The Similarity and Difference Between YU and Satmar Abuse Scandals

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Yeshiva-University1In the wake of the Weberman trial, the Forward published an expose on Yeshiva University, Rabbi Norman Lamm, and abusers George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon.

The relevant facts are that abuse of some sort was known to be taking place at MTA, the school did not report it, but eventually the abusers stopped working for the school. Nothing was publicized and nothing was reported. Rabbi Lamm knew about the abuse and decided to handle it privately. The extent of the abuse is unclear, but it seems that with one of the abusers was a sexualized version of wrestling, the other one is accused of far more heinous acts.

Rabbi Lamm, who is now 85, tried to explain YU’s lack of action. He said that things were different in those days. People didn’t quite know what to do about abuse.

It is easy to draw parallels between this case and the Weberman case. Both involved religious men who were accused of abuse. In both cases the religious institution protected its own interests and the interests of its employees over the safety of their students.

In some ways the YU case parallels the Penn State scandal as well. A very elderly statesman for a prestigious institution is embroiled in an abuse scandal for not taking care of the problem completely. The degree of abuse is different, and Rabbi Lamm didn’t enable the abusers, but there are some poignant similarities.

YU is guilty here. I believe that Rabbi Lamm could even face prosecution. Allowing abuse in our community is never acceptable.

But there are some very important distinctions between the Weberman case and the YU case.

The most important distinction between YU and Satmar is the reaction of the community and the institution. YU has taken responsibility. YU apologized. YU has vowed to make sure this does not happen again. They have taken this on by the horns and are dealing with it appropriately.

Satmar has done nothing other than raise money for Weberman’s defense, publish articles blaming the media, terrorized witnesses and supporters of Weberman’s victim, and worst of all – not used this is an opportunity to educated their public about the horrors of abuse and ways to prevent it. It’s inexcusable, really.

To me, this makes a huge difference. It show that YU has learned from its mistakes and will do whatever it takes to prevent future abuse. YU will be a partner in ending abuse not a partner in perpetrating abuse. Satmar is the latter.

Some will argue, in defense of YU, that they didn’t really understand abuse back in the day and they thought it was best to deal with it privately. I think this is a terrible argument. Mandated reporting laws were passed precisely to educate the public and gatekeepers that they must report abuse. These laws are designed to take the decision out of the hands of the institution. YU ignored these laws (as far as I know) and pushed a predator out the door into some other institution. There is no excuse for ignorance. The law is clear.

In this respect, YU and Satmar are similar. Satmar is just 30 years behind. Well that’s to be expected. They are living in a recreation of 18th century eastern Europe. Of course they don’t get the horrors of abuse. But it’s not an excuse for Satmar in 2012 and similarly it is not an excuse for YU in 1985.

However, YU has clearly learned their lesson. This does give me a glimmer of hope that Satmar can learn their lesson too. But YU’s philosophy is to live in the present, Satmar’s philosophy is to recreate the past. YU celebrates science and research. Satmar demonizes it. This might prove a fatal flaw to by hope that Satmar will adjust. But if the Satmar community demands it and there is enough of an outcry over their disastrous record on abuse, maybe, just maybe Satmar can sheepishly follow in the footsteps of YU and enter the 21st century.

Link: Forward

  • ari

    It’s easier to be open 30 years later. How did YU learn a lesson? The teachers left and continued teaching elsewhere.

    I’m sure today they would handle the situation correctly but they didn’t then. It was a different time and place but I dont see how YU is to be commended at all.

    • I don’t mean that they learned their lesson THEN. They learned their lesson NOW.

      • kweansmom

        then why did they ignore the Feb. 2012 Beacon article?

  • Machshavos

    If you trust Dr. Lamm, he has no recollections of accusations against Gordon, and with regard to Finkelstein, he said “The fact that he… he was not just wrestling, but it was actually… you know, what you said. That was not told to me.”
    Also, I think you’re take on Satmar is a bit optimistic.

    • One can hope, right?

      • Machshavos

        I guess. 🙂

  • To be fair almost every institution in those days dealt with sexual abuse by handling it privately… and order SVU actually did an entire episode on this issue (of the way abuse was dealt with in the 1970’s and 1980’s). Obviously, i think that reacting this way today would be reprehensible but i do not think it is fair to expect yu in the 80’s to live up to the standards that we have now in the 21st century….

    • But as far as I know, the law still required them to report. PLEASE correct me if I wrong.

      • tesyaa

        Plus, Finkelstein was employed at MTA until 1995, according to all the reports. By 1995 there’s no question that there was mandated reporting and that there was a lot of awareness of the abuse issue.

        • But the allegations of abuse in the article are from the 70s and 80s.


            From what i understand in this article, 1971 was the first time reporting suspicions of abuse ever became mandatory, but it was only for professionals and if you refer to the footnote then you will see that that DID NOT include teachers or school faculty rather it included doctors… dentists..etc

            In 1979 this law was amended to include all citizens and thus anyone that suspected child abuse at this point was obligated to report…
            Now that being said, this law was only passed literally during the time that the alleged abuse was happening in YU.
            I am not saying they should ont report I am just saying form these context, and knowing how long it takes for these kind of laws to truly impact society and its view on abuse, then blaming YU for not reporting seems to be holding them up to a higher standard then almost any other school at that time. Again. I think they should have reported but, for their time, they were responding no differently then probably any other school would respond.

          • tesyaa

            Makes no sense. The facts about when reporting became mandatory are being brought to show when awareness of sexual abuse as a problem became widespread. So you have a guy who was known to abuse guys in the 70s and 80s. Now it’s the 90s and everyone knows abuse is bad. You keep him around because there are no fresh allegations being brought? Or you look at the facts in retrospect, decide the guy is bad news, and let him go?

            If you have a business, and you find out today your employee was embezzling from you 10 years ago – even if there’s no evidence he has done it since them – you don’t fire him? I mean, I would.

  • Elliot Pasik

    It does not appear that YU High School violated New York’s mandated reporting laws. These laws, even today, do not require a private school to report to the government that one of their teachers abused a student. Notably, none of the Forward articles claim that the letter of the law was violated.

    Indeed, it can be argued that if YU High School had informed child protection authorities, absent the consent of the parents of the victims, that’s a breach of privacy and confidentiality.

    The heart of the problem lies in not informing subsequent schools, like the Florida day school that Finkelstein went to, of the history of abuse. That’s certainly wrong, from both a religious and ethical viewpoint.

    Additionally, it behooves any school, like YU HS, to immediately investigate such abuse claims, and if true, the Finkelsteins and Gordons need to be immediately fired. Any delay furthers the risk of harm.

    All states have child endangerment criminal statutes. Finally, we’re now beginning to see prosecutions of private school supervisors, even senior clergy, who knowingly employ sex molesters in their schools. However, you didn’t see any of these prosecutions years ago.

    • Rabbi Lamm is clergy.

      • Elliot Pasik


        • Clergy are mandated reporters. Private schools might not be, but clergy are.

          • Elliot Pasik

            The mandated reporting statutes can be a little tricky to figure out.

            Even today, it is only in about 26 states that clergy are actual mandated reporters. NY is definitely not one of them.

            Also, NY’s mandated reporting statute (Soc Serv Law 413) only requires that parent-to-child, or guardian-to-child abuse gets reported; not teacher to student. So the Finkelstein and Gordon cases wouldn’t be covered by 413, even if it was effective in those days, and I’m not sure if it was.

            Starting in 2001, a new law came in effect in NY (in the state Educ Law), applicable to public schools only, requiring the public schools to report teacher-to-student abuse. This law also doesn’t apply to the YU High School situation.

            We’re trying to get these laws changed. But its slow going, and you can imagine who’s against us.

            • kweansmom

              That’s really incredible that private schools don’t have to report teacher-to-student abuse. Does that apply even to mental health professionals in the school?

              • Elliot Pasik

                I checked in with a regular legal practitioner in the field, who confirmed that New York’s mandated reporting law only applies to a “person legally responsible” for the child, and that term only includes the child’s custodian, guardian, or any other person responsible for the child’s care. That mostly means a parent, or similar guardian, and does not mean a private school teacher. The private school mental health professional is not mandated to report abuse inflicted by a private school teacher on a child. The law needs to be changed. (The laws in other states are sometimes broader.)

  • tesyaa

    Even if knowledge about how to handle sexual abuse was just becoming known in the 1970s and 1980s, let’s not forget that Norman Lamm was Chancellor of a research university which included graduate schools of medicine, psychology and social work. Surely there were experts on staff he could have consulted about how to handle multiple allegations of abuse.

    Now it’s being made out like he was a rosh yeshiva. Sure he was rosh yeshiva, but he was also Chancellor.

  • MY SOURCE TELLS ME MR. ANONYMOUS GRADUATED EINSTEIN. MEDICAL SCHOOL OF YESHIVA UNIVERSITY SEEMS LIKE HE OWES Y.U. HIS CAREER. YESHIVA UNIVERSITY is the school where I spent most of of academic life. Do not lecture me on what I owe or do not. For your information, RIETS and .J.S.S. made be who I am. I will fight for the school that produced rabbis that cared for me and nurtured me. It is not my fault that parents who knew of these acts did nothing including showing up in mass to punish the individual who did malice to their child. Do not lecture me on sexual violence. Where were the parents who knew. ? Stop whining and trying to destroy Yeshiva University and have Rabbi Lamm resign. He did what was proper at the time. Prove that Rabbi GORDON molested anyone. The story about the toothbrush is ludicrous. I have had my own issues with the R..C.A. AND Y.U. , but I did not wake up 35 years later to realize I was molested. Go to ISRAEL AND CONFRONT these abusers , they are still alive. I call upon current students and alumni to speak up on behalf of their school. I FOR ONE HAVE HEARD ENOUGH UNPROVEN ALLEGATIONS THAT HAVE RUINED TWO LIVES. DO NOT RESPOND SHAME ON YOU OR I DO NOT UNDERSTAND SEX ABUSE. I understand if this happened to my child and I knew of it I WOULD HAVE CALLED FRIENDS and made sure the culprit never did this to any child again. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  • now thousands will come forward to cash in. follow the money . rabbi rosenberg Submitted by Rolly Sass (not verified) on Sun, 12/30/2012 – 14:13. IN THE JEWISH WEEK

    I am tired of this crybaby stuff.Rabbi DR. BERNHARD Rosenberg is telling a truth people cannot handle.It is one thing to deal with a powerless child.It is another for middle aged men to hide behind a veil of anonymity and cry \”victim\”.There parents were not children.They knew what was going on.How many even pulled their kids out of YU?You mean to tell me that they knew but let their children remain.Gordon and Finklestein should be held responsible.But where were the parents and why didn\’t they act?