Rules on Screening for Sex Offenders Vary Widely at Jewish Schools

Akiva Roth Was Hired as a Hebrew Teacher After Being Convicted of Lewdness

Voice of Caution: Dr. Fred Berlin of Johns Hopkins views recidivism rates skeptically.
courtesy of fred berlin
Voice of Caution: Dr. Fred Berlin of Johns Hopkins views recidivism rates skeptically.

By Paul Berger

Published October 18, 2013, issue of October 25, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Is it safe to hire a man convicted of abusing children to teach college-age students? Is it wise?

Akiva Roth’s employment history since his 1997 conviction illustrates the patchwork of policies and practices at institutes of higher education in the Jewish community and beyond.

There are legal and scientific disparities, as well. Consultants who advise schools and colleges on risk management caution against hiring anyone with a conviction for a child sex offense. But psychiatrists, who are more focused on diagnosis and treatment of offenders than on damage limitation for institutions, offer divergent views on the risks of hiring such an offender to teach students of college age and older.

Roth’s story came to light in an October 8 report in the Forward that Roth, a recently hired Hebrew teacher at Yeshiva College, was sentenced to 10 years of probation in 1997 after pleading guilty to lewdness against four boys in his work as a private bar mitzvah tutor in New Jersey. During the bar mitzvah classes, Roth exposed and touched himself and encouraged the boys to do the same, according to court records.

Y.U., which is currently fighting a $380 million sex abuse lawsuit related to charges that it mishandled abuse allegations at its Manhattan boys high school decades ago, announced in an October 11 statement that “after an extensive review of this matter, Mr. Roth is no longer employed by the University.

“To our knowledge, he has not engaged in any inappropriate conduct during his time at Y.U.”

Y.U. will not respond to questions about whether it knew of Roth’s convictions when it employed him. But a spokesman did say in a statement that the university had “erred” in hiring him and that he had been hired “before the screening process had been completed.”

Y.U.’s action called into question the university’s hiring policies and procedures at a time when it is trying to repair the damage from abuse allegations first reported by the Forward in December 2012. An investigation commissioned by Y.U. in the wake of the scandal found that “sexual and physical abuse took place” at a number of Y.U. institutions during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s and was not dealt with appropriately by university staff.

But Roth’s hiring also called into question policies at two other Jewish institutions, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Hillel, that deal primarily with students of college age with whom Roth was previously affiliated.

JTS, which employed Roth as a Hebrew instructor in a summer program for post-college students from 2000 until 2003 — while Roth was still on probation — said that it did not conduct a background check when it hired him.

Furthermore, JTS said that to this day, it does not conduct a criminal background check on employees unless they are involved in a small program that it runs for high school students.

Such a policy would be unthinkable at Brandeis University, where, according to Massachusetts law, all employers that have residence halls, and dormitories must conduct a background check of employees, said Ellen de Graffenreid, senior vice president of communications at Brandeis.

A JTS spokeswoman, Elise Dowell, said: “JTS is committed to creating a safe environment for our students, faculty, and staff. While we believe our processes to be consistent with best practices among our peer institutions, we regularly evaluate to identify areas of improvement and will continue to do so, including in this area.”


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!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • 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.