A politically connected Orthodox rabbi has been accused in a federal lawsuit of molesting a student at his Jewish boarding school in New Haven, Connecticut.
In a civil complaint filed in federal court in Connecticut on May 3, Eliyahu Mirlis, a former student at Yeshiva of New Haven, accused Rabbi Daniel Greer, 75, the school’s founder and principal, of repeatedly molesting him over the course of three years while Mirlis was a student at the school.
Greer is a former member of the New Haven Board of Police Commissioners and is a prominent, if controversial, figure in the city. Fundraising dinners for his yeshiva were regular stops for Connecticut public officials, including a current U.S. senator, New Haven’s former mayor, its police chief, and New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton.
Connecticut’s governor even visited Greer’s kitchen table in 2012.
No criminal charges have been filed against Greer. His alleged victim, now 28, claims that Greer raped and abused him “dozens and dozens of times” at the school, at motels and at properties owned by the school. Mirlis was 15 when the alleged abuse began and 17 when it ended.
The civil complaint also alleges that Greer molested “at least one other minor boy.”
A woman who answered the phone at Yeshiva of New Haven hung up on a Forward reporter.
“I would remind the public to ask for evidence before rushing to judgment,” Greer’s attorney, William Ward, said in statements to media outlets.
Greer was a prominent Modern Orthodox political activist in New York City in the 1970s, a graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School who served as a deputy commissioner in the administration of New York City mayor John V. Lindsay. He then ran an unsuccessful campaign for the New York State Assembly from Manhattan’s Upper West Side in 1972.
When he arrived in New Haven, however, Greer appeared to have swung decisively to the right, on both the religious and political spectrums. Now more Orthodox than modern, he is a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, among other issues.
Greer founded Yeshiva of New Haven and a related elementary school in a rough New Haven neighborhood called Edgewood in the 1980s. His aggressive, decades-long campaign to redevelop Edgewood has put him in regular touch with the city’s political leadership.
According to a report in New Haven Independent, Greer planned to build a safe community in Edgewood. He and his charities bought up dozens of homes in the area, which they redeveloped and walled off with high fences. His schools, originally set up to serve his own family members and the others who had moved into Edgewood with them, eventually drew male high school boarding students from out of town.
Greer campaigned against prostitution in Edgewood in the 1990s, working with a group of locals who would take pictures of prostitutes’ clients and then post the pictures on fliers, under the phrase “John of the Week.” In 2007, Greer organized an armed neighborhood watch in Edgewood that drew national headlines.
Greer’s redevelopment not-for-profit organizations have taken in millions in grants and tax credits, according to a 2007 Hartford Courant report. In 2008, the not-for-profits agreed to pay $162,000 to clean up lead paint in apartments they owned, following an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Greer’s local work in New Haven gained him positions of power within city government. In addition to his time on the Board of Police Commissioners in New Haven, he served as chairman of the New Haven Redevelopment Agency and, in the 1990s, sat on a commission appointed by Connecticut governor John Rowland to study school voucher programs.
As for his political ties, Greer had something of a head start: California’s governor, Jerry Brown, a close friend, was his roommate at Yale Law School.
The rest of his political connections are most visibly on display at the annual dinners he hosts to raise money for his yeshiva.
Bratton appeared at the annual dinner in 2013, alongside New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman. In 2008, the annual yeshiva dinner honored Richard Blumenthal, who at that time was the state’s attorney general and is now a U.S. senator. Last year, former New Haven mayor John deStefano spoke at the yeshiva’s gala, alongside the president of Yale New Haven Hospital, Richard D’Aquila.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy visited Greer’s home in 2012.
Greer has high-profile Jewish communal connections as well. A prominent rosh yeshiva , or leader, of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary, Rabbi J. David Bleich, sat on the board of Yeshiva of New Haven as of the time of the group’s most recent tax filing. Bleich did not respond to a request for comment from the Forward.
In the late 1990s, Greer and his family made national news when his daughter Batsheva Greer sued Yale along with four other students, claiming the Ivy League university violated their constitutional rights by requiring they live in coed dorms. The suit was ultimately dismissed.
Antonio Ponvert III, Mirlis’s attorney, said that his client’s lawsuit came after Mirlis suffered years of damage. “He felt able for the first time in his life to take on the burden of coming forward publicly in his own name, and to try to right this really serious wrong that was done to him,” Ponvert said.
Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis.
New Haven Rabbi Sued for Abuse Despite Political Connections
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.