When an investigative team appointed by Yeshiva University reported in August that the school had “failed to appropriately act to protect the safety of its students or did not respond” to credible allegations that they’d been sexually abused, it drew an important caveat: This dereliction of responsibility had continued, the investigators said, “until 2001.”
After that, “the University acted decisively to address the allegations,” the investigators stated.
As a result of these findings, Y.U.’s current president, Richard Joel, was spared any stigma stemming from the scandal, which involved several decades of alleged sexual abuse by faculty and staff. The problem was pegged instead to the tenure of his predecessor, Rabbi Norman Lamm.
But internal documents obtained by the Forward indicate that, in fact, Joel, who arrived at Y.U. in 2003, was told both before and after he became president about allegations against Rabbi George Finkelstein, the former principal of a Y.U. high school — and that he declined to intervene in the first instance or respond in the second.
The documents show that Mordechai Twersky, a Y.U. alum who is now one of 34 former students suing Y.U. for having failed to protect them, approached Joel in 2000 and again in 2004 to complain about the abuse he had suffered as a high school student at Finkelstein’s hands. But Joel did not take those complaints seriously, according to the documents.
“I spoke with him a bit,” Joel explained in a 2004 email to a colleague, describing a complaint Twersky made to him years before he took up his post at Y.U. “[I] told him to get on with his life, that I didn’t see a case and that Finkelstein was out of the education business.”
A Forward investigation at the beginning of this year revealed that as recently as 2009, a police complaint was made against Finkelstein by a young man in Israel, where Finkelstein worked as director general of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. Israeli police dropped that case because of insufficient evidence.
Today, Finkelstein is at the center of a $380 million lawsuit brought by the former Y.U. students in federal court in New York.
Twenty-nine of those men say they were abused by Finkelstein, who was forced out of Y.U.’s Manhattan high school for boys in 1995 after 27 years service. Many of the former students described how Finkelstein wrestled them to the floor in a Y.U. school office or at Finkelstein’s home and, while fully clothed, rubbed his erect penis against their body.