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New York - Riverdale Jewish Center Votes Out Its Rabbi After NY Times Mikvah Report

Published on: June 9, 2015 10:23 PM
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FILE - Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, the head rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center, in 2010 addresses the seventh and eighth graders for his annual talk between Shabbat Shuva and Yom Kippur. FILE - Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, the head rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center, in 2010 addresses the seventh and eighth graders for his annual talk between Shabbat Shuva and Yom Kippur.

New York - Riverdale Jewish Center has asked for the resignation of its rabbi, Jonathan Rosenblatt, following the May 29 New York Times report about the rabbi’s habit of taking young male congregants into the shower, sauna, or hot tub with him as part of his mentoring program.

The rabbi had a well-established practice of inviting the young men to first play squash or racquetball before “showering and schmoozing in the sauna,” The Jewish Week reports (http://bit.ly/1S2GmNM).

In a Board of Directors meeting this past Monday night, members voted 34-8 to reach a financial settlement with the rabbi in exchange for him stepping down after more than three decades of service to the 700-member Modern Orthodox shul in Riverdale.

The Board concluded that because of the controversy, Rabbi Rosenblatt was no longer able to discharge his duties, but did not address the allegations against him. Members were advised that should someone file a civil or criminal lawsuit alleging abuse, they could be held financially liable for damages because they have a “fiduciary responsibility,” and the rabbi’s practice was well known.

Ben Brafman, Rabbi Rosenblatt’s attorney, told The Jewish Week, “We are working diligently and responsibly to address the issues that have been raised since the recent articles about Rabbi Rosenblatt have been published. I remind you, however, that Rabbi Rosenblatt has not been charged with any criminal offense. In my judgment, he will never be charged. Accordingly, I caution everyone involved to take a deep breath so that this matter can be resolved fairly and with the dignity Rabbi Rosenblatt has earned in three decades of service to the community.”

Last week, the rabbi sent a letter to his congregants saying he has sincere “regret if my conduct at any time inadvertently offended anyone during my many years of service. “I want to assure you, however, that it was never my intention to cause any harm, nor did I ever do anything that was unlawful. If any of you feel that my behavior, even if innocent, was inappropriate, I apologize to those affected.”

He added that he and his family feel “anguish” and that his “silence in the face of public accusations and attacks” should not be “construed as my agreeing with my accusers. Nothing could be further from the truth.” He stated that his attorney “counseled silence on all matters of substance.”

Both the rabbi’s supporters and detractors have described the situation as “sad” and avoidable. They hope the matter will soon be resolved.


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Read Comments (29)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jun 09, 2015 at 11:01 PM jsjcbs Says:

Sounds like he just played ball and then showered as most guys do in a gym. Probably not so appropriate for a Rav but it doesn't sound like he did anything wrong. Most of us (men) have likely showered in a gym before or sat in a sauna with others. Any nice gym has these type of amenities. It might be weird to be there with a Rav but it doesn't sound like he ever touched them or did something wrong.

2

 Jun 09, 2015 at 11:12 PM Anonymous Says:

Sad for everyone involved. Hopefully this puts an end to this strange chapter and all concerned can go on with their lives.

3

 Jun 09, 2015 at 11:24 PM Incredible Stupidity Says:

It is just incredible that in the age of well publicized scandals such as that of sex offender Sandusky at Penn State, the board of the Riverdale Shul kept "Rabbi" Rosenblatt as their "spiritual leader," knowing for years that he showered naked with congregant boys. Human stupidity is just beyond the pale in every strata of society. No one is immune across the spectrum.

4

 Jun 10, 2015 at 01:21 AM Nothing wrong? Says:

Reply to #1  
jsjcbs Says:

Sounds like he just played ball and then showered as most guys do in a gym. Probably not so appropriate for a Rav but it doesn't sound like he did anything wrong. Most of us (men) have likely showered in a gym before or sat in a sauna with others. Any nice gym has these type of amenities. It might be weird to be there with a Rav but it doesn't sound like he ever touched them or did something wrong.

Nothing wrong? He was not sitting naked with grown men, but exposing himself to young boys and teens. This in itself is a form of sexual victimization.

5

 Jun 10, 2015 at 02:18 AM lazerx Says:

Yet no one has accused him of touching or fondling them, only naked showers and naked saunas. Maybe his idea of shedding the externalities of life to arrive at the real inner meaning of man with out the externalities?

6

 Jun 10, 2015 at 05:48 AM Shlomo-1 Says:

Reply to #3  
Incredible Stupidity Says:

It is just incredible that in the age of well publicized scandals such as that of sex offender Sandusky at Penn State, the board of the Riverdale Shul kept "Rabbi" Rosenblatt as their "spiritual leader," knowing for years that he showered naked with congregant boys. Human stupidity is just beyond the pale in every strata of society. No one is immune across the spectrum.

1) He's still a Rabbi, the quotation marks aren't necessary
2) He didn't shower with naked boys. He sat in a sauna with them. Sitting in the schvitz doesn't have the same connotation and isn't that odd.
I understand the concerns and how it appears but this is not on the same level.
Until and unless there is an allegation of sexual abuse, this is solely a matter of appearance and judgement, not illicit behavior.

7

 Jun 10, 2015 at 07:06 AM LashonTov Says:

When you keep sweeping dirt under the rug it eventually comes out in a big mess. That's what happened at the Georgetown Synagogue, that's what is happening at the Riverdale Jewish Center and that is what will happen to Young Israel when their fraud and forgery to coverup the excommunication of their heretic rabbi in Las Vegas comes to light. See http://cleanupyoungisrael.blogspot.com/

8

 Jun 10, 2015 at 07:27 AM alterknaker Says:

I personally feel for the rabbi, as mentioned nothing major was done wrong and pleased that this is his outcome and nothing worse, just wondering what would've happened had this been a chassidish rabbi, surly everyone would be on their fours bashing, as always

9

 Jun 10, 2015 at 07:46 AM Tzi_Bar_David Says:

Irrespective of the good faith of his actions, he is exposing the shul to legal action. The board of directors is taking the best course of action to protect itself and the assets of the congregation.

10

 Jun 10, 2015 at 08:17 AM Anonymous Says:

This is ridiculous - he did nothing wrong - this is no different than showering by gym class at most public high schools

11

 Jun 10, 2015 at 08:40 AM posaikacharon Says:

the question is not if he did anything wrong. a cantor who can not sing is no cantor. a rabbi who act like this is no rabbi.

12

 Jun 10, 2015 at 08:56 AM anonymous Says:

I wonder if those demanding his resignation have such an "immaculate" record bein adom la'mokom and bein adom l'chavero

13

 Jun 10, 2015 at 09:05 AM walkinsilence Says:

On the face of it, this appears to be an example of poor judgement from the Rabbi. The congregation has also shown poor judgement; having been aware of his practices and not acting effectively to stop it. They were complicit.
This type of poor judgement, from a Congregational Rabbi, disqualifies him from being the "model" to guide his flock; particularly those in their formative years.
It is painful to see a talented man misjudge the perception of his behavior.

14

 Jun 10, 2015 at 09:49 AM Anonymous Says:

He is a great grandson of Yossele Rosenblatt

15

 Jun 10, 2015 at 09:55 AM jsjcbs Says:

Reply to #4  
Nothing wrong? Says:

Nothing wrong? He was not sitting naked with grown men, but exposing himself to young boys and teens. This in itself is a form of sexual victimization.

Who said naked?

16

 Jun 10, 2015 at 09:58 AM jsjcbs Says:

Reply to #11  
posaikacharon Says:

the question is not if he did anything wrong. a cantor who can not sing is no cantor. a rabbi who act like this is no rabbi.

Act like what? Play ball and take a shower? I'm not saying it's not weird but don't make it seem like he did something soooo heinous and awful. Don't use words like "is no rabbi". Very easy for people like you sit at home and comment on this article. None of us were there.

17

 Jun 10, 2015 at 10:11 AM zeesh-nj Says:

Reply to #6  
Shlomo-1 Says:

1) He's still a Rabbi, the quotation marks aren't necessary
2) He didn't shower with naked boys. He sat in a sauna with them. Sitting in the schvitz doesn't have the same connotation and isn't that odd.
I understand the concerns and how it appears but this is not on the same level.
Until and unless there is an allegation of sexual abuse, this is solely a matter of appearance and judgement, not illicit behavior.

Agreed.
Also, if you've been in a schvitz before, only the old folks are naked. I'm assuming "naked" here means, naked under a towel.
I've met Rabbi Rosenblatt in the past and there is nothing to suggest he is not an upstanding person and it's horrible to put him in the same sentence as perverts. Sex offenders generally act in private locations or when others aren't around, and this was not the case here. The optics could look bad if compared to Penn State, as well as what the expectations are in some circles as to what a rabbi should be doing, i.e. only sitting poring over a gemara, but there is no reason to assume such comparisons equate this accusation of carrying out disgusting acts, especially since he wasn't hiding anything.
Having said that, we must protect our children, and, in this day and age, protect ourselves from potential lawsuits and chilul HaShem, so unfortunately it was the right thing to resign.
Hopefully the shul will provide him a generous payout for doing so, as the acts he was suspected of were carried out in his capacity of mentor to congregants, which all agreed he was good at and appreciated for.
Sad.

18

 Jun 10, 2015 at 10:54 AM yochy Says:

i would recommend that every rabbi in a mikvah at the same time as children should be arrested following this logic.

19

 Jun 10, 2015 at 11:23 AM Anonymous Says:

The rabbi is innocent and should not Iose his job. I certainly don't believe a modern orthodox rabbi would doing anything perverted. On the other hand, if he were a conservative or reform rabbi that would be a totally different situation. The hub of modern orthodoxy is Yeshiva University. There Rabbi Hershel Shechter shlita their dean fully condones their having gay clubs. So if a modern orthodox person has c'v some uncontrollable urge to commit an abomination under Torah law related to male gay conduct, he simply goes to spend time at the YU gay club. Where can the conservative and reform get that?

20

 Jun 10, 2015 at 11:56 AM Lodzker Says:

for anyone who is saying what did he do that was inapropriate, this article does not go into details. Read the original expose on new york times from May 29th. You will change your mind on this story.

21

 Jun 10, 2015 at 12:23 PM Anonymous Says:

Why posting posts like this all the time?

22

 Jun 10, 2015 at 12:52 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #18  
yochy Says:

i would recommend that every rabbi in a mikvah at the same time as children should be arrested following this logic.

Wow! That's harsh!

23

 Jun 10, 2015 at 01:56 PM Necha Says:

not wishing to blame the victim, I must say don't these teenage boys in this day and age know what seems right or wrong? Don't their parents tell them time and time again how to behave, or how not to let someone put them in such an environment.
No Rabbi should sit in a sauna or pool etc with young teenage boys.....of course naked, what they wore their jeans?

24

 Jun 10, 2015 at 04:01 PM Justified Says:

He appears to have done nothing all that wrong. Of course, his being Modern so to speak Orthodox, provides a lot of ground for suspicion.

25

 Jun 10, 2015 at 10:45 AM Anonymous Says:

Here's my question: While I can justify playing squash with the young male congregants (maybe that's how MO Rabbis forge relationships with their congregants?) why go naked into a shvitz with them? Take a shower and go home.

26

 Jun 10, 2015 at 11:51 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #14  
Anonymous Says:

He is a great grandson of Yossele Rosenblatt

There is no record or evidence that Chazan Rosenblatt, Z'tl, ever engaged in this type of inappropriate behavior with young boys in his choirs or anything like the behavior of going naked into steam showers that this Rav engaged in. Please do not smear the name of the greatest chazzan of modern times and an ehrliche yid.

27

 Jun 10, 2015 at 07:32 PM Pops Says:

It appears that the NY Times reporter sensationalized this story and blew it way out of proportion.
By everyone's admission, nothing illicit ever occurred. Sitting in the sauna is usually with a towel. The article is loaded with innuendo not substantiated by facts. A sad detour for the rabbi and his community.

28

 Jun 10, 2015 at 07:36 PM fat36 Says:

The rabbi is a fool. with what going on today what was he thinking

29

 Jun 10, 2015 at 06:55 PM Shlomo-1 Says:

Reply to #19  
Anonymous Says:

The rabbi is innocent and should not Iose his job. I certainly don't believe a modern orthodox rabbi would doing anything perverted. On the other hand, if he were a conservative or reform rabbi that would be a totally different situation. The hub of modern orthodoxy is Yeshiva University. There Rabbi Hershel Shechter shlita their dean fully condones their having gay clubs. So if a modern orthodox person has c'v some uncontrollable urge to commit an abomination under Torah law related to male gay conduct, he simply goes to spend time at the YU gay club. Where can the conservative and reform get that?

Where do you get this stuff?
Please provide proof that
(1) R' Schechter is their dean
(2) that there is a gay club that he condones

[note: you have to remember that YU includes the "non-yeshiva" portions like the medical school and law school which have clubs that don't need approval by the rabbanim and, because of various anti-discrimination regulations, can't simply be banned.]

30

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