Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Two Rabbis - Different Reactions

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt (TOI)
I have to wonder about the diametrically opposite reactions by 2 Shuls to the sexual misconduct of its rabbis. 

It appears that Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt Shul board is trying to oust him as the rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center. A position he has held for 3 decades. The embarrassment of a rabbi getting naked with his congregants and rabbinic interns in showers and saunas has apparently gotten to them - and they want him out.  Which is understandable – even if what he did was technically not a violation of the law. (Which has yet to be determined. The Bronx DA is still investigating this case.)

Their board will not stand with this rabbi in spite of his otherwise long term exemplary service. A service that brought him many accolades by his peers throughout his career. They rightly concluded that his aberrant sexual behavior over-rode his contributions. That there is no contribution; no accolade that can paper over those indiscretions and the psychological damage it caused in his victims. This is the right move. I am very sad for this man and his family. But that sympathy does not justify retaining him as a spiritual leader. He needs help and ought to seek it.

Rabbi Marc Schneier and his then paramour & current wife (NY Daily News)
The very different reaction to Rabbi Marc Schneier by his Shul was to support him. This despite his extra martial affair. A very public affair. He was seen and even photographed being affectionate with another woman while still married to his 4th wife. He has since divorced his 4th wife and married his paramour.  One would think that a rabbi having a very public love affair with another woman while still married would disqualify him as the kind of role model a rabbi should be.

You would think that. But you would be wrong. From the Forward
Morris Tuchman, president of The Hampton Synagogue, in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., said that Rabbi Marc Schneier “has served, and continues to serve, our congregation in an exemplary manner and we are proud to have him as our rabbi.” … Rabbi Schneier is beloved by the congregation/community that he built over the last 25 years.” 
Exemplary? Proud? I don’t think you can call Rabbi Shenier’s behavior exemplary of anything, least of all exemplary of a rabbi. I don’t know how anyone can be proud of this guy, no matter what he has otherwise supposedly accomplished. Which is why I believe the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) was right to have expelled him from its membership.

I have to ask, why the different reactions to fallen men of distinction? While I agree the behavior of each man differed substantially from one another, there is not a question in my mind that neither deserves a pulpit, much less praise for their exemplary behavior.  

And yet when it comes to having an extra marital affair, that seems to be more socially acceptable than getting naked in the shower with congregants and interns – even of the same sex. And even if there was no physical contact. Why is that?

Well one obvious answer is that we are talking about two different populations that might have reacted the same way in both instances. The Riverdale Shul would reject both rabbis and the Hampton Shul would accept both. But my guess is that there is something else going on here. Something that causes near revulsion for the behavior of one rabbi and acceptance of the other.

We live in a time where extra marital affairs are almost glorified in the culture. Certainly in the entertainment industry.  The idea being that we can’t help who we fall in love with – or when. Even when we are happily (or not so happily) married. How many divorces are there in this country that have been caused by husbands (or wives) heads being turned by a member of the opposite sex they are not married to. One that they find having a greater kinship with than their wives. 

The idea of a committed relationship seems to have gone the way of the Dodo bird in a world that focuses so much on self fulfillment and self gratification. So much so that when 2 people that are married are suddenly attracted to others, they simply follow their heart instead of following what’s right. Isn’t this what Woody Allen taught us by saying, “The heart wants what it wants” as his explanation for leaving Mia Farrow and marrying her adopted daughter?

So when Rabbi Schneier had his extra-marital affair, he was following his heart. Just like Woody Allen did.  Seen in that light the reaction by his Shul is more understandable. One might say, “OK, the rabbi is not perfect.”  “But who is perfect?”  “No one!”  “Rabbi Schneier should be judged by his contributions and not by his weaknesses.” “Weaknesses that are as common in our day as apple pie!” “Besides, he ended up doing the right thing by divorcing his 4th wife and marrying his 5th wife, the woman he really loves.” What a happy ‘Hollywood’ ending!

A rabbi taking a shower and sitting in a sauna while naked with young male Shul members and interns is not the stuff of Hollywood. At least not the kind of stuff glorified by Woody Allen and a host of other celebrities and politicians. It is instead the stuff of perverts and predators. Even if it is not illegal to take a shower and sit in a sauna together with other males. It is nonetheless too weird to let his accomplishments override it.

There has not been any glorification of this kind of behavior in Hollywood.That’s the difference.

I agree with Rabbi Rosenblatt’s Shul board. They did the right thing in expelling their rabbi. You do not want a man whose behavior can only be called ‘creepy’. Even if he did nothing illegal.

But I do not agree with Rabbi Schneier’s Shul. Just because his behavior is glorified does not make it right. Cheating on your wife is never acceptable and ought to be grounds for dismissal. The RCA got it right. His Shul didn’t.