It has been reported that the “sauna rabbi”, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, will remain in his prominent position with the overwhelming support of his board and community. This bewildering decision is best encapsulated by the only known person directly impacted who has gone public regarding this case. Yehuda Kurtzer, President at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, has demonstrated great courage and leadership. There is not much to add to his important statement:
I haven't said much about the Rosenblatt saga for about a month, for a bunch of reasons. I was in Israel and hard at work. I needed to get away from the story, and public silence - and not managing these conversations - was an act of self-preservation. I was aware that my main role in the story was to signal to others, and ultimately to the community at large, that there was a problem in our midst that the proper channels were failing to address, and I felt that that task had been completed. But mostly, I quieted down because it was indicated to me by rabbinic colleagues and members of the Riverdale community that the story was still unresolved, that negotiations with the rabbi were ongoing, and that there still might be a healthier and cathartic outcome than what was being said publicly. I held my tongue both because I did not want to skew that outcome, and because I trusted - it turns out, naively - that reasonable people would recognize the depth of depravity in this story and make possible a resolution that would make our community safer, and would attempt to make right an injustice that has persisted for far too long.
I understand that last night the Riverdale Jewish Center emailed its membership to communicate that after their extensive process, they have decided to accept Rabbi Rosenblatt's offer to continue to serve the congregation (!) and that they have decided to move on from this issue by making no change whatsoever in the leadership.
I have experienced a wide range of emotions throughout this saga, but right now I am seething with a kind of unhinged anger; and so before I calm down and think better of it, I want to set the record straight on a few fronts:
* After the story came out, the RJC leadership reached out to me to learn more about the process that had been undertaken - long before we reached the decision to go public to the Times - to deal with the problem of Rabbi Rosenblatt's behavior. Against my better judgment, I candidly shared with the president and members of the board more details about personal stories involving Rabbi Rosenblatt's indiscretions and misdeeds. I believed that upon knowing the more extensive history of misbehavior and failed interventions, which for reasons having to do with legality, confidentiality and fear will likely not reach the light of day, these 'leaders' would understand the depth of the problem with which they were dealing. This cooperation was at their request, even as it was against my interest to try to stay out of the story. I now believe that request was disingenuous and manipulative, and have no idea how those people sleep at night.
* To that end: I want to say what many of you already know, which is that the full nature of this story is not yet publicly known, and probably never will. THIS IS WHY PEOPLE DO NOT SPEAK PUBLICLY. It is not because they are unreliable. It is because they are not believed. Today on CNN Bill Cosby’s attorney was talking about how the victims are to be partly blamed for not coming forward sooner, and that that delay casts doubt on their stories. L’havdil to this case, I suppose, but the same insidious suggestion is below the surface here. I no longer believe that even if there was something that was more of a “smoking gun,” that it would change anything. If I told you that I know now of at least four young men who had sleepovers alone in Rabbi Rosenblatt’s hotel room during their year in Israel, would it change anything?
* While I have heard from multiple Orthodox rabbis who have been quietly trying to act on this story, only Marc Angel (in a blogpost) and Asher Lopatin (in some facebook posts) and a few other YCT rabbis have spoken up about this story to even signal their displeasure. In the time that has passed since the story broke in the New York Times, the RCA has seen fit to dismiss one of its members due to marital infidelity, and then received (well-deserved) accolades for a public appearance by its professional head, Rabbi Mark Dratch, in condemning the attack/murder at the pride parade in Jerusalem. But on the Rosenblatt matter, all they did was issue a token press release signaling that it is an old story and that they have taken care of it. I believe that the RCA is complicit in this injustice with their public silence and implicit assent, and I cannot for the life of me understand why the individuals who make up its membership do not realize that rather than this silence making a problem go away, all it does is implicate them.
* Rabbi Rosenblatt, with his elaborate rhetoric, won back the support of his congregation with his 19-minute speech that you can find online somewhere. I listened to it, and I hope you will as well. Not because I think he deserves to be heard, but because it will help you understand what is going on here. In the speech, he apologizes for the great travesty of his actions, which puts to a lie those who defend him and his actions. The elaborate nature of his apology signals that he knows exactly what he did. The apologetic defenses of "culture of male nudity" or whatever fall apart when he himself refers to his actions as desecrating the name of God.
And second, he used this public forum (a month ago) to signal that he intends to apologize to me, since I used my name publicly. I have not heard from him. In other words, he used the forum to win back his job by saying that he *intends* to apologize, but cynically had no such intentions. And what of the unnamed, anonymous others who are still hurting? Does he not realize that his continued insistence to stand atop his pulpit and dismiss these allegations are a continued affront to them, especially since he can never (and will never try) to approach them to apologize?
Rabbi Rosenblatt has shrewdly managed his way out of this crisis with the advice of counsel, clearly managing his communications along the way, demonizing his opponents, and avoiding any significant fallout. He and I are not facebook friends, but one of his loyalists copies and pasts my statuses and posts them online (anonymously), and so I assume he gets the message. He has hurt his students, he has further alienated his accusers, and his continued presence on the pulpit at RJC insults the dignity of our community. Best of luck continuing to serve your congregation.
The first scandal is what the rabbi did. The second scandal is the community’s (especially the religious leadership's) response.
The only question remaining is: when will the Jewish community learn?
UPDATE: There has been a further development regarding this scandal.