I am reluctant to write about this as I am sure it will get me into trouble with victims and victims advocates. But as a seeker of truth, I have no choice.
Yesterday I took the trouble to read the complaint filed against Dr. Lamm and Yeshiva University (YU) which asked for a $380 million dollar judgment in compensatory and punitive damages for 19 victims of abuse. Abuse that took place over 20 years ago and longer. After reading the complaint, I must confess that my reaction was visceral. I wanted to vomit. I was disgusted by what allegedly happened to these 19 survivors of sex abuse during their time as students in YU’s high school (MTA). And I felt extreme sympathy for all the pain they have suffered since. The picture painted of YU’s leaders who were in a position to do something about it and yet seemed indifferent to their pain – made me want to close down the school right then and there.
But the truth is that unlike the survivors of abuse that took place at YU, I do not want to see YU close down. That would not serve any useful purpose other than satisfying the anger these survivors have against the school – legitimate though it may be.
Yeshiva University is a unique institution. If it were to close down, there is nothing that would replace it. It is the only home of Torah U’Mada – that remains true to not only Halacha, but Mesorah too. It has a glorious heritage and currently has some of the finest minds in both Torah and Mada in all of Orthodoxy. I am not going to go into all of YU’s singular contributions. It would take volumes to do that.
That said, I am not here to defend YU or any of the people who seemed to act so callously and indifferently to the victims’ pain – a pain that was enabled by years of indifference. That truly has to be addressed. However, a judgment of $380 million is in my opinion excessive – if it could lead to the demise of the school.
Lest I be accused of feeling this way only with respect to YU, (which would in and of itself be understandable since I am such a strong fan of the school and its Hashkafos) I refer you to my past posts about the Markey Bill. That was a bill that would have extended New York State’s statute of limitations on lawsuits filed against abusers and their enablers. I supported Markey. But I also defended the Agudah’s legitimate position against it. They felt that if these lawsuits were allowed to be extended, Yeshivos that had different rebbeim, administrators and directors at the time of abuse would now be unfairly socked with damages they could not afford.
They also believed that these kinds of lawsuits could destroy Chinuch as we know it, something they could not allow. And in any case it would not advance the cause of protecting our children from future abuse.
I disagreed with them since I felt Markey would not destroy Chinuch as we know it. In California where a similar law was passed, it did not seem harm their Chinuch at all. So it was only fair that a survivor be allowed to have their day in court – no matter how long ago the abuse took place. Nonetheless, I did not think the Agudah’s position was an unreasonable one.
Victims advocates on the other hand ‘went to town’ against Agudah and anyone else who agreed with them. Including one of the strongest victims’ advocates in the public square, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. He opposed Markey right along with Agudah. He was vilified for that at the time.
Why do I feel there is a difference between YU and other Yeshivos in this respect? Because YU is uinique like I said. And it is a major contributor to Judaism in its uniqueness in ways that other Yeshivos are not. On the other hand there are tons of Charedi Yeshivos of like minded Hashkafos. If one of them had to close down (like R’ Lipa Margolis’s Torah Temminah for example) there are literally hundreds if not thousands of Yeshivos like them. The Charedi Hashkafa would not be damaged in any siginificant way. If on the other hand YU closed down, there is no other Yeshiva that could replace it. The loss is immeasurable.
I’m sure that such distinctions make absolutely no difference to a survivor. Understandably so. But if one is truly objective, there is a major destructive consequence. The philosophy of Torah U’Mada would have no institution behind it.
I am not saying that YU shouldn’t pay a price. I am only saying that it should not be so big that it would be destroyed by it. $380 million is a huge amount for YU to lose. One will recall that Dr. Lamm raised $100 million to save it from financial ruin. Before that YU was on the verge of collapse. I see taking away $380 million now as a serious threat to its existence.
As sympathetic as I am to survivors of abuse, I do not think it wise or even fair to let them set the agenda for us on this issue. That’s because it is their pain that is talking, not their sense of objectivity or altruism. Doing the right thing should not be a scorch and burn policy. And yet those of us who are sympathetic to their pain and suffering – thinking ‘but for the grace of God, there go my children’ – tend to completely agree with everything they say. Sympathy for the victim plus the fear of ‘it could have been my son or daughter’ tends to make many of us to take a hard line on this subject.
I agree with a no tolerance policy for the future. No efforts should be spared to assure that the schools which educate our children be given the tools to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. And in the event that it does, God forbid, they should immediately report the abuse to the police. No more self serving cover-ups.
But a no tolerance policy should not include punishing good people who are perceived to be making mistakes about how to treat abusers who have paid their price.
There has been a lot of anger expressed by victims and their advocates at Rabbi Michael Tuabes, the current principal of YU’s high school (MTA) for inviting convicted abuser Baruch Lanner to his Shul in Teaneck, and to his home. Personally, I would not give Lanner the time of day. But to spew venom at someone who did, and demand his resignation for that – is terribly wrong.
I know it may be hurtful to victims that hear about Rabbi Taubes doing that. But is giving a man a second chance akin to abuse or even enabling it? And what is Lanner to do? Should he just hide under a rock for the rest of his life? Should he just commit suicide? Even if he is no longer a danger to others and paid the price of years in prison? Is that justice? Even if he did not personally apologize to his victims?
Should Rabbi Taubes be judged so harshly for that – even though survivors might think he should? And who is to say that Rabbi Taubes does not have a legitimate reason for hosting him? Maybe he feels that he can somehow rehabilitate Lanner or get him to apologize directly to his victims. Can anyone honestly say that they know what is on his mind – and that it is evil?
This is what happens when we allow victims of sex abuse drive the agenda. Their legitimate pain causes them to see red at the slightest departure from their point of view. Justice in their eyes is not only no tolerance, it is to assign guilt by association to anyone who even dares to purposely be in the same room with a man who sinned against them – even if he paid the price for it – like Lanner did.
I say all of this even though I have never met Rabbi Taubes. I just think it is wrong to scorch and burn. Survivors have right to feel as they do. And so do their advocates. But so too do heroes like Rabbi Horowitz, and people like Rabbi Taubes, Agudah, and even me. Yes, we have an obligation to understand and support survivors and their advocates. And to demand a no tolerance policy in our schools. But what we should not do is allow their pain to push aside our objectivity.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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