Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

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Unimportant People are Always Expendable

January 5th, 2013 · 12 Comments

Yeshiva University in New York has been caught up in the sexual abuse scandal.

Back in the 1970s students and their parents alleged to the administration, including the then-president Norman Lamm, that they had been molested by a rabbis on the faculty.

As Vivian Yee reports in the NYT,

Yet administrators of Yeshiva University, the prestigious Modern Orthodox institution in Washington Heights that runs the high school, allowed each man to simply leave.

The university president from 1976 to 2003, Norman Lamm, who is now its chancellor, told The Forward that he never notified the police.

Dr. Lamm told the paper that when the school received complaints of sexual activity involving the staff, “if it was an open-and-shut case,” he would just let the staff member “go quietly.”

“It was not our intention or position to destroy a person without further inquiry,” he said.

“This was before things of this sort had attained a certain notoriety,” he added. “There was a great deal of confusion.”

In 1995, after administrators confronted Rabbi Finkelstein about the wrestling, the rabbi “decided to leave because he knew we were going to ask him to leave,” Dr. Lamm told the newspaper. The rabbi became the dean of Samuel Scheck Hillel Community Day School in North Miami Beach, Fla. Yeshiva did not notify the school about the accusations, Dr. Lamm told The Forward, and the school never asked.

The victims were unhappy with the way the matter was handled:

Mr. Twersky, now a journalist in Jerusalem, says he threatened to sue in 2000 unless Dr. Lamm publicly apologized or offered compensation, but was rebuffed. A Yeshiva official had said Rabbi Finkelstein’s “condition” would be treated, but nobody at Yeshiva reached out to victims, Mr. Twersky said.

“It dawned upon me that I had not merely been wrestled with and violated, but knowingly abandoned by the high school leadership,” he said Thursday.

Bishops, rabbis, ministers, all sacrificed children to preserve their institutions.

Mark Oppenheimer, also in the NYT, has some of the best reflections so far on the whole crisis:

Every religion has evildoers stalking its corridors. They just survive, and thrive, with different strategies.

Even Zen Buddhism is not immune:

Take Zen Buddhism, the paragon of open, nonhierarchical spirituality. Anyone may practice Zen meditation; you do not have to convert, be baptized or renounce your old religion. Yet leaders of major Zen centers in Los Angeles and New York have recently been accused, on strong evidence, of exploiting followers for sex. This weekend, Zen teachers ordained by Joshu Sasaki, the semiretired abbot of the Rinzai-ji Zen Center in Los Angeles, are holding a retreat to discuss sexual harassment accusations against Mr. Sasaki. The Zen Studies Society, in New York, is under new leadership after its longtime abbot, Eido Shimano, was forced out after he was accused of inappropriate sexual liaisons with students and other women.

Maintaining reputation is more important than helping victims:

Then there is the fear of bringing shame on the community, particularly prevalent in minority groups. “When I started in 1982,” said Phil Jacobs, the editor of Washington Jewish Week, “there was an 11th commandment — ‘Thou shalt not air thy dirty laundry.’ ” He learned that commandment in Baltimore, writing about the high percentage of Jews in a treatment program for compulsive gambling. “When I started calling people, they said, ‘You’re not going to put this in the paper, are you?’ So I found out Jews didn’t get AIDS, didn’t get divorced, didn’t abuse their wives or children.”

That fear of embarrassment may be why Dr. Lamm — who is still at Yeshiva and declined to be interviewed — stayed quiet about the abusive rabbis at Yeshiva. Perhaps he loathed what they had done, and wept for their victims. But, he also may have thought that people shouldn’t hear bad things about Jews. People shouldn’t know, in other words, that Jews are just like everyone else.

That is everyone else, not just religious people. The Satmar Hasidim may have wanted to protect a beloved member, the Modern Orthodox administrators probably worried about their community’s reputation — and the Penn State loyalists enabled Jerry Sandusky. Somehow, the victims never seem as important as the rabbi, the Zen master, the coach. In the words of a once-revered rabbi, Norman Lamm, may as well let the perpetrators “go quietly.”

Abusers are sociopaths who can so easily commit their crimes because they lack the empathy necessary to feel the pain that they cause in their victims. Abusers also manipulate the weaknesses of people and institutions. Each person, each institution, has its peculiar strengths and weaknesses. Abusers even manipulate the imperative of forgiveness.

I have noticed in my work as an investigator for the government and my private work in documenting sexual abuse, and in lesser matters as well, that almost always when asked to help, even by just giving information, almost everyone says “I don’t want to get involved.” They fear difficulties, inconveniences, retribution by the criminals. People far too often lack the virtue of fortitude.

Fortitude, courage, is not the highest virtue, but is a virtue without which it is impossible to have any other virtue.

Opposing evil will always cause us some trouble or inconvenience. Some people have to die because of their opposition to evil. Most people won’t even risk receiving bad publicity. Better that the innocent suffer, especially if they are unimportant people,  than anyone else, especially a VIP, be inconvenienced in the slightest.

Tags: sexual abuse

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joseph D'Hippolito // Jan 5, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Bravissimo, Leon!

  • 2 Father Michael Koenig // Jan 5, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Yes, well said Leon.

  • 3 Mary // Jan 6, 2013 at 12:03 am


  • 4 cm // Jan 6, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Fear of the Lord would help too. If you don’t try to stop someone committing an evil, the guilt of that evil falls to you…

  • 5 rosenberg // Jan 6, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Many of us are very proud graduates of numerous schools of Yeshiva University. These comments are made by people who either have no allegiance to the school or have probably never attended. Schools such as Einstein medical school, Wurzweiler school of social work, Cardoza Law school, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Azrieli, Revel as well as Yeshiva College and the various Religious divisions of YU including REITS and JSS have provided leaders in all fields of the worldwide Jewish and general community.Attacking Yeshiva University in the Forward on an almost daily basis is a wonderful way to sell newspapers. While there are some who have legitimate accusations, there will be many seeking merely to sue for the sake of making money.Stop blaming the entire Orthodox Jewish world for the deeds of a few. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  • 6 Mary // Jan 7, 2013 at 1:02 am

    Rabbi Dr Rosenberg,

    I had to reread this piece by Dr Podles again just to search out the attacks you refer to on Yeshiva University or the “…blaming the entire Orthodox Jewish world. ”

    Perhaps I am less fortunate and do not possess the superior educational accreditations as do you but, rather than finding these “attacks” I read an honest opinion based on documented fatc and quotations in News articles.
    Would it really be that hard to remove ones hands from eyes mouth or ears and admit that sexual abuse of individuals especially youth has been rife in our society and swept under the rug especially when Corporate or Institutional Image was /or is perceived to be at stake?
    You are correct in stating,”…. there will be many seeking merely to sue for the sake of making money.” But it is also correct that Institutional reputation does not outweigh the value of the individual or the harm incurred to individuals by the policies of any Institution.
    It appears that there are many seeking to sweep criminal scandal under the rug merely for the sake of making money for or by Institutional affiliation also.
    The Penn State scandal a case in point.

  • 7 Mary // Jan 7, 2013 at 1:09 am

    Re: Penn State scandal…….nota bene: REAL Penn State victims………..
    Jennifer Rubin: An insult to the real Penn State victims


  • 8 admin // Jan 7, 2013 at 5:58 am

    Both Jews and Catholics in the US have had the feeling of being a minority looked down upon by the Protestant and secular establishments. The same goes for the Mormons. Such groups develop a circle-the-wagons mentality and do not want to acknowledge serious internal problems, such as sexual abuse, for fear it will provide ammunition to their enemies.

    This is a weakness which abusers exploit.

    Note that the Catholic priesthood, which requires celibacy, and the Orthodox rabbinate, which requires marriage, both have sexual abusers.

    Obsessive, manipulative sociopaths are a chronic danger in all occupations – including finance (Bernie Madoff and a legion of fraudulent financial advisors). Alas, responsible adults have to keep their guard up, lest they – and children – be ruined.

    Lee Podles

  • 9 Joseph D'Hippolito // Jan 7, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Rabbi, I’d like to call your attention to Ezekiel 34, Jeremian 23 and 1 Samuel 2: 12-36. These passages offer virulent criticism of religious authorities that misused their power for personal gain. In fact, a holy, righteous God holds those who bear authority in His name to a greater standard, simply because they represent Him and He will not tolerate His character to be besmirched. Whether these authorities are Jews or Christians, let alone members of denominations within those religions, is irrelevant. The question is not confessional identity but ethics and morals.

  • 10 Mary // Jan 7, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Leon, Keeping one’s “guard up” has become increasingly difficult , especially for the elderly who ,being not so technically or financially savy ,have become the targets of all kinds of nefarious religionist sects and financial scammers.
    Even young adults seeking to find gainful employment through higher education have found themselves drowning in student loan debt and are considered lucky to find minimum wage jobs! All the while colleges and universities still advertise job markets booming in sectors that are already over saturated !
    In every level of sciety today people are being scammed.

  • 11 Mary // Jan 7, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Good point Joseph,”The question is not confessional identity but ethics and morals”

    Personally I am fed up with the label ‘Hate Group” to disparage all other personal or religious opinion concerning morality and ethics. Even the financial and Trends commentator Gerald Celente has been labeled anti Semetic, anti Catholic and anti Moslem by propagandists in order to silence the growing credibility attributed to his reporting of the fact based news behind the news that the mainstream public is not being informed on.

    Recently on the Tonight Show the comedian Joy Behar spoke about visiting a reataurant Germany for Oktoberfest. In a private conversation at her table she said that she mentioned the word “nazi” and the whole eatery fell silent. Obviously, the German people are tired of carrying the whole blame for the deeds of Hitler and government .

  • 12 Tony de New York // Jan 8, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    Well said Mr. Leon.

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