- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Abuse Scandal Shakes Yeshiva U.

The Jewish Daily Forward has for the past 10 months or so been writing that the senior leadership of Yeshiva University, a major institution of Orthodox Judaism in America, covered up sexual abuse for decades. The paper now reports that Yeshiva is in serious financial trouble [1] because of a huge lawsuit [2] abuse victims are filing against it. And the editorial page blasted the university [3] for its recent hire of Akiva Roth, a teacher who in 1997 pled guilty to four counts of lewdness with boys he was preparing for bar mitzvah. From the editorial:

When will Yeshiva University ever learn? When will modern American Orthodoxy’s flagship institution learn to own up to its mistakes, genuinely reform its procedures, live out its values and, above all, provide a safe and honest environment for its students?

The latest revelation, that Y.U. hired a new faculty member who had been convicted of inappropriate sexual behavior with boys, starkly illustrates the gross mismanagement and hypocrisy of the university’s current administration. Here we have an institution reeling from allegations that for decades — decades — its leadership ignored the sexual abuse of students at the hands of at least two of its most prominent staff members. Here we see an institution that covered up the abuse, allowed the offending rabbis to take jobs working with children elsewhere in the Jewish community and, even after the Forward uncovered this sorry and painful story, refused to acknowledge its own complicity and grasp the opportunity to help with the healing process.

Instead, Y.U. spent $2.5 million on an investigative report that its own top officials then sought to largely suppress, emphasizing instead that it is reforming its policies and procedures to prevent abuse and deal with it forthrightly if and when it occurred.

This summer, Norman Lamm, the aged rabbi who led the university and who helped engineer the cover-ups, resigned and asked for forgiveness. A new day dawning at Yeshiva, right? Read on from the editorial:

Richard Joel, who replaced Lamm as Y.U.’s president and was told about the abuse soon after he took office in 2003, said in a statement in August: “Today, the university is a safe place infused with a culture of warmth. For years we have enacted and enforced policies and procedures to protect our students and community members.”

In the case of Akiva Roth, that is blatantly untrue.

What is it with these institutions? Why on earth would you make such an idiotic mistake after all the cruelty and injustice you perpetrated for years on innocent victims stood to mortally wound your institution? G-d bless the Forward for staying on this story.


25 Comments (Open | Close)

25 Comments To "Abuse Scandal Shakes Yeshiva U."

#1 Comment By Charles Cosimano On October 11, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

The really frightening thing is that this is not surprising. Stories of sexual abuse have lost their power to shock and now just pile on to the reasons never to trust people who make authority claims.

#2 Comment By Michelle On October 11, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

This is appalling. I suspect that there’s no small amount of CYA behavior going on here, in part to avoid lawsuits, and in part out of arrogance or mistaken belief that they won’t get caught. It’s no wonder people no longer trust in most of our nation’s large institutions. The chain of responsibility has been broken.

#3 Comment By mohammad On October 11, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

What Christ said, applies today to the authorities of all religions, be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or even Asiatic religions:
“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”

#4 Comment By John On October 11, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

The two teachers are described as “prominent” so the universities decided to preserve their prestige at all costs. Justice, student safety, their own moral standards? Who cares when the prestige of the institution is at stake.

#5 Comment By JamesP On October 11, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

Nothing new going on here. It’s all the more clear why Jesus made a special point about child abuse and millstones about necks. You know, the vehemence of that point he made makes me wonder what else he might have suffered besides crucifixion.

#6 Comment By KateLE On October 11, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

Hierarchy = power imbalance. Power imbalances often attract people who want to use them to satisfy sexual urges. It’s not unique to religious institutions.

#7 Comment By stillaninterestedobserver On October 11, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

This (and that nutty rabbi story the other day) plus everything else over the years — Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, whatever (hey, throw on the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Jim Jones and plenty more if we want to go back, and that’s just within my lifetime!) — leaves me with a question I’m sure you’ve turned over a few times (and if already addressed, apologies for missing it), but: knowing your interest in the Benedict Option, where is the exact line drawn — if it can be — between secular government and religious self-policing? I say this because I gather your interest in the Option has been (partially, not wholly) driven by your feelings on same-sex marriage and what that will mean in terms of compulsion by institutions to accept secular law there. But what every kind of religious scandal over the years has been telling me is that secular law is needed precisely to hold these kinds of abusers and frauds to account, that the self-policing by a self-interested institution is only going to go so far if at all. The lawsuits, the criminal investigations, this is what brought something to the light — not canon lawyers and investigators whose reports are quashed and dismissed. Maybe there’s no answer and there must always be tension when it comes to religious institutions in a civil society, but it seems this is an important crux.

#8 Comment By Mont D. Law On October 11, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

(It’s no wonder people no longer trust in most of our nation’s large institutions. The chain of responsibility has been broken.)

I don’t think this is the case at all. It implies that a sometime in the past there was a chain or responsibility on this issue. The sexual exploration of women and children has been a feature of human society for a really long time. Only in the last 40 years has society started to acknowledge this as a problem, largely due to the demands of newly empowered women. It is only in the past 20 or so years that society has reached a consensus that this radical idea should become an organizing principle in our society. It’s only in the past 10 or so years that technological changes have combined with this new social consensus to make hiding these things much more difficult.

#9 Comment By Paul Windels On October 11, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

Rod — As you say, G-d belss The Forward, and let us hope that their efforts are successful. And thank you for continuing to cover these stories. The common thread in all of these cases is that the good people must not be afraid to speak out or to stand together.

#10 Comment By J On October 11, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

Hmm. Another case of higher and rising standards in secular liberal mores and culture creating crises and embarrassment for morally laggard orthodox religious institutions and orthodox religious culture.

#11 Comment By Charles Cosimano On October 11, 2013 @ 5:17 pm

The downside of the Benedict option. Who is going to protect people in those communities from abusive leadership?

#12 Comment By TTT On October 11, 2013 @ 10:13 pm

Remember this the next time someone posts an article about how American Jewish culture is dying out due to secularism / intermarriage / female rabbis and the only hope for survival is to be found in the Orthodox yeshivas. The overwhelming supermajority of American Jews are Reform / secular, and not by accident but because they voted with their feet.

#13 Comment By Henry On October 11, 2013 @ 11:41 pm

The man fired was a friend of mine. He was a chaplain at the school I was attending. He guided me through some very tough times. I haven’t seen him in six years. This is so shocking for me, I don’t know what to think.

#14 Comment By Robert On October 12, 2013 @ 5:54 am

About time we (whatever our religious beliefs) started rereading Fulton Sheen’s once-renowned “Plea for Intolerance”, I’d say. A quote: “Tolerance does not apply to truth or principles. About these things we must be intolerant, and for this kind of intolerance, so much needed to rouse us from sentimental gush, I make a plea.”

Nonetheless I’m not sure, on reflection, how effective even the prose mastery of Bishop Sheen can be in an age when “pedophile” has practically become a compliment, but “judgmental” is the ultimate insult.

#15 Comment By Mont D. Law On October 12, 2013 @ 10:38 am

(The downside of the Benedict option. Who is going to protect people in those communities from abusive leadership?)

The answer is no one. In fact sexual abuse of all kinds is rampant in many of these communities. This not new behaviour, what has changed is social consensus around dealing with these issues and the internet, which increases both the ability and willingness to report.

The big block I see to the large scale development of modern Benedict Option communities is the extent to which intimate familial relations are, by necessity, policed by the collective. I just can’t see many white middle class people putting up with that.

#16 Comment By William Burns On October 12, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

“Pedophile” has practically become a compliment, Robert? Tell you what, try complimenting random strangers on the street by calling them “pedophiles” and report back on how that works.

#17 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On October 12, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

This isn’t directly related, but I stumbled onto this article about the CoS. It really shows how claims of authority can lead to abuse:


It’s an interesting read because the article only mentions a few people who walk away. Basically being part of a group can warp your thinking about what is or isn’t acceptable.

#18 Comment By Robert On October 13, 2013 @ 1:14 am

Sorry, William Burns, but I’m afraid that Richard Dawkins – who, let’s face it, has for millions upon millions of deluded newspaper-readers a quasi-papal infallibility – issued, not long ago, an encyclical saying that “light pedophilia” doesn’t matter:


Whether Pope Dawkins The First will actually go to the logical next step and recommend pedophilia – at least when it is “light”, “mild”, or whatever other adjective he comes to prefer – for its alleged therapeutic effects, I, of course, can’t determine. But given that his fellow atheist guru Peter Singer is on record as defending bestiality, nothing would surprise me much.


Never mind, we all know that in 2013, practically the only remaining sin is “judgmentalism”.

#19 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On October 13, 2013 @ 9:33 am

Robet, that is crazy talk. Richard Dawkins is entitled to his opinions, but he’s not a secular Pope.

#20 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On October 13, 2013 @ 11:59 am

Re: But given that his fellow atheist guru Peter Singer is on record as defending bestiality, nothing would surprise me much.

Bestiality and pedophilia are rather different morally, given that one has a (human) victim and the other doesn’t. (Not that this is meant as an apologia for the zoophiles).

#21 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On October 13, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

Moreover no one takes Peter Singer seriously either. He’s argued for animal liberation and that humans practice speciesism because we privile humans over other animals.

#22 Comment By Robert On October 13, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

So Dawkins, we are to understand from MH – Secular Misanthropist – “is entitled to his opinions.” Would he also be entitled to acting on those opinions? As in, putting into practice the good news of “light pedophilia” when your children are around?

Because, by definition, pedophilia involves somebody’s children, doesn’t it?

#23 Comment By Robert On October 14, 2013 @ 1:28 am

“No one”, we are told by MH, “takes Peter Singer seriously either.”

This would presumably explain why Singer is at present (according to Wikipedia) the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University; a laureate professor at the University of Melbourne, the oldest campus of Australia’s second-largest city; and a member of the Companion of the Order of Australia.

Quite a résumé (and quite a pile of taxpayers’ funding) for someone whom “no one takes seriously”, n’est-ce pas?

Anyone with the stomach to pursue Singer’s thoughts – published thoughts – on consensual congress with beasts (cue the old Paul Anka song: “And they called it puppy loooooooooooooove” …) may read here:


My dear MH, the level of your ignorance is perhaps best explained by a death-wish. To quote former British prime minister Clement Attlee, “a period of silence from you would be welcome.”

#24 Comment By Sean Scallon On October 14, 2013 @ 5:57 am

Or better yet, who protects us when the secular institutions go bad? Police scandals, government scandals, Penn State, school systems, military, Boy Scouts (although it’s quasi-religious), it doesn’t matter all the elements involved are all the same: power, money, embarrassment, the natural human desire to conceal rather than to reveal.

#25 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On October 14, 2013 @ 8:36 am

Robet, Singer’s an academic, so what? He doesn’t have any power to enact his beliefs, and no one with power is trying to do so.

Likewise Dawkins was expressing indifference about the severity of pedophilia and not a pro-pedophila agenda. But no one else is suggesting rolling back statutory rape laws.

Which is pretty good evidence no one is taking comments from either seriously.