My Empathy Questions for Richard Joel

YU Pres. Richard Joel &  Pres. Emeritus Norman Lamm

YU Pres. Richard Joel &
Pres. Emeritus Norman Lamm

From the Frum Follies archives 9/3/13. Still pertinent.

Richard Joel, imagine the principal of one of your high schools was pressing ham sandwiches against the lips of many students. Would you say the incident should be ignored to protect the reputation of this principal who was clearly suffering from some mental illness? If you fired him or her, would it be OK with you if some other synagogue or orthodox school hired them?

Richard Joel, imagine several physicians in the Albert Einstein medical system systematically and maliciously botched dozens of critical operations over several decades which left their patients permanently disabled. Furthermore, imagine dozens of past and current staff, supervisors and administrators violated their ethical code and looked the other way instead of forcing immediate corrective action. Would you be content to announce, “Henceforth we will behave well but we should avoid talking about what happened?”

Richard Joel, imagine your grandchild was seriously disabled for life because of someone else’s reckless negligence. Imagine the offender could avoid paying a single penny because of some legal loophole. Would the lawyer in you admire the opposing attorney or would you rage against the injustice? Imagine the offending party was a worthwhile not-for-profit institution which claimed paying the settlement would force it to trim back its program budget by one percent. Would that change your reaction? Would your reaction depend on the percent of the budget that was affected? At what percentage would you forgive them for their recalcitrance?

Richard Joel, Continue reading

Let’s Get Real About Changing Standards at YU

According to The Forward, yesterdays hearing on the lawsuit by over thirty former Yeshiva University (YU) High School students focused on the the statute of limitations. YU’s attorney:

Karen Bitar… said she wanted to make clear that “we do not think these allegations are in any way insignificant, unimportant or unserious.” But, Bitar added, the allegations took place at a time “when the [mores] or what was deemed typical or appropriate was much different than what it is today.”

Really? Does Ms. Bitar expect us to believe that at the time it was typical or appropriate for a yeshiva principal to:

take “defenseless boys,” and pin them to the floor, “where they couldn’t move, and proceed to hump them in the backside with an erect penis until he achieved climax.”

I cannot speak to her legal strategy in making these claims. But I can say, as someone familiar with the modern orthodox Jewish world, at the time, that such misconduct was unthinkable. I am willing to believe that many did not appreciate  magnitude of harmful, long-term effects of sexual abuse. But no one ever thought this was OK.

In her clumsy way, she is trying to say, at the time, everyone was covering up these sorts of things. This is largely true. But I can assure you that had George Finkelstein ever molested even one boy in full view of the community, he would have been fired immediately.

This sort of argumentation is shameful for a religious institution. As an orthodox institution it absolutely upheld that view that sexual expression was only appropriate between married adults. In the YU High Schools, rabbis worked hard to convince students that hand-holding on dates was wrong.

YU is trying to eat its cake and have it. It is trying to claim it ran its high schools in accordance with traditional Jewish law but that these things were viewed differently at the time. If so, I defy them to show the public one Jewish source they respect that claims this sort of sexual activity was OK.

YU has to come clean and admit they betrayed their religious principles when they let  George Finkelstein, behave this way when he was supposed to be a religious role model.

My Empathy Questions for Richard Joel

YU Pres. Richard Joel &  Pres. Emeritus Norman Lamm

YU Pres. Richard Joel &
Pres. Emeritus Norman Lamm

Richard Joel, imagine the principal of one of your high schools was pressing ham sandwiches against the lips of many students. Would you say the incident should be ignored to protect the reputation of this principal who was clearly suffering from some mental illness? If you fired him or her, would it be OK with you if some other synagogue or orthodox school hired them?

Richard Joel, imagine several physicians in the Albert Einstein medical system systematically and maliciously botched dozens of critical operations over several decades which left their patients permanently disabled. Furthermore, imagine dozens of past and current staff, supervisors and administrators violated their ethical code and looked the other way instead of forcing immediate corrective action. Would you be content to announce, “Henceforth we will behave well but we should avoid talking about what happened?”

Richard Joel, imagine your grandchild was seriously disabled for life because of someone else’s reckless negligence. Imagine the offender could avoid paying a single penny because of some legal loophole. Would the lawyer in you admire the opposing attorney or would you rage against the injustice? Imagine the offending party was a worthwhile not-for-profit institution which claimed paying the settlement would force it to trim back its program budget by one percent. Would that change your reaction? Would your reaction depend on the percent of the budget that was affected? At what percentage would you forgive them for their recalcitrance?

Richard Joel, Continue reading

The Negative Reviews of YU’s Abuse Report Are Coming In

Yesterday I posted my reaction, YU Waits Eight Months to Issue a Report that Says Nothing

Others feel the same way.  Rather than summarize the reactions of others, I will pin this post for a while, and try to list articles I found significant. Here are some of my candidates (in the order I encountered them):

  • Report Faults Yeshiva U. on Sex Abuse ChargesInside Higher Ed (8/27/13). “Originally, the university said that the entire report would be released, but it provided only a summary, citing issues raised by suits filed against Yeshiva.”
  • Y.U. Report’s Three Paragraphs Fails To Do Justice to Abuse — or Jewish Ethics. Hiding Behind ‘Pending Litigation’ Is Tired Excuse” Rabbi Irwin Kula (Director of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership) The Forward (9/29/13) [Kula identifies himself as another YU HS victim who first disclosed to his brother after the story came out in December 2012 and discovered his brother was another YU HS victim. He writes eloquently about the moral failings of YU’ approach to the unfolding revelations.]
  • Serious Allegations Against Yeshiva University High School” CBS 2’s Tony Aiello [Video footage of plaintiff’s lawyer] Attorney Kevin Mulhearn slammed the report released by Yeshiva University. “I think this is a whitewash. They’re trying to establish with the community the fact they’re being open and candid and this report indicates the opposite,” Mulhearn said. “We’re looking for the information that they promised to provide, but didn’t. We’re looking to get that through litigation,” Mulhearn said.
  • Yeshiva U., release the full report now!” Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld (of Ohev Sholom–The National Synagogue in Washington DC). Times of Israel (9/1/13) [He compares YU very unfavorably to Penn State, makes it clear they broke their promise to openly report about the abuse at YU, and did this at the behest of a Special Committee of the Board, in defiance of the full board of Trustees].
  • My Empathy Questions for Richard Joel” Yerachmiel Lopin, Frum Follies (9/3/13).

YU Waits Eight Months to Issue a Report that Says Nothing

At last, eight months and two million dollars later, Yeshiva University (YU) has issued its long awaited report on the scandal of molesting by its high school principal (Rabbi George Finkelstein) and another teacher (Rabbi Macy Gordon) which was first revealed by The Forward in December 2012. The “YU Investigation Report” goes by the ungainly title, “Report of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP Regarding Allegations of Abuse at Yeshiva University and its Affiliated Schools.”

YU Pres. Richard Joel &  Pres. Emeritus Norman Lamm

YU Pres. Richard Joel &
Pres. Emeritus Norman Lamm

Save yourself the trouble. It is not worth reading. Mostly, they document what the money was spent on but not what they found other than some unspecified abuse in their high school, by unnamed offenders and uncounted victims. Completely missing is any account of who was responsible for mishandling allegations and letting the dismissed rabbis go on to other positions of trust. Whoopee doo, I really feel enlightened.

Most of the report is devoted to their new detailed policies for dealing with abuse going forward. They adhere to both versions of Kol Nidre. It absolves them of past sins and their policies will absolve them in the future. Continue reading

Rabbi Brander, Don’t Talk about Ethics in Australia; Address Abuse in America

Rabbi Kenneth Brander

Rabbi Kenneth Brander

On Tuesday, August 6, Yeshiva University’s VP, Rabbi Kenneth Brander is slated to speak in Melbourne, Australia about “Ethics in Philanthropy: Should synagogues and Jewish institutions accept tainted funds?”

Tzedek, Australia’s advocacy group for Jewish victims and survivors of child sexual abuse has expressed its “dismay” with the decision of local groups to sponsor his talk. Tzedek’s press release states, Continue reading

The Forward and YU are Colluding in Claiming Rabbi Norman Lamm is Mentally Competent

Rabbi Norman Lamm  (2007 by folksonomy)

Rabbi Norman Lamm (2007 by folksonomy)

As of two years ago Rabbi Norman Lamm was already suffering from a progressive dementia so severe that he sometimes went for hours without recognizing anyone. On his better days he was able to conduct conversations but his colleagues could tell he was a shadow of his former self. His current state is a far cry from his days as the brilliant President of YU from 1976 to 2002.

In 1993 Lamm also became the Rosh Yeshiva (Yeshiva Head) of YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) after the death of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik. When Lamm retired as president, his replacement, Richard Joel, a lay lawyer, was not considered as Rosh Yeshiva. The YU board rejected Rabbi Hershel Schachter, an extraordinary rabbinical scholar who was prone to gaffes (e.g., inflammatory statements about race). Instead the board extended Lamm’s appointment as Rosh Yeshiva. Because finding an acceptable replacement was a political minefield they continued Lamm’s appointment even after they knew about his deteriorating mental status.

On December 13, the Forward’s Paul Berger, Jane Eisner, and Larry Cohler-Esses  reported, “Lamm says he let alleged high school abuser leave quietly.” The reference to Lamm drew on a December 7th interview in which he is reported to have said:

If it was an open-and-shut case, I just let [the staff member] go quietly. It was not our intention or position to destroy a person without further inquiry…… My question was not whether to report to police but to ask the person to leave the job…… When [the wrestling] came up, [Finkelstein] had decided to leave because he knew we were going to ask him to leave…… The responsibility of a school in hiring someone is to check with the previous job. No one checked with me about George.

The quotes by Lamm instantly turned a story about abuse at YU into a narrative about a callous hierarchy shuffling molesters from one job to another like the Catholic Church.

YU insiders were furious at the Forward for “ambushing” Lamm. They believed the Forward knew Lamm’s condition because it was common knowledge in modern orthodox circles. They may have been mistaken.

I believe the Forward is poorly informed about most of the orthodox world. Their coverage of the sex abuse trial of Nechemaya Weberman trial was the worst of any secular publication. They got snookered by a cub freelancer, Batya Ungar-Sargon, who uncritically parroted the Satmar line about a trial and sentencing being biased against Hasidim.

When the story about Lamm was published, people reached out to the Forward and told them about his condition. Having been advised, the Forward should have conducted its own inquiry and admitted they erred in interviewing and quoting Lamm, a man no longer capable of informed consent. They could have done all that while still standing by the rest of their story.

Since the Forward never acknowledged Lamm’s diminished mental status, YU was now free to extend the deception that Lamm was mentally fit. They proceeded to use his resignation at the end of his three year contract to blunt the damage to their image inflicted by a regular series of articles in the Forward about abuse at YU.

On June 30,, 2013, six months after the story appeared, YU released a twenty-one-paragraph resignation letter purportedly written by Rabbi Lamm which had four paragraphs devoted to the abuse scandal. There was a disclaimer early in the letter: “Conditions have caused me to rely on help from my family in writing this letter.” The paragraphs pertaining to the abuse scandal were written by his family and the rest had been written by Lamm about five years ago, but this was not disclosed to the public. Continue reading