"The Rabbinical Council of America is deeply troubled by the allegations made in the Jewish Forward regarding abuse at Yeshiva University's High School some twenty-five years ago. Abuse is an issue of concern to all denominations, institutions, and communities and cannot be condoned or excused."
The Rabbinical Council of America on Yeshiva University Abuse Allegations
Dec 13, 2012 -- The Rabbinical Council of America is deeply troubled by the allegations made in the Jewish Forward regarding abuse at Yeshiva University's High School some twenty-five years ago. Abuse is an issue of concern to all denominations, institutions, and communities and cannot be condoned or excused.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, stated, "Our sympathies and support are extended to all victims of abuse. It is especially hard to confront improprieties which may have occurred in our own house, yet that is where the responsibility lies. We are confident that Yeshiva is equal to the task."
The RCA commends President Richard Joel for his forthright response and statement of concern.
Problems with this statement:
1. It refers only to "abuse," not to "child sexual abuse," and the distinction has significant legal and moral import.
2. Rabbi Norman Lamm, YU's Chancellor, admits to allowing sexual abusers to quietly leave YU and its affiliated high school and take jobs teaching at other high schools or day schools. Lamm never called police, never reported the crimes, never warned the molesters' new employer. The RCA is completely silent about this admitted negligence by one of its most senior members.
3. Richard Joel is accused by at least one victim of Rabbi George Finkelstein's child sexual abuse of covering up that abuse immediately after Joel was hired as YU's president. His statement yesterday on behalf of YU must be viewed in that light. But the RCA does not do this.
4. After more than 35 years of covering up these crimes, YU's trustworthiness should be in question. Yet the RCA has absolutely no trouble writing that, "…It is especially hard to confront improprieties which may have occurred in our own house, yet that is where the responsibility lies. We are confident that Yeshiva is equal to the task."
The Orthodox Union, the effective parent body of the RCA, covered up the child sexual, psychological and physical abuse committed by Rabbi Baruch Lanner over several decades as an National Council of Synagogue Youth leader. It was only an exposé published in The Jewish Week that finally put into motion a criminal investigation that put Lanner's decades long reign of terror to end and landed him in prison and on the sex offender registry.
OU leaders from its top executive staff and lay leaders down to secretaries and many volunteers had known for decades that Lanner was abusing children. But nothing was done to stop him because, in the words of a senior figure in the cleanup that took place after Lanner was arrested and convicted, "Lanner's kiruv," his missionary outreach to non-Orthodox children, "was too good" – meaning that Lanner may have been sexually, physically and psychologically abusing a handful of teen at any given time, but he was recruiting many more to Orthodoxy. It was a cost benefit analysis – destroy or damage a few lives, "save" or "return" a larger number of souls to "true" Torah Judaism.
YU rabbis were involved in this coverup, as well, most prominently Rabbi Mordechai Willig, who managed to keep his job as a senior YU rosh yeshiva by issuing a public apology for his actions at last minute and under great duress. Willig is also an RCA member and serves as the rabbi of a Young Israel synagogue in Riverdale.
George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon, the two former YU rabbis outed in the Forward's report yesterday, both serve on Young Israel's Advisory Board
In other words, the RCA needs to do more than issue weak and, quite frankly, offensive statements. But it won't, just as the OU won't.
YU will only take serious action if it is forced to do so.
If the allegation that Richard Joel was told about the child sexual abuse more than a decade ago but did nothing to clean house then is true, Joel must be fired immediately.
Norman Lamm's own admissions are more than enough proof that he is and was unfit to lead, and he should be fired immediately.
An investigation done by an outside credible body, perhaps a licensed and bonded investigative firm, should root out everyone at YU who knew of the child sexual abuse – including the rabbis – and YU should, in almost every case, fire them.
But none of this will probably happen.
The elderly among this shameful group, like Lamm, will most likely be allowed to retire with full benefits, pension intact. The rest will remain in place, perhaps after issuing contrite apologies generated more by the fear of losing their jobs than by any actual remorse or empathy for the victims.
This is essentially what happened at the OU, where the highly-vaunted post-Lanner housecleaning was nine parts cosmetics, one part housecleaning.
The lesson to be learned from this and from other similar scandals in the haredi community is that so-called Torah Judaism offers no protection against really bad behavior, and that rabbis are often the worst behaved of them all.