Thursday, October 01, 2015
Imagine being a congregant at the Riverdale Jewish Center (RJC) during the High Holidays, and listening to a sermon from the synagogue’s senior rabbi, Jonathan Rosenblatt — a man who admittedly has taken steam baths naked with young male congregants for many years.
On Yom Kippur, Jews explore the Biblical story of Jonah, and aim to understand our lives and consider our purpose in this world. Curiously, right before we read Jonah, we read the Torah portion advising us to avoid immoral relationships.
Yet, the board that employs Rosenblatt – and the people who remain members of the congregation – are endorsing his immoral relationships and behavior. Could anyone have kept a straight face when he lectured on ethics and morality on Yom Kippur?
It has been reported that a large number of congregants of the 600-family, modern-Orthodox synagogue have broken off to form a new service a few blocks away, in protest of Rosenblatt remaining in place.
Those who still remain and support Rosenblatt should re-read and reflect on the prayers they uttered on Yom Kippur. The New York Times has stated that Rosenblatt “showered beside [the young men] and took them into the sauna, where — often naked, and with them often naked — he engaged the boys in searching conversations about their lives, problems and faith.”
Naked conversations about faith?
As far as I’m aware, Rosenblatt does not deny the charges or proclaim his innocence in this matter, which involves many children, some allegedly as young as 12. Members of the board say the situation has been “overblown;” undoubtedly, none of their own children participated in the sessions. And how many would allow their kids to be mentored by this rabbi?
That he was not asked to resign is both shameful and a sin. Its criminality is a different matter. Indeed, after a thorough investigation, the district attorney concluded that Rosenblatt did not violate the law. But this does not mean that he is morally or ethically innocent — something we all expect from our rabbis.
No matter how much Torah is being taught or learned at the RJC these days, there is no holiness in a place that determines that a rabbi whose guidance to boys includes being naked with them was not engaged in any “misconduct.”
In the court of public opinion, and in the eyes of those who once looked to him for inspiration and leadership, he is guilty of severe misconduct.
The RJC board and its president, Samson Fine, bear the brunt of responsibility for continuing to employ such a desecrater of God’s name.
“For the sin which we have committed before You with immorality; For the sin which we have committed before You by using coercion; And for the sin which we have committed before You with impudence…,” Rosenblatt must go. Every sane member of the synagogue must walk out every time its rabbi opens his mouth.