The namesake of Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus models sustainability.

Yeshiva University benefactor Zygi Wilf is at it again.

An East Hampton property owner has been flagged for a penalty for injuring or removing trees on public property.

… A code enforcement officer responded [to a complaint] and directed the contractor “to cease all work on the village easement until he gets further direction and/or approval” from the village.

And if you go to Yeshiva University, you get to walk all day around Wilf Campus.

But then, you also get to contemplate the glorious history of other Yeshiva trustees besides Zygi Wilf, like Bernard Madoff and Ezra Merkin, if you go to Yeshiva University.

Yes it’s a fine school, a religious school, and you know that “religious” means a finer moral compass…

But wait… What’s this headline?…

The Broken Moral Compass of Vikings Owners Mark and Zygi Wilf

This morning, after seeing which way the wind was blowing, the Wilfs released another statement, finding other principles that allowed them to cave in to the backlash against the Vikings. After “further reflection” and input they “appreciate and value” from the community – not to mention the loss of sponsors such as Radisson and Nike pulling AP jerseys off its shelves – they suddenly realized getting Adrian Peterson away from the team was actually what he wanted: “Adrian emphasized his desire to avoid further distraction to his teammates and coaches while focusing on his current situation; this resolution accomplishes these objectives as well.”

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, the Wilfs continue to stall, delaying payments to the two partners who sued them in 1992. Apparently, 22 years is not quite enough “due process” for the Wilfs, who were already upbraided by the judge in uncommonly harsh language, when she found against them and said they acted with “bad faith and evil motive.” Nevertheless, the Wilfs have engineered yet another delay in paying the nearly $100 million ($84.1 million in damages plus $15.1 million in attorneys’ fees) for what the Star-Ledger describes as having “cheated their partners … for more than 20 years.”

Yeshiva University: Its main accomplishment in the last few years has been avoiding legal responsibility for what everyone agrees was decades of sexual abuse of their high school students. Now there’s something to be proud of! Meanwhile, there’s the likes of Zygi Wilf on their board of trustees; there’s the school’s abysmal Moody’s rating

When the first three things that come to mind when people think “Yeshiva University” are junk bond status, Bernard Madoff, and …

Ezra Merkin, no one can be surprised that the school is in a ratings free fall. This blog has spent years detailing the damage that this school, with its conflict-of-interest-riddled trustees (a group that boasts such stellar characters as Ira Rennert and Zygi Wilf), and its greedy, morally clueless president, did to itself over the last ten years. You don’t get to brutalize a university the way this pack of rascals did (and some of the rascals are still there, rascaling around) without paying a very high price.

UD’s heart goes out to this Yeshiva University student who has discovered that unlike virtually all other American universities, his university operates under strict Omertà.

The guy writes an opinion piece in the school’s newspaper wondering about this – in particular, he wonders about Yeshiva’s … curious …board of trustees, recent haunt of Bernard Madoff and Ezra Merkin… Current haunt of the notorious Wilfs… And all-’round, COI-infested, $500 million-losing risk-taker…

You really think these big-money boys wanna talk to a pipsqueak like you? Bugsy Siegel maybe they’d talk to. Only he’s dead. You they won’t talk to.


Update: The Forward takes note.

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.

Ira Rennert, arguably the most honored man at Yeshiva University…

… and the man after whom the school’s Rennert Entrepreneurial Institute is named, once again shows YU students how to conduct themselves in business.

[T]he government said that Renco had lied when asked about the transaction to keep the pension insurer from finding out about the ownership change until too late. Once a controlled group has been broken, the pension agency loses its ability to go after the parent company’s assets.

And four months later, when R.G. Steel declared bankruptcy, the federal government had to take over the pension obligations and cover a $70 million loss. It sued Renco for fraud, arguing that the deal with Cerberus was a sham, intended primarily to break the link between R.G. Steel and Renco’s wealth.

Details on pensioners and their retirement income here.


Sure, every once in awhile, just like Yeshiva trustee Zigi Wilf, you attract the attention of the courts. Big deal. Price of doing business.


Now, REI grads, go out there and make some deals!

Having done all the damage he can to Yeshiva University…

… Richard Joel steps down as president, leaving this junk bond status entity to … Well, what does University Diaries live for but to watch universities implode? Let’s see whether Zygi Wilf, for instance, transfers his attentions from running the Vikings to running Yeshiva, where he is already a trustee.

“Talansky sat on the board of Yeshiva University until last year.”

Morris Talansky: Yet another glorious chapter in the history of the board of trustees whose members include Bernard Madoff, Ezra Merkin, and Zygi Wilf (Wilf remains a board member).

Embarrassing. But at least Yeshiva’s finances are in order.

“Yeshiva U. Board’s Culture of Risk-Taking Led to $500M …

… Meltdown.”

That being the case, this letter from the trustees to that school’s students is the very definition of chutzpah.

Having royally fucked the now junk-rated school through greed and irresponsibility, its trustees turn around and lecture its students.

Sometimes change can create concern. But the fact is that change needs to be embraced, and change provides an opportunity to make improvements in our structure, and in the way we support the needs and aspirations of our exceptional students.

Don’t be scared, boys and girls! We were nervous before we invested all that money with Bernard Madoff and Ezra Merkin, but we had the courage to do it! And that was only one of the practically criminal financial risks we took with your money! Make us – epitomized by the most high-profile among us, Zygi Wilf – your model of personal behavior!


Let UD just say this for the record: If she were a Yeshiva University student, professor, or graduate, she would have serious anger issues.

Yeshiva University’s Ira Rennert: Another in a Long Line of Looters.

It’s official: We can add Rennert’s name to fabled YU benefactors like Bernard Madoff, Ezra Merkin, and Zygi Wilf. Today the man who endowed YU’s Entrepreneurial Institute (it’s named after him), has been found guilty of looting one of his companies. But he did it in a good cause!

[The jury agreed that] Rennert [was] a willfully negligent tycoon who looted MagCorp to subsidize [his] sprawling Hamptons estate while turning a blind eye to pollution [the EPA’s suing him for the pollution; this trial verdict was just for the looting]. [The] Brooklyn-born billionaire’s Italianate home boasts a 164-seat theater, 100-car garage and 39 bathrooms, and is valued at $500 million.

What an inspiring entrepreneurial example for the eager young business students at the Rennert Entrepreneurial Institute! A junk bond campus whose business philosophy comes straight from Ira Rennert! And don’t forget – Yeshiva is a religious institution.


There’s Rennert Hall at Columbia University and the Rennert chair in finance and entrepreneurship at New York University. There’s also the Rennert Entrepreneurial Institute at Yeshiva University and the Rennert Mikvah, a ritual bath, at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, where he’s an honorary chairman.

Hm. Those ritual baths have been awfully pesky lately… If they’re not being overseen by someone filming naked women, they’re being named for looters…

No less a person than Jonathan Sacks, who calls himself a “moral voice for our time,” is the Rennert Professor of Judaic Thought at NYU.

UD is going to guess that it’s not going to bother the moral voice that he’s bopping along on … uh… let’s be delicate and call it breach of fiduciary duty money…

Barry Freundel, Yeshiva University Grad and Yeshiva University …

faculty member, brings yet more notoriety to that notorious campus, home of Bernard Madoff, Ezra Merkin, Zygi Wilf, and a whole cast of other conflict-of-interest-mad characters. Yeshiva University has for some time been American academia’s highest-producer when it comes to both sexual and financial scandal, and now, with the ribald rabbi and his radio, the school is definitely maintaining its record.


But then Modern Orthodoxy just seems to roll that way.

If the allegations against Freundel are true, they confirm the worst suspicions about the status of women in Orthodoxy: that the all-male rabbinical clubs support their own members in their efforts to control women’s bodies all the time. Freundel, after all, is suspected of using his authority to grab what he wanted from unsuspecting women.

… The award-winning film “A Tale of a Woman and a Robe,” by the Israeli filmmaker Nurit Jacobs Yinon, painfully demonstrates how the experiences of female converts in the mikvah violate their most basic dignity. Three male rabbis watch every woman dunk in the water, as she is naked except for a robe or sheet separating her skin from the rabbis’ eyes. Some rabbis interviewed in the film — including the Israeli modern Orthodox rabbis David Stav and Beni Lau — admit that this practice is humiliating for women, but describe their own helplessness in changing the practice.

… So did Orthodoxy make Freundel a sex offender? Not directly. But it enabled him. Orthodoxy creates an awfully comfortable place for men with sexist and misogynistic predilections and is built around a tight posse of men willing to support each other no matter what the crime.

Same tight posse of men works the Yeshiva University financial magic.

As Brown and Yeshiva Universities Know…

… you don’t want to look too closely at some of your biggest donors (Steve Cohen, Zygi Wilf).

UCLA‘s biggest donor is also kinda grody – but in a very Hollywood way [scroll down for Colbert Report segment]:

Best of all of these guys is California media mogul David Geffen… ‘These are designed to look like garage doors… But … they’re actually sealed shut.'”

All pretend! But law-abiding ordinary people, Geffen knows, assume they’re real. And therefore the dupes obey the… law…

“Moody’s Downgrades Yeshiva University Five Notches to B1”

This just in.

As I’ve said repeatedly on this blog, Yeshiva University’s financial collapse was not the work of a day. (Go here for background.) It took a special mix of trustees Bernard Madoff and Ezra Merkin, decades of indifference to the sexual abuse of students, and, more recently, a useless, self-righteous, and highly compensated president, to kill the school. Yeshiva’s board of trustees remains dominated by outstanding moral specimens like Zygmunt Wilf (“the judge decided that the Wilfs showed ‘bad faith and evil motive’ in a case she said was unlike any she had ever seen in New Jersey.“). Wilf and his fellow trustees have been so riddled with conflict of interest that the board seems to have been little more than “an investment club.”

How much lower can Yeshiva go?

Yeshiva, UD feels confident, is capable of falling much farther. Indeed, she anticipates that the school will have to close.

Yeshiva University: Online Makeover

In his letter, President Joel wrote that the current fiscal crisis will force YU to “reframe the way we educate.” Joel noted, “conventional models crumble beneath the weight of fiscal hardship,” and discussed the need for a “new strategic vision” to increase revenue and efficiency in new graduate programs and online education.

This blog has followed, with disgust, Yeshiva University’s longtime irresponsibility in every imaginable institutional sense – hiring, trustee appointments, presidential compensation, intellectual freedom (put YESHIVA in my search engine for details). Now the Post-Bernard Madoff bill’s come due, and the only thing missing from the president’s statement is his acceptance of responsibility and his resignation.

“Yeshiva has suffered philanthropic walkouts,” writes the school paper, putting the matter diplomatically. Remember Andrew Sole’s letter, written all the way back in 2008, to Yeshiva? A letter the school blew off? Sole called for the resignation of the entire board of trustees.

… [H]arm has come to this distinguished University, both in financial loss and worse, in reputation. It is my view that the harm today is directly attributable to the failed performance of our trustees. As fiduciaries they lost sight of their primary mission, to safeguard the long-term interests of Yeshiva University. Whether their activities were merely negligent, or worse, that judgment is best left for others.

In my view it will take a generation to repair the damage inflicted upon Yeshiva. And that is very sad. But what would be even sadder, and which would also give grave concerns to Yeshiva’s many supporters, would be for the University to continue to allow the current Board of Trustees to serve as fiduciaries going forward.

The honorable course (and we have seen virtually no honorable behavior in American corporate boardrooms, nor in our public servants, in 2008) would be for the University’s President, and its legal counsel, Sullivan and Cromwell, to demand the immediate resignation of the entire Board of Trustees.

Fuck that! said Yeshiva. We like our boys (it’s almost all boys; they all seem to be in each others’ pockets; and one of them – Zygi Wilf – just got convicted of racketeering). We’ll just go our own way, and Sole can drop dead.

(This must have been one of the strategies featured in Leadership in the Non-Profit World, a class Yeshiva’s president gave just last January, with a guest lecture from the former president of George Washington University, a longtime defender of Yeshiva University’s way of doing things. Here’s President Trachtenberg. [You need to be a CHE subscriber to read the full contents of the article.])

But Yeshiva has dropped dead. Expect it to go almost entirely online, in the cheesiest, most desperate, way.

Madoff, Merkin, Wilf, Rennert…

… To the rogue’s gallery that runs and has run Yeshiva University, we must add Julius Berman, who continues to hold a place of honor on one of that farcically scandal-ridden university’s boards of trustees. Berman’s chair emeritus of the all-boys board of Yeshiva’s seminary. And like several of his amazing Yeshiva compatriots, he sure does know how to get into trouble.

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