Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Does Yeshiva University Answer to a Higher Authority?

January 28, 2013 12:19 am 6 comments

A Yeshiva University campus. Photo: Jim.henderson.

Wearing a yarmulke or sporting a beard doesn’t make one “religious,” and it is high-time for the Jewish community to question the pervasive sha-shtil (hush-hush) mentality which is applied when it comes time to speak out on difficult issues. Yeshiva University is undoubtedly the most prestigious school of higher learning combining Jewish and secular studies, an important institution that is responsible for many wonderful things. But in the past five years, their handling of sexual, financial and academic scandals has shown a lack of ethics, and an acceptance of cover-up.

Incidents that have occurred, have each been viewed as independent situations which have been quickly and quietly swept under the rug. Slick press statements have allowed YU to evade major damage, when these incidents should have been examined under a microscope looking for culprits that allowed moral bankruptcy to exist at the institution.

Most recently, there have been at least 20 former students of Yeshiva University’s high school who have accused former staff members of sexual or physical abuse. Many weeks after the revelation, there is still no commitment from the university that a probe, the findings of which will be made public, will be carried out, as was the Freeh Report probe into sexual abuse at Penn State.

While there are many differences between the two situations, at Penn State the “leader” Joe Paterno was fired, while Norman Lamm, who was president of YU from 1976 to 2003 and is now chancellor has not been fired nor disciplined in any manner whatsoever. Lamm has said, no law enforcement officials were ever notified of the abuse, despite “charges of improper sexual activity” made against staff “not only at [YU’s] high school and college, but also in [the] graduate school.” Lamm also said: “My question was not whether to report to police, but to ask the person to leave the job.”

Let us not forget that Bernie Madoff served on YU’s board since 1996, and his donations earned him an honorary degree in 2001. While undoubtedly YU wasn’t alone in being fooled, they did remove the names of Madoff and his cohort Ezra Merkin from their websites in the wee of the night, without any public comment. Reports have also been published – although neither confirmed nor acknowledged – that YU may have profited from their investment with Madoff. There was no sufficient corporate governance in place to protect the university as one would expect – nor any explanation of why a wealthy “non-religious” donor was granted an honorary doctorate from a “religious” Jewish institution.

Following the Madoff affair, the president of YU wrote “We all should use these times to reflect on our blessings, but also to reflect on our responsibilities…. The times are appropriate for us to focus on our core values, to practice and refine them, and to share them with the world.” Great press statement, and one they should have followed through on.

I’d venture that if these are the incidents which have been made public, one can only wonder how many other stories haven’t made it to the media. Rabbi Benjamin Blech of Yeshiva University said: “…. Ritual alone is not the sole determinant of our Judaism, that it must be combined with humanity, with ethical behavior, with proper values, and most important of all, with regard to our relationship with other human beings… We need a total rethinking of who the heroes are, who the role models are, who we should be honoring… Just because you eat kosher and observe the Sabbath does not make you good – If you cheat and steal, you cannot claim you are a good Jew.”

Rabbi Blech is right, and Yeshiva University must immediately undertake an independent investigation which examines moral issues at the institution and the recent apparent acceptance of cover-ups. If Yeshiva University wants to remain worthy of its standing as a fine institution, public relations campaigns alone aren’t enough.

Does YU not “answer to a higher authority?”

Ronn Torossian is a philanthropist, entrepreneur and author.

6 Comments

  • David Kripke

    For the latest efforts of YU administrators to sanitize the Internet of criticism of their conduct, see:

    http://www.volokh.com/2013/03/13/prof-lawrence-schiffmans-lawyer-demands-removal-of-post-containing-the-text-of-a-court-opinion/

    http://blog.simplejustice.us/2013/03/13/schiffman-meet-streisand.aspx

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130314/17275122332/internet-is-baseless-legal-threats-popehat-greenfield-volokh-triple-streisand-edition.shtml

    Apparently this involved employing a lawyer located in Williamsport, Pennsylvania (sister city of Maale Adumim) to send out litigation threats to Internet sites around the country that have published statements critical of YU’s vice provost.

  • This is an excellent article. It’s good to see an independent voice calling for the spirit of open ethical inquiry that has long been lacking in certain educational circles, and that has led to protest and controversy when difficulties could have been resolved through the tough talk that makes us stronger.

  • Unfortunately, with all due respect, the only factually incorrect statement made here is Mr. Sarna’s. The facts are as follows:

    The allegations of plagiarism were first made in 1993, by Israeli journalist Avi Katzman writing in the pages of Haaretz; they were then reiterated in Prof. Norman Golb’s 1994 book, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    At the trial to which Mr. Sarna refers (where evidence concerning the alleged plagiarism was excluded by the judge), NYU deans Richard Foley and Catherine Stimpson explicitly testified that they decided NOT to examine the plagiarism allegations, because Dr. Schiffman had a “reputation for honesty.”

    After this testimony was proffered, a confidential letter that Schiffman had sent to the two deans became a public document. In it, Schiffman repeatedly denied that he had ever been accused of plagiarism by Avi Katzman or Norman Golb.

    In an open response to Schiffman’s letter, Norman Golb set out the precise details of the earlier allegations, and added further evidence of the alleged plagiarism. Furthermore, he explained that far from acknowledging his theories, Schiffman had repeatedly misrepresented them in his writings.

    Six weeks after the publication of Golb’s response, Schiffman resigned from his department chair at NYU and moved to YU. No record of any investigation of the plagiarism allegations exists, either at NYU or at YU.

    All of the above facts are set forth in great detail in the systematic documentation (including the trial testimony, Schiffman’s letter, and Norman Golb’s response) available at the websites linked in Mr. Torossian’s article. Mr. Sarna’s desire to defend his friend is understandable, but he does him no credit with his comments.

  • This article is factually incorrect. I know Prof. Schiffman since he and I were college roommates in the late ’60s.He is a distinguished scholar and perhaps the leading scholar of Dead Sea Scrolls today, The allegations of plagiarism were examined at the highest level and dismissed by the University as testified to in Court. They were also not a factor at Dr. Bolb’s trial, as they had no bearing on the State’s charges against him.
    Anyone reading Prof. Schiffman’s work will see that he acknowledges Prof. Norman Golb’s theories, even though he rejects them, in common with nearly all scholars. Prof. Gold is appropriately credited, where warranted.
    It is disappointing to see a respected publication publish nonsense with no effort at fact-checking, much less balance.

  • ice Provost Schiffman moved to Yeshiva in the middle of the academic year, shortly after the publication of a article by Dr. Norman Golb in which portions of a certain “confidential” letter from Schiffman to NYU officials, containing defamatory statements about Golb and his research, were made public for the world to see. The impression gained is that we are dealing here not only with misconduct including plagiarism, but with a most offensive brand of arrogance, perhaps even charlatanry. See the article at:

    http://oi.uchicago.edu/pdf/schiffman_response_2010nov30.pdf

    • There was a typo in above comment–the opening sentence should of course begin with “Vice Provost Schiffman”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Jewish former CNN host Larry King asked a Saudi Arabian fan if taking pictures with Jews is allowed in his country, before agreeing to pose for a photo with the man, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The world-famous interviewer was leaving the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. with a New York Times reporter when a “dark-skinned man” approached and asked to take a picture with him, according to the publication. Whereupon, King asked the fan where he was from. When the man said Saudi […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    British-Jewish business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar joked on Wednesday that London synagogues will likely be empty during Yom Kippur with congregants fleeing to watch the match-up of two leading English soccer teams known for having hordes of Jewish fans. “Spurs V Arsenal cup game drawn on most important Jewish festival,” Lord Sugar pointed out on Twitter. “Both teams have loads of Jewish fans. Conclusion Synagogues will be empty.” North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC will go head-to-head in the Capital One Cup third-round […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Two Jewish men were the only unwitting participants in a social experiment conducted by Jimmy Kimmel, for his popular TV show. As part of a candid-camera-like sketch featured Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host devised different street scenes to observe human behavior — in particular, to see how long it would take people walking down California’s bustling Hollywood Boulevard to notice and interact with others in distress. One scene involved a man in a Spongebob Squarepants costume who had “fallen down” on the sidewalk and needed help […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    A major Jewish organization rebuked actress Natalie Portman on Monday for saying in a recent interview that Jews put too much emphasis on teaching about the Holocaust relative to other genocides. The Israeli-born movie star told the U.K.’s Independent that the Jewish community needs to examine how much focus it puts on Holocaust education over other issues. She said she was shocked when she learned that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda while she was in school learning only about the horrors of the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    JNS.org – A new book that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba (the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel’s War of Independence) has sparked outrage ahead of an official book launch, to be hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Sept. 7. The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu wrote a letter to the institute demanding that it cancel an event it planned in honor of the book’s authors, under the title The Holocaust and […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Famed actress Natalie Portman warned on Friday against the use of Holocaust education to evoke fear and paranoia. In an interview with the U.K. Independent she added that the trauma should make Jews more empathetic to others who have also experienced hatred. “Sometimes it can be subverted to fearmongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen,’” the Israeli-American star said. “We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, antisemitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    The Tribalist, by Louis Marano, is ostensibly a work of fiction but at its core a kind of love song by a gentile journalist for the State of Israel, and especially its secular Zionist core. (Because of the relentless attacks by left-wing polemicists on Israel’s allegedly “messianic” fringe, it’s often forgotten that most of Israel’s founders and all its leaders have been secular Zionists.) The author, the product of an Italian-American family in Buffalo, served two tours of duty in […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    JNS.org – Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved traditional Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. Pastry chef Paula Shoyer—author of the books “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and […]

    Read more →