Only 200 Words About Abuse at Y.U.
Here are the numbers you need to know regarding the Yeshiva University sex scandal. Nearly two dozen students first told the Forward that they were physicially and sexually abused by staff members at Y.U.’s high school for boys. Eventually, 34 of those students sued the school. The university spent a reported $2.5 million on an eight-month investigation by the respected law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, in which about 145 people were interviewed and 70,000 pertinent emails reviewed.
But in the end, the actual hard findings in the report released August 26, acknowledging abuse and cover-up in only vague terms, were contained in precisely 200 words.
Two hundred words are no match for the years of pain suffered by students at the hands of their rabbis. Two hundred words are no answer to the haunting question of why multiple people in authority at America’s flagship Orthodox educational institution repeatedly ignored pleas by the students they were entrusted to keep safe. Two hundred words hardly explains how these abusers were allowed to quietly leave the school and take jobs with other Jewish institutions in the United States and Israel without ever being held accountable.
The justification that Y.U. offers for its brief, public explanation of what went wrong for decades at various branches of the school is “pending litigation.” That is, the $380 million lawsuit brought by 34 former students who allege that university officials knowingly covered up the abuse, a suit that is now slowly winding its way through U.S. District Court.
Simply put, that is an unworthy and unsupportable excuse. As our Paul Berger notes, even the mighty Penn State University allowed a scathing detailed report of sexual abuse and cover-up to be publicly released while individual lawsuits were pending.
Y.U. President Richard Joel, who years ago presided over a far more forthcoming and honest investigation of a different instance of rabbinic sexual abuse, owes the university and its supporters more than 200 words. All the assurances he can offer, all the newly-revised reporting guidelines that make up the bulk of Sullivan & Cromwell’s report, do not obviate the need for a full, transparent accounting of how a pervasive culture of abuse was allowed to continue until the Forward exposed it through dogged, at times unpopular — and now entirely legitimated — reporting.
Rabbi Irwin Kula, a celebrated, nationally known religious leader, acknowledged publicly for the first time in the pages of the Forward that he, too, was a victim of abuse as a Y.U. student. His alma mater’s paltry disclosure and lack of accountability, he wrote, robs us of a “public conversation” about the difference between legal categories of civil liability and true healing and repentance.
That is a terrible lesson for this historic, important university to impart. But there it is. In 200 words.