Seeking to blunt an outpouring of criticism from alumni, Yeshiva University has issued a statement emphasizing the wide-ranging powers and broad scope of an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against former staff members at its Manhattan high school.
Y.U. launched the investigation in December after the Forward published the testimony of four former students who said they had been abused at Yeshiva University High School for Boys.
Three former students said they had been abused by Rabbi George Finkelstein, who rose to become principal of the school. A fourth student said that he had been abused by a Talmud teacher, Rabbi Macy Gordon.
In the weeks that followed about 20 more students contacted the Forward to say they had been emotionally, physically or sexually abused by one or both of the men, who worked at the school for more than 50 years combined. Gordon left the school in 1984. Finkelstein left the school in 1995. Both men deny the charges.
Within weeks, Yeshiva University’s board of trustees announced an “independent investigation” into the abuse allegations led by an international law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell. However, former students were alarmed to learn that investigators, who include the former head of the sex crimes unit at the Manhattan district attorney’s office, could not say whether the report would ever be made public.
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, the rabbi of Washington, D.C.’s National Synagogue and who graduated from Y.U.’s high school in 1992, wrote a letter to Y.U signed by 18 high school alumni, calling for the investigation to be modeled on the Freeh Report probe into sexual abuse at Pennsylvania State University. In recent days, more than 125 people have signed an online petition urging Y.U. to “commit to a full and transparent investigation.”
In its response to the criticism, Y.U. emphasized that, like the Freeh Report investigators, the team looking into abuse allegations at Y.U. have “been given unfettered access to all Yeshiva personnel, documents, correspondence and other records, including raw computer data, that could be relevant to its investigation.”
Y.U. also said that its investigators have been given “the unrestricted authority to pursue any leads that may shed light on all matters related to the investigation.”
“The Board of Trustees is fully aware that it will be judged on the manner in which it conducts this critical and sensitive matter and, in that connection, will, as always, seek to meet, if not exceed, the best possible practices employed by institutions that have confronted similar circumstances,” Y.U.’s statement said. But alumni hoping for Y.U. to commit to making the results of its investigation public, will have been disappointed by the final line of the statement: “We expect the findings of the investigation will be communicated to the public following completion of the investigation.”