Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rethinking the Issue

George Finkelstein
I must say that I was stunned after reading today’s Forward article about Rabbis, Macy Gordon and George Finkelstein. The article was mostly about Finkelstein’s behavior. It details abuse over a 3 decade period as a teacher and principal at what is now MTA (YU’s high school).

Three additional former students have come forward with detailed lurid descriptions of sexual abuse.  And then 11 more came forward who said they too were abused in a variety of ways - emotionally, physically or sexually.

And of course there is the student who accused Macy Gordon of sodomizing with toothbrush in his dorm room.

Gordon and Finkelstein have both has denied the allegations.

This was followed with seems to be a common culture at the time of sweeping abuse under the rug. One victim, Mordechai Twersky, a student in 1986 said he told then President Rabbi Norman Lamm. Twice. (He repeated it in 2000). Rabbi Lamm says he does not recall either conversation. Twersky also told President Richard Joel twice - once in 2001 and a couple of years later in a letter.

Board members were told. Staff members were told. Nothing happened. One student, Simeon Weber told YU’s Chairman of the board, Irwin Shapiro about the abuse he experienced at Finkelsteins hand. Again - nothing. His attitude was to discount Finkelstein’s behavior as well meaning but naïve. Another official Robert Hirt who later became a vice president of YU called it outright Lashon Hara!

Irwin Shapiro Chairman of Board at YU was told by Simeon Weber about Finkelstein’s sex abuse.  Shapiro removed the door from Finkelstein’s office but Weber thought that was naïve albeit well intended. Robert Hirt who later became vice president of YU was told by Webber …and the response was ‘stop saying Lashon Hara’!

Even before Rabbi Lamm’s tenure, then president Rabbi Samuel Belkin was told. Nothing happened then either. Apparently Finkelstein tyrannized many of his students throughout his tenure.

Mordechai Twersky tried to get the RCA Beis Din involved. He said that he spoke to Rabbi Michael Broyde who serves as a Dayan on that Beis Din. As Twersky remembers it, Rabbi Broyde said that the allegations did not rise to Halachiclly actionable abuse in a Beis Din. Rabbi Broyde does not recall the conversation or the even the name Mordechai Twersky.

According to the Forward in 2001 Simeon Weber persuaded Rabbi Hershel Shachter an, and Rabbi Basil Herring (later to become Executive Vice President of the RCA) to contact the school in Florida to warn about Finkelstein. Rabbi Herring declined to comment “on the record.” Rabbi Schachter did not return calls.

The accusations did not end with Finkelstein’s tenure in education. Four years ago officials a  Jerusalem Great Synagogue where Finkelstein was employed  were informed about an abuse allegation that was reported to the police in Israel.

Finkelstein informed his employers about his interview with the police. But after ofering to take a lie detector test, poliuce said it wasn't necessary and no further action was taken.

Meanwhile the immediate response to these allegations from YU through its president, Richard Joel was to immediately apologize to the victims and to form a committee to investigate the allegations: From the Forward
Y.U. said it “continues to examine with concern the allegations of past abuse recently reported in the media. A subcommittee of the Board of Trustees is working with the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell as outside Counsel, who is assisting us in investigating the allegations and consulting with nationally recognized specialists in this area to review our policies and procedures.” 
That is pretty much in a nutshell what the rather lengthy story in the Forward says. Interestingly Rabbi Steven Pruzansky has come out with a condemnation of the victims who have now come forward after s many years. He said that they should have come forth immediately when prosecution was an opition. Now they have a moral obligation to shut-up! Now after the statue of limitations has long ago expired and there can be no trial, the only result of this is to smear YU many of its respected leaders leaders - past and present - and other prominent individuals. At this point in time, it has no Toeles (positive purpose) and ends up being nothing more than Lashon Hara.

I can see his point. But I disagree with him. Unless you have been abused, or someone close to you has, you cannot possibly know the torture a victim goes through. That was amply described in another article in today’s Forward by Judy Brown. I defy Rabbi Pruzansky to read that and come away with the ‘righteous indignation’ he now seems to feel against these late reporting victims.

There are a lot of things to consider about this case. But one thing is certain. The victims deserve more than a kick in the pants from Rabbi Pruzansky.

Questions need to be answered here by all parties. Including the victims. The abuse attributed to both Finkelstein and Gordon is despicable. The allegations about cover-ups is very troubling to say the least.

The committee that was set up find the truth must examine all the evidence and the evaluate the credibility of the alleged victims and victimizers, as well of all those who are accused of covering up. There can be no sacred cows here. YU is no better than Satmar in that regard. 

YU officials – both past and present must be examined to see if their behavior now and in the past was appropriate. It must be determined to what extent it was an honest reaction to the values of the time or whether it was all about an institution trying to protect its reputation at the expense of the victims… or perhaps a little of both.

I don’t think any of those questions are answered yet. But I do agree with what RCA President Shmuel Goldin said:  Nobody should be tried on the pages of a newspaper.