, just biased and with little content. Let me give two examples -- when he speak about Rabbi Broyde, he does not quote the whole story in the Forward, which seems to have spoken to Rabbi Broyde and quotes him as saying two things: (1) He does not recall any part of this conversation and thinks it did not happen, and (2) he tells people to call the police when abuse allegations come up. Rabbi Herzfeld's quoting half the story makes it of no value. Second and even more extreme is the idea that President Joel should not be allowed to conduct the investigation. What nonesense -- there is no real claim that he is biased at all. Rather, Herzfeld is claiming some abstract idea of "bias" as if the President of YU is part of the problem. This whole peice seems to designed just to smear YU. Very sad.

David Weissman

Rabbi Lamm :You Knew, Leave Now.

Would YU let the rabbi of a Reform temple teach there??

So, Bernhard Rosenberg said he would have acted w/vigor had he been told of allegations in the past but now he defends YU. YU is just an institution what makes it possibly great is its faculty in this case the faculty failed and turning on parents and students does not vindicate YU it actually confirms its culpability.

As for hiring a lawyer, is this attorney hired to defend YU or discern whether the allegations are correct. There is a lot of talk about statute of limitations is that really germaine to the issues. Halachically, is there a statute of limitations. I was taught that gezel sheina was one of the worst sins because it can never be repaid. Is not the stealing of ones youth in the manner george did akin to this type of gezeilah. Maybe YU should have consulted with lawyers in the 70's and 80's after their financial crisis was dealt with, I quess by hookin up with Bernie madoff (sic). Are there any mechanisms for clawbacks of pensions/salaries. with all due to Rabbi Lamm he seems to have continually dropped the ball Madoff, abuse what exactly was he doing as leader of this "great institution".

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

Tell your parents that a revered teacher in your community was sexually abusive, or in the least, sexually inappropriate? What planet do you live on? As a sexual abuse survivor, I can tell you (and hopefully educate you) that real life ain't like the movies! At about the age of 12, I finally gathered the courage to tell my mother that my piano teacher, a revered Holocaust Survivor in my VERY Jewish community in Upstate NY, kept touching me & that I was refusing to ever go for a lesson again. It took me years of continued abuse & shame to finally get the courage to say that. Her response? She slapped my face & told me to never say a bad word about that man again, because he was, after-all, a Holocaust survivor. You think that's unusual in the Jewish Community? Again I ask: What planet are you from?

Years later, I asked my sister if he had done the same to her. She had to think a minute & said, sure, of course he did. I asked why she didn't tell. She said it never occurred to her that as a child, she had any rights, or that anyone would believe her word against an adult's - the foundation of what's wrong with our culture, NOT the victim. Again I ask: What planet are you from? I'm a 52 year old woman & I still fear retribution from the close-knit Jewish Community I grew up in, & fear the response my family will get if I "out" that man.

Seriously Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg? With your comment/question, all you did was slap the faces of the 14 children who were finally able to gather enough courage to go up against one of the worlds largest religions, with a culture that never believes one of their own could do something unspeakable like this. Instead, your priority is to stand up for Yeshiva University rather than the abused children?

You're an exact & perfect example of why those kids didn't go for help at the time, & why my sister & I didn't tell either. In fact, your attitude is exactly why children do not go to their parents or tell adults. By your very question & commentary, you're perpetuating the culture of shame on the victim & their families instead of the perpetrators. Well shame on you sir. You apparently know nothing about how children think or feel, nothing about being a sexual abuse survivor, or how terrifying it is to even think about going up against the culture of an entire world religion & a school that represents it, much less actually doing something about it. Shame on you.

Very well said. This "Rabbi Rosenberg's" comments are precisely why problems like this exist. This personality has spammed every report of these sick heinous acts pushing the blame to the victims. Further, he wants the victims to report to him instead of the appropriate designated routes, which in this case are the newspapers, the only resource willing to publicize this.

It is irrelevant whether or not the children spoke out, whether or not the parents spoke out. What is relevant is that it happened, and was condoned by Yeshiva University of their own accord.

Shame on you Rabbi Rosenberg, shame on YU.

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