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 email@example.com 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.