New York's Yeshiva University, still reeling from allegations that for decades its leaders dealt improperly with allegations of sexual abuse, has hired a new faculty member who was previously convicted of inappropriate sexual behavior with boys, the Forward newspaper reports.
Akiva Roth, who started the new school year as a Hebrew teacher at Yeshiva College, the university's undergraduate college for men, pleaded guilty in 1997 to four counts of lewdness against several boys while working as a private bar mitzvah tutor.
Roth, 42, has not been accused of misconduct at the university, but his employment by Yeshiva College calls into question the university’s hiring practices at a time when it is battling to repair its public image over the sex abuse allegations.
A Yeshiva University spokesman issued the following statement: “Yeshiva University has policies and procedures in place that require background checks for new hires. We are currently in the process of thoroughly exploring the matter you brought to our attention.”
Ever since the Forward first reported allegations of sexual abuse made by dozens of former students of Yeshiva University’s High School for Boys, the university has sought to distance current management practices from those of Rabbi Norman Lamm, who was its president from 1976 until 2003.
A report commissioned by the university in the wake of the scandal found that “sexual and physical abuse took place” at a number of university institutions during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
But university officials suppressed the release of further details contained in the report, including the number of suspected perpetrators or the institutions involved, citing a pending $380 million lawsuit brought against it by former high school students. Instead, the version of the report released by the university focused on policies and procedures that had been implemented to prevent abuse or to deal appropriately with abuse allegations at its high schools and other schools and colleges.
The “university is committed to creating an environment at its high schools and other affiliated schools in which sexual misconduct and other types of harassment are not tolerated,” the report stated, adding that “the university has over time, and especially in the last decade, instituted many policies, procedures, and practices that address these issues.”
Roth began work at Yeshiva College this semester, teaching four Hebrew classes each week. Questioned by a Forward reporter whether Yeshiva University had asked about his convictions or whether he had offered the information during the hiring process, Roth referred the reporter to the university's media relations department. He did, however, confirm that he was a full-time member of the Yeshiva College staff.
Roth was arrested in September 1996 on suspicion of abusing several boys aged 11 and 12. According to court records, he exposed and touched himself during private bar mitzvah classes and encouraged the boys to do the same.
Roth was charged with sexual contact and with endangering the welfare of a child and pleaded guilty to four counts of lewdness. He was sentenced to 10 years' probation.
In imposing the sentence, judge Barnett E. Hoffman, a superior court judge in New Jersey, noted that a sex offender therapist had determined that Roth was “in the lowest category for risk of re-offense.” But, Hoffman added, Roth showed a “lack of appreciation for the wrongfulness of his conduct.”
“The defendant is very arrogant and continues to blame the victims for the trouble he is in,” Hoffman wrote in a statement outlining his sentencing decision. “Furthermore, he does not even see his conduct as sexual in nature, which it clearly is.”
After noting that Roth blamed the boys for “enticing him into this behavior,” Hoffman said that Roth “has very little empathy for his victims and an unawareness of the harm done to them by his actions.”
“In short,” Hoffman concluded, “at this time, ‘he doesn’t get it.’”
Most recently, Roth worked at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as its northeast region synagogue initiative director, and for the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York as an Israel engagement coordinator. His job at Yeshiva College is his first foray into education in eight years.