Sex Abuse Lawsuit Against YU Resurfaces With Passing of the Child Victims Act
34 former Yeshiva University High School for Boys (MTA) students are preparing to sue the university for ignoring multiple allegations of sexual abuse that occurred between the 1960s and the 1980s. The recent passing of the Child Victims Act in Albany extended the statute of limitations in New York for adults who were victims of sex abuse as kids and made it possible for the alleged victims to press charges.
19 former students originally filed a $380 million lawsuit against the university in July 2013 in the U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y. but it was dismissed in 2014 after a judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired. With the recent signing of the Child Victims Act (CVA) on Feb. 14 by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the limitations barring the lawsuit from proceeding in 2014 are no longer applicable. Victims of such crimes may now commence a civil lawsuit during a one-year period beginning on Aug. 14. After this window, victims have until their 55th birthday to file a lawsuit.
“We’re gearing up for a fight and have nothing to lose,” said Mordechai Twersky, one of the first victims to come forward with allegations via a 2012 essay in the since folded YU Beacon. “The allegations, the testimony and the depth of YU’s coverup of the crimes will be devastating and far-reaching.”
Kevin Mulhearn represents the 34 petitioners, who allege multiple counts of sexual abuse and sodomy at the hands of two former MTA faculty members: Rabbi George Finkelstein, a former principal of MTA and Rabbi Macy Gordon, a former Judaic Studies teacher. Despite multiple allegations against them, neither of the men was reported by the university.
“The law was so perverse before the CVA that it actually rewarded schools for successful cover-ups of sexual abuse,” remarked Mulhearn, who has represented dozens of sexual abuse victims in the past. “And in my mind, that was dangerous.”
Before Mulhearn can file a suit on Aug. 14, he must obtain all the necessary information to frame the complaint and identify defendants. In a pre-action motion of disclosure, Mulhearn has requested the preservation of and access to specific items related to the case. A key part of the renewed lawsuit, Mulhearn explained, is receiving all documents and records related to YU’s independent investigation of the complaints in 2013, the details of which are currently the sole property of the university.
The motion also requests to depose Rabbi Yosef Blau, the Senior Mashgiach Ruchani of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), who, on Feb. 14, admitted to knowing about at least one instance of abuse but took no action, claiming he “knew nothing would be done.” In a sworn affidavit of a petitioner, Rabbi Blau was quoted as having called the complainant “not the most credible child.” Rabbi Blau spoke on a panel in 2017 addressing sexual abuse in the Orthodox Community. He said at the time, “the most important problem is denial … once we acknowledge the problem exists then we can try to deal with it.”
In the original lawsuit, the petitioners alleged that administrators of Yeshiva University and MTA allowed “several known sexual predators to assume and remain in exalted positions in [MTA]’s administration and faculty.” The lawsuit also pointed out that YU honored Gordon in 2002 at a RIETS dinner and accepted money for a scholarship in his name that same year.
An investigation conducted by Paul Berger of The Forward revealed that former YU President Rabbi Norman Lamm, then chancellor and rosh yeshiva of RIETS, did not report the sexual abuse to the police, despite his knowledge of the incidents.
Finkelstein now lives in Israel and is currently outside the bounds of the court’s jurisdiction. Gordon died in 2017. But many of the victims are still haunted by the memories of abuse to this day.
“The souls of young students were murdered and their bodies were violated,” remarked Twersky, who attempted to take his own life in 2000. “Lives have been destroyed, worlds shattered. Those victims have every right to demand compensation.”
Though it is still in its preliminary stages, Mulhearn is confident about the eventual outcome of the case. “I have a hard time seeing how they can defend the indefensible,” he said. “I don’t think they have much of a defense.”
Yeshiva University will be represented by Karen Bitar of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Bitar and Yeshiva University’s Office of Marketing and Communications did not return a request for comment.
Photo Caption: Zysman Hall, the main building of Yeshiva University High School for Boys (MTA)
Photo Credit: The Commentator
This article has been updated since it was originally published.