N.Y. synagogue board’s letter: Rabbi committed ‘no misconduct’ with sauna talks


(JTA) — The board of a New York synagogue in a letter to congregants said its rabbi, Jonathan Rosenblatt, committed “no misconduct” amid a debate about the propriety of his sauna talks with boys and young men launched by a published report.

In its letter sent Tuesday to members of the Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx, the board wrote that Rosenblatt adhered to established guidelines when playing racquetball and visiting the showers and sauna with boys and young men from the congregation.

Over the weekend, The New York Times wrote in an article that some of these congregants and former congregants of the modern Orthodox synagogue discussed the trips to the sauna during which the rabbi “engaged the boys in searching conversations about their lives, problems and faith.” Some of the boys were “uncomfortable” with the rabbi in the sauna, according to the article, and some said he gawked at and touched them.

According to the synagogue board’s letter, “We recognize that there are strong feelings about the situation and the appropriate steps the congregation should take going forward. We want to assure you the Board agreed upon a process that includes gathering more information and giving careful consideration to our options in the best interest of the community.”

The board added that Rosenblatt, 58, who became senior rabbi in 1985, was planning to send his own letter to the congregation.

Also Tuesday, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, president of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, also in Riverdale, wrote in a Facebook post that the Bronx County District Attorney Bureau on Child Abuse and Sex Crimes was investigating the issues surrounding Rosenblatt and the incidents referenced in The New York Times story. He called on “individuals with pertinent information” to call an assistant district attorney using a dedicated phone line for the investigation, even if they wish to remain anonymous.

The New York Jewish Week reported Monday that three years ago, several prominent members of the synagogue privately offered to arrange a generous buyout for the rabbi over “the persistent rumors about his allegedly inappropriate behavior with boys and young men.”

In a statement to The Jewish Week in response to a request for an interview, Rosenblatt wrote that he has served his congregation “with devotion, guided by high standards — religious and professional. My career in leadership has not been without ideological contentiousness. 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.”

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