Today’s Forward reports on molestation of boys in Yeshiva University’s (YU) high school by Principal Rabbi George Finkelstein and by Rabbi Macy Gordon. The abuse happened in the 70s and 80s and the two were dismissed but other institutions hired them. YU did not inform other employers about the reasons they were dismissed.
As of today, both rabbis live in Israel and are members of the Advisory Board of the Young Israel Council of Rabbis in Israel (CYIR).
This afternoon, YU President Richard Joel issued an apology.
I am disappointed in YU’s conduct and the fact that they had to be outed before they issued an apology. I believe their present handling of abuse prevention and reporting is responsible. Nevertheless, institutions have to candidly confront past failures to create a better culture for abuse prevention and detection in the present. I fear their lawyers, publicists, and fund raisers developed their response. The letter is appropriate but gutless, just barely adequate but lacking in moral conviction. I suspect they are working to avoid legal liabilities and donor backlash. I think that they failed even on that score. Victims, especially orthodox victims, are usually less interested in lawsuits than in validation of their pain and in authentic ownership of institutional failure. However, if these concerns are slighted, victims can use lawsuits as surrogates means of redress.
Ironically, one of the most eloquent voices for passionate redress is Rabbi Yosef Blau, Mashgiach Ruchani (Spritiual Counselor) of their rabbinical seminary. He publicly acknowledged and apologized for his failed initial approach to convicted molester, Rabbi Baruch Lanner. He has since become an eloquent public voice about the problem, an advocate of vigorous use of law enforcement, and a tireless resource and helper for other advocates and individual victims. YU would have done much better if it had let him respond to the revelations. YU like all major universities can prevent anyone in its administration from speaking out publicly. One has to suspect that they foolishly muzzled him.
Also disappointing is YU’s failure to do more in the years after those rabbis were fired. They should have taken steps to advise other institutions not to hire them. They should have advised the Young Israel movement and other rabbinical organizations to keep them out. It is also possible that they failed to meet legal or moral standards for reporting their abuse to civil authorities.
I realize that even responsible organizations have been learning and getting wiser about abuse. I give them credit for at least listening to complaints and firing the rabbis. Perhaps that is the most that could have been expected at the time. But somewhere along the way they should have grown and risen to a higher standard. Certainly they knew enough to do better some time before a Forward reporter confronted them in the last weeks or months.
Some of Nechemya Weberman’s defenders are saying, “You see, Satmar is no worse than YU.” That line of defense is grotesque For all of YU’s failings it did fire the two and it did apologize when confronted. In contrast, Satmar retained Weberman and kept feeding him victims, denied his culpability when it was exposed, harassed and intimidated his victims, forced many of them to stay silent, and funded the crimiinal defense of Weberman. Satmar is now embarking on a million dollar campaign to pay for his appeal. Satmar is waging all out war against anyone who dares to confront molesting. A Williamsburg Hasid, Meilech Schnitzler, tried to blind anti-abuse activist Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg. I have no proof that Satmar leadership was behind the attack, but it bears responsibility for fostering a climate in which such attacks are tolerated. To date, they have not publicly condemned the attack.
Satmar’s culture of molestation is so pervasive and outrageous they even the hacks at Agudath Israel have not risen to their defense and I suspect they won’t. Agudath Israel may be immoral but it is not stupid. they know a lost cause when they see it. They know that even invoking daas torah and stoking paranoia about antisemitism will not fool their own members. It is pathetic but I will say it, the world will be a better place when Satmar at least advances to the moral level of Agudath Israel of America and Agudath Israel of America rises to the level of Yeshiva University. But all three of them should be doing much better.
Hat Tip: Vicki Polin