Y.U. Report's Three Paragraphs Fails To Do Justice to Abuse — or Jewish Ethics

Hiding Behind 'Pending Litigation' Is Tired Excuse

courtesy of irwin kula

By Irwin Kula

Published August 29, 2013, issue of September 06, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

On August 26, the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, hired by Yeshiva University to look into allegations of past abuse at the university’s High School for Boys, finally concluded its eight-month investigation and released a report detailing its findings. As one of the high school students abused in the early 1970s and as one of the more than 145 people interviewed in the investigation — though not party to the impending multi-party lawsuit against Y.U., now $380 million — I am disappointed, though not surprised, by the report. Eight months, 6,300 hours of investigation, more than 145 interviews and the best that Y.U.’s administration and board could come up with was three paragraphs that said many people were abused at many Y.U. institutions but they could not give any details because of “pending litigation.” Of course some people are happy with this and some people are angry.

Kevin Mulhearn, a lawyer for the group of students that filed the lawsuit, called the report, as one would expect, “a gross disappointment,” while those abused students, willing to be quoted, were justifiably “shocked.” As someone who spent more than two hours being interviewed and rehashing what was so locked away that I never even mentioned it to my wife of 30 years, nor to my brother, who also attended the Y.U. high school and unbeknown to me was similarly abused — I can attest that it is shocking to have your traumatic experience summarized in a few legally cool paragraphs. Y.U. President Richard Joel expressed in an equally expected way the school’s “deepest and heartfelt remorse,” and his hope that this “recognition” brings “comfort and closure.” This was an appropriately lawyerly response, with a concluding flourish referring to Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days season and forgiveness — as if this process has been anything like Maimonides’s wrenching prescription for genuine teshuvah, repentance.

There we have it — a report that offers nothing we don’t already know. (Though I want to make clear that the lawyer who interviewed me was thorough, extremely professional, compassionate and honest.) The report confirms that a part of Y.U.’s high school (and university) culture was predatory and that until 2001, the school’s administration simply did not do what any decent and morally evolved authorities are supposed to do: protect and ensure the safety of its students. No surprises here, and actually quite sad.

It seems the adversarial nature of our legal system is set up to ensure that truth and justice, let alone repentance and repair, are not really the issues. So we now have victims who are understandably suing for millions of dollars, though one wonders what amount of money can actually make up for the loss of innocence and the life-long trauma of being abused by one’s rebbe. And we have a leading Jewish institution that now must go into protection mode. No doubt for solid legal reasons it refuses to release the full report, will offer what I am sure are heartfelt but rote admissions of shame and then request forgiveness, in soulful, pretty Jewish language, for acts committed long ago.

What won’t we have? We will have no serious ethical or spiritual reflection about the relationship between patriarchal all-male adolescent communities and sexual predators. We will not have any conversation about the relationship between highly hierarchical religious cultures in which idealization and transference are common psychological features and lead to abuse of power. We will have no collective thinking about possible common causes for such abuse shared with other religious communities that have been guilty of similar crimes. And of course we will have no public conversation — by a religious and spiritual institution, no less — about the difference between legal categories of civil liability and the psycho-spiritual and psycho-social category of healing and teshuvah.

So it turns out that Y.U. is just one more religious institution among many in America in which young people were abused by people with authority, which failed to protect those whom it was responsible to protect and which now is doing the best it can to acknowledge its wrongdoing while protecting itself. No ohr lagoyim — light unto nations — here, just an administration and a board that is k’chol hagoyim: just like everyone else.

Irwin Kula is a rabbi and the president of CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.