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Dismissed Rabbi Questions Procedures on Engagement of Successor

The board of trustees of a wealthy Manhattan Reform congregation has approved appointment of a rabbi to succeed one dismissed last month in a dispute over his long hair and controversial views under procedures which the dismissed rabbi has described as questionable, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was informed today. The board of Congregation Shaarey Tefila approved, by secret vote at a meeting on March 17, the appointment of Rabbi Harvey Tattelbaum, who is currently rabbi of the Village Temple, another Manhattan Reform congregation. He was named to succeed Rabbi Philip Schechter, who resigned on March 2. Members of the Shaarey Tefila congregation voted at a stormy meeting on Feb. 16 in effect not to extend Rabbi Schechter’s unwritten contract. Rabbi Schechter contended he was dismissed by the board because he tried to “modernize procedures” of the 125-year-old synagogue. The 144-135 vote at the Feb. 16 meeting was on a resolution calling on the board to reconsider a Jan. 31 decision not to renew the contract of the 35-year-old rabbi. More than 500 congregants were present but many could not vote because they were in the classification of associate and junior members who have no voting rights.

Rabbi Malcolm Stern, chairman of the placement committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform rabbinical group, told the JTA that Rabbi Tattelbaum’s quick appointment was on the basis of “the equivalent of an in-congregational promotion.” Under CCAR placement rules, availability of a pulpit is reported in the CCAR newsletter, which is circulated to all CCAR members who may then apply. The rules require that the outgoing rabbi approve such listing of the pulpit he has left. However, rabbis serving as assistants in a congregation may be engaged to become the senior rabbi without going through the usual procedures. Rabbi Tattelbaum was an assistant to Rabbi Bernard Bamberger at Shaarey Tefila from 1962 to 1965 when he was named to the Village Temple pulpit. Rabbi Stern, asked about the application of the in-congregational promotion rule to a rabbi who had not been in service to Shaarey Tefila for nearly eight years, said that the appointment was made on the basis of treating Rabbi Tattelbaum as meriting the “equivalent” of an in-congregational promotion because of his prior service to Shaarey Tefila’s pulpit. Rabbi Stern said that there were precedents for that procedure in the appointments of Rabbi Jerome Davidson at Temple Beth-El in Great Neck, N.Y. and Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman of Temple Shaare Emeth in St. Louis.

Rabbi Stern was asked why the CCAR newsletter of March had listed the availability of the Shaarey Tefila pulpit when the CCAR office knew that negotiations were then underway by Shaarey Tefila officials to hire Rabbi Tattelbaum. Rabbi Stern replied that it was standard procedure to list open pulpits as soon as they became open, which that of Shaarey Tefila did when Rabbi Schechter resigned on March 2 and that the CCAR placement committee was not involved in the approach of Shaarey Tefila officials to Rabbi Tattelbaum whom they knew from his prior service. Rabbi Schechter flatly denied he had given Rabbi Stern his approval on the availability of the Shaarey Tefila pulpit. He told the JTA that he had proposed to Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, CCAR president, that Shaarey Tefila be blacklisted by the CCAR for its rule banning congregational voting rights to members under 35 and that Rabbi Gittelsohn had indicated that the problem would be worked out. Told about the denial, Rabbi Stern said he called Rabbi Schechter immediately after his March 2 resignation and that Rabbi Schechter gave his approval, subject to his qualification over the non-voting rule for younger congregants. At the time of the congregational vote on his dismissal, Rabbi Schechter was on a leave of absence with full pay until the end of his first year. He told the JTA today he resigned on March 2 because he had been told that if he did not, he might have to sue the congregation to collect the salary due him through the end of June.

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