Major Jewish organizations silent on recent Yeshiva University scandal

Hebrew instructor was hired for the 2013-2014 school year despite having a previous sexually criminal background.

October 15, 2013 02:19
2 minute read.
Arrest [illustrative].

Handcuffs arrest police crime illustrative 390. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

NEW YORK – The leaders of the New York Jewish community have thus far remained silent over allegations that a teacher hired by Yeshiva University had a previous criminal background of inappropriate behavior with students he was tutoring for their bnei mitzva.

Akiva Roth, a Hebrew instructor who previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary, was hired for the 2013-2014 school year despite having a previous sexually criminal background, including convictions for inappropriate behavior with boys.

A spokeswoman for Hillel had no comment beyond confirmation that Roth was never a Hillel employee, although he worked as director of the Hillel at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, from 1999 to 2006, The Forward reported.

AIPAC, with which Roth previously worked as the Northeast region synagogue initiative director, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Susan Green, the director of administration for the Jewish Community Relations Council, confirmed that Roth was hired at the JCRC from January to June of 2012 for “a short-term project” that involved “working with synagogues and organizational leadership to encourage activity and engagement in Israelrelated projects.” Green would not comment on whether the JCRC knew about Roth’s previous convictions.

The American Jewish Committee and the World Jewish Congress also could not be reached for comment, nor have any major committees released statements addressing the scandal, one of the latest to be uncovered in the world of Jewish education.

This revelation follows on the heels of the lawsuit filed by 34 former students against the Yeshiva University High School for Boys in July alleging that they had been physically and sexually abused by George Finklestein, a teacher there during the 1970s.

Yeshiva University announced on Friday that it has “cut loose” Roth, 42, The Forward reported, but did not clarify whether he had been fired or resigned voluntarily.

In an official statement, university spokesman Matt Yaniv said, “While all appointments are subject to thorough background checks, the university erred in this case, permitting the new hire to begin teaching before the screening process had been completed,” and said that YU will “reevaluate” its hiring process, which The Forward reported also currently includes outsourcing background checks to a third-party vendor.

Yaniv also added that, to the university’s knowledge, Roth had “not engaged in any inappropriate conduct during his time at YU.”

Roth pleaded guilty in 1997 to four counts of “lewdness” with boys he was instructing.

The judge at the time noted that Roth seemed to “not get it,” in that he was unwilling to see the wrongness or sexual nature of his actions, and blamed his victims for what happened to them. He was sentenced to 10 years probation.

JTS hired Roth from 2000 to 2003, but said they had no knowledge of his criminal background.

Former Yeshiva University chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm, who resigned on July 1, 2013, admitted in his resignation letter that he should have responded “more assertively” to allegations of sexual abuse that arose decades ago, which he said he never reported to authorities.

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