On YU Sex Abuse Case, You Can’t Hide From God

By Rabbi Chaim Gruber (The Jewish Week)
January 14, 2015

On the third night of this past Chanukah, attorney Kevin Mulhearn sent a draft of a complaint against Yeshiva University High School for Boys to a group of plaintiffs who say they had been sexually abused as students.(I am not one of the plaintiffs, although I left the school after one year due to what I perceived as physical abuse.)

The complaint will be filed in Manhattan Supreme Court. Mulhearn is attempting to find some legal remedy at the state level after legal action at the federal level did not succeed for these plaintiffs.

But, is it in the best interest of the Jewish world and all those personally involved in this case that more mass media reports come forward over the next number of years about this scandal? Wouldn’t the best remedy be an expedient out-of-court settlement so to finally lay this matter to rest? (That Yeshiva University should settle out of court was also the advice of Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt, a graduate of YU, in his column “The YU Impasse,” Between The Lines, July 17, 2013.)

In the much publicized Twersky, et al., vs. Yeshiva University, et al. sexual abuse case that was in the federal courts for the past year and a half (also pleaded by Mulhearn), while YU has publicly admitted its guilt, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were past their maximum allowable time to file a legal suit according to the statute of limitations. However, it is important to recognize that according to the Jewish system of law that YU is meant to promote, the statute of limitations had not passed because there is no statute of limitations in Jewish law. One reason why there is no statute of limitations is because Jewish law is meant to reflect non-arbitrary divine law, which, as will be explained, has no statute of limitations.

In America, the State of Israel, and elsewhere, statutes of limitations exist for civil and criminal cases. While these statutes are conveniences for busy courts and can be strong incentives for plaintiffs and district attorneys to speedily file cases, nevertheless, these time limits are arbitrary: There is no automatic justice that occurs at the expiry date of a statute of limitations to rectify a wrong. In fact, statutes of limitations can greatly damage society because with the loss of an ability to serve justice, it may be impossible to ever achieve peace among wronged parties. Further, what happens to an evildoer after a statute of limitations for filing a civil or criminal case expires? The evildoer cannot be punished and is free to commit more social damage. Thereafter, such evildoer may also become emboldened and haughty due to having gotten away with a crime.

For these reasons and others, there is no statute of limitations in divine law, because a desire for justice and righting a wrong does not expire. Nor does the need to apprehend evildoers and put a stop to evildoing.

Mishlei, the Book of Proverbs (3:12), states that chastisement is a form of love; after all, chastisement has the ability to stimulate teshuvah, repentance, so to turn someone away from a troubled path. Therefore, and paradoxically, a statute of limitations also prevents benefit to the culprit because it prevents the culprit’s betterment by negating society’s ability to chastise.

Similarly, Jewish law teaches that if A harmed B, it is not merely in the interest of B if A makes restitution, but it is also in A’s interest. This is because God, who is a fair judge, would somehow punish A were A not to make restitution for the crime. In fact, according to the Rambam (Maimonides), belief in divine reward and punishment is the 11th principle of Jewish Faith and is a principle that Yeshiva University teaches its students. Hence, Orthodox Jews — including Yeshiva University administrators — believe that when human courts do not reprimand an evildoer, God, eventually, will do so. Meaning, no one escapes justice.

Perhaps now is the best time for Yeshiva University to right its wrong, one that was called “appalling” by U.S. Circuit Judge Guido Calabresi. Thereby, the university would no longer be subject to the divine punishment that it itself preaches that all are subject to whenever the making of appropriate restitution is avoided.

When YU Chancellor Norman Lamm resigned his post a year and a half ago, in part, due to his mishandling of abuse allegations going back decades, he wrote that he “must do teshuvah” for his failure to more vigorously pursue accused individuals: “We must never be so committed to justifying our past that we thereby threaten to destroy our future. It is not an easy task. On the contrary, it is one of the greatest trials of all, for it means sacrificing our very egos, our reputations, even our identities.” Rabbi Lamm also wrote that “true character requires of me the courage to admit that, despite my best intentions then, I now recognize that I was wrong.”

I pray that those in charge of Yeshiva University do teshuvah and acquire sufficient fear of God so as to recognize the all-around benefit of a mutually amicable out-of-court settlement. Thereafter, this matter can be finally laid to rest in the earthly and in the heavenly courts.

Rabbi Chaim Gruber attended Yeshiva University’s High School for Boys. He is currently writing a book about peace.