NEW YORK — The president of Yeshiva University apologized for alleged instances of sexual misconduct and harassment by two former teachers at the university's high school.
President Richard Joel issued a statement on Dec. 13 following the publication of an article in the Forward newspaper investigating claims, most of them more than two decades old, that two rabbis at the university's high school for boys were known for acts of inappropriate and sexual contact with students.
According to the Forward, the activities of the two rabbis -- George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon -- were widely known in the university community and were reported to school adminstrators. Neither rabbi was disciplined by the university, which serves a primarily Modern Orthodox population.
"The actions described represent heinous and inexcusable acts that are antithetical both to Torah values and to everything that Yeshiva University stands for," Joel said. "They have no place here, in our community, or anywhere at all. The thought that such behavior could have occurred at our boys’ high school, or anywhere at this institution, at any time in its past, is more than sufficient reason to express on behalf of the University, my deepest, most profound apology."
Norman Lamm, the university president from 1976 to 2003, and its current chancellor, admitted that he never notified the police of the complaints and allowed Finkelstein to leave quietly to assume a post at a Jewish school in Florida. He also did not notify Finkelstein's new employers of the allegations against him.
"This was before things of this sort had attained a certain notoriety," Lamm told the Forward. "There was a great deal of confusion."
The Forward also reported Dec. 16 on its website that Finkelstein resigned his post at the Great Jerusalem Synagogue after the story broke.
At about the same time, wrote the Forward, “senior staff of the Orthodox Union in America and Jerusalem held a teleconference regarding the position of the other Y.U. high school staff member” being investigated by the newspaper, Rabbi Macy Gordon. A “leave of absence” has been imposed on Gordon’s “teaching duties at the O.U. Israel Center in Jerusalem, where he gives a weekly class on the laws of the Sabbath,” according to Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, O.U. executive vice president emeritus.
The sexual abuse at Y.U.’s affiliated high school was referenced by Jacob Lew, the White House chief of staff, in his speech to the university’s annual Chanukah convocation.
Lew, an Orthodox Jew, made the remarks on the evening of Dec. 16 during his address at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where he was receiving an honorary doctorate from the university.
“The alleged behavior is despicable and cannot be tolerated in any place, at any time, and the response must transcend the confines of religious teaching,” Lew said. “Leaders of this and every educational institution have a sacred responsibility under civil law to protect children from any action that might endanger or exploit them.”
Lew, who is widely considered to be a leading contender to be nominated the next treasury secretary, devoted about a minute of his 11-minute address to the abuse issue.