Friday, June 05, 2015

Rabbis - Don't Get Naked with Your Congregants!

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt (NYT)
Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt – spiritual leader of the Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx has responded to the New York Times article about his inappropriate behavior. He proclaims his innocence of any wrongdoing. And he asserts that he did nothing illegal.  Quoting the Jewish Week the New York Times reports that he also said the following: 
 “There is significant reason to believe that the attack on my reputation is being promoted by those whose real attack is on my beliefs and principles. The respected rabbi of an important congregation would, for some, represent a significant trophy in the predatory quest to discredit his ideas and, possibly, an opportunity to change the nature of the community he leads.” 
It seems to be the that what he has been accused of thus far does not rise to the level of a sex crime. Although that has yet to be determined. The Bronx DA has opened an investigation into his decades long practice of playing racquetball or squash with young people from his Shul  - some as young as 12 - and then taking a shower with them. Or taking them into a sauna while both were naked and having long discussions about life with them in that state.  They are asking people who have had intimate contact like that with him over the years to come forward and tell their stories.

He did this with congregants, with college students, and with rabbinic interns sent to him from Yeshiva University.

I find his protestations of innocence to be a bit of a stretch; his apology to be a bit insincere;  and his conjecture about nefarious motives being just that. Conjecture. Especially in light of the fact that his Shul board asked him to stop these practices back in the 1980s. Which he ignored and continued to do. And the fact that Yeshiva University has stopped sending their rabbinical students to him because of that.  

Besides - how could anyone think that getting naked with their young congregants or rabbinic interns is normal behavior for a rabbi?  There is something very off about Rabbi Rosenblatt’s behavior no matter how he slices it.

I sincerely hope he is not guilty of anything more than what has been reported so far. Which is bad enough, but probably does not rise to the level of a sex crime. But criminal or not, his behavior is not acceptable in my mind. I don’t want to ruin a man’s career or hurt his family. But if I were a member of his Shul’s board of directors, I would no longer want him to serve as my rabbi.

Bottom line here is - if you want to be a spiritual leader, don’t get naked with your congregants or the people you mentor.