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The Curious Case of Yeshiva University…

… gets curiouser and curiouser. One of America’s most amoral and at the same time most morally self-righteous institutions now turns to the task of replacing as president a man who raked in millions in compensation while presiding over its financial ruination at the hands of corrupt trustees and other powerful campus figures, starting with Bernard Madoff and Ezra Merkin. Prominent Yeshiva buildings and programs bear the names of figures like Ira Rennert and Zygi Wilf. Several of the, er, friends of Merkin and Madoff remain in prominent positions on Yeshiva’s notoriously conflict-of-interest-ridden board.

Financially, the school is struggling like few other universities of its size and age in the country. Moody’s continues to rank its bonds as junk and recently determined that the school has a negative outlook. In the past five years, the school has been warned twice (in 2012 and again in 2014) by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education about the possible loss of its accreditation.


Eight years into the university’s financial crisis, Y.U.’s financial problems give no sign of abating. Two years ago, the school lost $83 million. Last year it lost another $84 million. And six months ago Moody’s reported that it expects the school’s financial condition to continue to deteriorate.

Yeshiva leaders represent so much greed and mismanagement that according to Moody’s the school may have to fold. If it folds, this will be due not merely to gross irresponsibility, but – just as importantly – to the ick factor. The gulf between Yeshiva’s self-presentation as a pious institution and the squalid reality of its financial dealings and some of its backers has grown so wide, the school has so profoundly and insistently disgraced itself, that you just have to laugh. It has become a hopeless joke. A tragic joke if you happen to care about the survival of modern orthodoxy in America.

Given this background, UD understands why Yeshiva is thinking of appointing as president a managerially clueless but possibly actually religiously serious person.

Assuming it is trying to survive, Yeshiva is faced with two sort of impossible choices: It can appoint as president a powerful, brilliant, and maybe even honest money manager who might be able wrestle the corrupt board of trustees down and get the school on a roughly legitimate financial footing.

It seems to have chosen not to do this, which means the board continues on its merry institution-destroying way.

Yeshiva University has gone the other way – it has decided to work on its moral reputation. And, I mean, okay – it certainly needs to do this. But it will end up with a nice Queen Elizabeth on the throne and the same bad boys behind the throne.

There are no indications that [Ari] Berman has the experience or even the drive to radically alter how the school functions in order to move it out of the crisis it now finds itself in. While it might be nice in theory to have a president with a PhD in Jewish thought at the helm, the selection of an MBA might have actually guaranteed that the school would be able to matriculate future Jewish thinkers and leaders.

To make matters even nicer, the seemingly endemic corruption and parochialism of Yeshiva’s culture continues unabated with Berman.

Soon, the trustees now guiding the university, including Berman’s uncle, the influential communal leader Julius Berman, will vote on the nominating committee’s selection.

Julius Berman is Exhibit A for what UD is talking about in this post. Notoriously, Berman presided over a holocaust victim restitution fund that for sixteen years was massively embezzled.

[Isi] Leibler singled out Claims Conference Chairman Julius Berman and Executive Vice-President Greg Schneider for particular criticism in a recent Jerusalem Post opinion article. Leibler, a former World Jewish Congress official who lives in Israel, wrote that instead of launching an independent review following the fraud, the two men orchestrated a “Stalinist” board resolution that absolved the Claims Conference of all blame.

“Such contemptuous rejection of all managerial accountability in the wake of such a massive fraud would be inconceivable in any public company or government body where resignations or dismissals would have been mandatory,” Leibler argued.

See what I mean? You just have to laugh. Yeshiva University is irredeemable.

Margaret Soltan, September 26, 2016 8:52AM
Posted in: forms of religious experience

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