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Reform Board Upholds Penalty for Rabbi Accused of Sexual Misconduct

July 7, 2004
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A Reform rabbinical board has upheld the reprimand of a California rabbi over allegations of sexual misconduct, but it declined to impose a more serious penalty of censure. The Central Conference of American Rabbis’ board of trustees voted June 20 to support its earlier letter of reprimand of Rabbi Michael Mayersohn in the wake of charges by a former congregant.

The move stems from a May 2002 complaint from Chavah (Lori) Hogue of “sexual boundary violations.” Hogue accused Mayersohn of trying to seduce her during a marital counseling session while he was rabbi of Temple Beth David in Westminster, Calif.

Such cases typically remain private, but Hogue publicized her charges after the board failed to follow its own ethics policy, shedding light on how the movement handles such complaints.

Mayersohn, who now teaches and practices pastoral counseling, maintains his innocence.

“I continue to hold that I didn’t do any of the thing! s she alleges,” the rabbi told JTA.

Despite her setback from the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ board, Hogue said she was gratified that Mayersohn had agreed to undergo psychological counseling as a condition of the reprimand.

“The key is that he seeks treatment,” Hogue told JTA.

Reform rabbinical officials say that every year they handle a variety of ethics complaints against rabbis, which typically remain private. But Hogue took this case public after the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ board initially failed to give her a required hearing and, after Mayersohn appealed, voted in early 2004 to downgrade the ethics committee’s censure recommendation to a reprimand.

Hogue said she was allotted 10 minutes last month to address the board and make her case for the full censure.

Though Hogue was satisfied with the outcome of the case, she said the Central Conference of American Rabbis continued to treat her poorly. She learned of the latest decision! by reading an article in the Orange County, Calif., edition of the Je wish Journal of Los Angeles, rather than from Central Conference of American Rabbis officials, she said.

“This is not the way to treat victims,” she said.

Rabbi Rosalyn Gold of Reston, Va., who chairs the ethics committee, would not comment on the specifics of the case, but she confirmed that the full board upheld the lesser reprimand.

Other Reform rabbinical officials, including Rabbi Elliot Stevens, associate executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, also declined to comment.

Mayersohn said he agreed to undergo counseling because he was subject to a “smear” that went public. The charges “appalled” some of his former congregants, he said.

“In situations like this, the Central Conference of American Rabbis encourages counseling, and having been through an experience like this I embrace the opportunity,” he said. “It has been an ordeal to be attacked unfairly like this.”

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