After the Forward published an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against two former staff members at a high school for boys run by Yeshiva University, Y.U. issued an immediate statement and said that it would investigate. Later that day, Modern Orthodoxy’s official rabbinic association, the Rabbinical Council of America, said it was “deeply troubled” by the report and confident that the university was “equal to the task” of confronting “improprieties.”
But interviews with current and former staff members of Y.U. and with high-ranking RCA officials, as well as with several former high school students who say they were abused, indicate that Y.U. and the RCA have known about some of the allegations against at least one of the alleged abusers, Rabbi George Finkelstein, for a decade or longer.
The Forward has spoken to 14 men who say that Finkelstein abused them while he was employed at Yeshiva University High School for Boys, in Manhattan, from 1968 to 1995.
From the mid 1980s until today, however, Y.U. officials and RCA rabbis have dismissed claims or kept them quiet. Some of these officials allowed Finkelstein to leave the Y.U. system and find a new position as dean of a Florida day school without disclosing the abuse allegations. Later, an RCA rabbi and a Y.U. rabbi warned the Florida school that Finkelstein could be a threat. And when Finkelstein’s next employer, the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, asked whether the allegations that dogged him were true, Y.U. assured the synagogue that there was nothing to worry about.
Maurice Wohl, the synagogue’s president at the time, “spoke to the responsible authorities at Y.U, who denied the charges outright,” Zev Lanton, the synagogue’s director general, said in a statement. “Later, the same authority, upon visiting Israel, offered similar denials, both to the chairman of the board of the synagogue and the vice president.”
In response to a Forward request for the identity of that Y.U. official, Lanton replied that the synagogue would “take outside advice” before responding.
The abuse allegations against Finkelstein and against Rabbi Macy Gordon, a Talmud teacher who served at Y.U.’s High School for Boys from 1956 to 1984, have shocked many in the tight-knit Modern Orthodox community. Even Jack Lew, the White House chief of staff, decried the allegations in his keynote address at the Y.U. annual dinner, held on December 16.