Rabbi George Finkelstein was quietly forced out of Yeshiva University High School for Boys in 1995 because of inappropriate wrestling with students that some of them considered abusive.
But the Forward has learned that the wrestling did not stop after his departure from Y.U. It continued during Finkelstein’s next two posts, as dean of a Jewish school in Florida and as director general of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue in Israel, where he worked until abruptly resigning this past December.
The most recent wrestling incidents documented by the Forward were in 2009.
Finkelstein, 67, has been a respected figure in the Modern Orthodox community for decades, first as an administrator at Y.U.’s high school in Manhattan and later at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. But allegations that he behaved inappropriately with boys have trailed him for at least 30 years, according to dozens of interviews with former students, colleagues and peers in the United States.
Although former students of Y.U.’s high school long complained about Finkelstein’s behavior to staff members and administrators — both while he worked at the school and after he left — Y.U. appears never to have reported the complaints to police. Nor did Y.U. open an investigation until December 2012, when the Forward published allegations that Finkelstein and another former Y.U. staff member, Rabbi Macy Gordon, had sexually, emotionally and physically abused students over decades. Finkelstein and Gordon deny the abuse charges.
The Forward’s initial reporting concerned Finkelstein’s behavior before he left New York in 1995 for an administrative position at the Samuel Scheck Hillel Community Day School in North Miami Beach. But a former student at that school, who requested anonymity, has now told the Forward that Finkelstein wrestled with him around 1999. The former student said Finkelstein initiated the wrestling one Shabbat when the boy, then about 14 or 15 years old, slept over at Finkelstein’s home.
The Forward has also learned that a young man filed a complaint against Finkelstein with the Jerusalem police in 2009. The man, then aged 26, reported that Finkelstein had taken advantage of his vulnerability — he had serious family problems — and that Finkelstein used his prestigious post at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue to gain his trust. The wrestling took place over two-and-a-half years, in Finkelstein’s home and inside the Great Synagogue.