Friday, October 18, 1996

Case of Rabbi Robert Kirschner

Case of Rabbi Robert Kirschner
(AKA: Bob Kirschner, Rob Kirschner)

Congregation Emanu-El - San Francisco, CA

Skirball Jewish Cultural Centre -  Los Angeles, CA

After serving as rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco for 11 years, Kirschner suddenly resigned from his pulpit on New Year's Day 1992 amid accusations from three congregants and a temple employee that he had sexually exploited or harassed them.

Kirschner, became associate rabbi at the temple in 1982 and senior rabbi in 1985.  After his resignation he has accepted a five month postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University.

Nearly five years after Rabbi Robert Kirschner left the pulpit, he has for the first time publicly apologized for sexual improprieties that led to his resignation.

"I hereby acknowledge, with sorrow and profound regret, that I engaged in sexual relations outside of my marriage,"


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Table of Contents:

  1. Temple Emanu-El's Rabbi Resigns (01/07/1992) 
  2. CALIFORNIA BRIEFLY (01/08/1992) 
  3. S.F. Rabbi Quits in Face of Sexual Harassment Allegations (01/09/1992)
  4. Rabbi Forced to Quit (01/09/1992)
  5. Rabbi Resigns In Wake Of Sex Harassment Claims  (01/09/1992)
  6. S.F. Rabbi Denies Sexual Allegations / Claims of misconduct surround prominent clergyman's resignation (01/09/1992)
  7. West Rabbi Quits Over Charges (01/09/1992)
  8. Rabbi Quits After Allegations (01/09/1992)
  9. More Women Say Rabbi Sexually Harassed Them / Fellowship at Harvard now 'under review' (01/25/1992)

  1. Woman Sues Rabbi -- Sex Allegations / He resigned from S.F. temple last year
  2. Jews Begin to Address Allegations of Sexual Misconduct by Rabbis Ethics: Only Reform movement has guidelines. But other branches acknowledge that they are needed (06/19/1993)
  3. Temple's bitter taste of scandal (07/11/1993)
  4. Woman's story of sexual ordeal (07/11/1993)
  5. Rabbi scandal leads to policy review (07/17/1993)

  1.  Jews, blacks form a bond for education (01/20/1995)

  1. Rabbi Robert Kirschner apologizes  (10/18/1996)
  2. First in a Series: Rabbinic sexual misconduct -- breaching a sacred trust  (10/18/1996)
  3. How a synagogue heals itself  (10/18/1996) 
  4. Disgraced S.F. rabbi admits to sex scandal Kirschner apologizes for infidelities at Temple Emanu-El (10/30/1996)
  5. S.F. accusations raise awareness (11/01/1996)
  6. Last in a Series: `Conspiracy of silence' fuels rabbis' sexual misdeeds  (11/01/1996)

Letters to the Editor - 'Time heals pain' (05/12/2000)


Temple Emanu-El's Rabbi Resigns
San Francisco Chronicle - January 7, 1992 

Rabbi Robert Kirschner, spiritual leader of Northern California's largest synagogue, has abruptly resigned from the pulpit of Temple Emanu-El, citing "personal reasons" and a desire to return to academic life. 

Kirschner, 41, presided over a six-year renaissance of the San Francisco temple, increasing membership by 50 percent, overseeing a $16 million renovation of the synagogue and taking an active role in a variety of civic and social causes. 

In an interview yesterday, Kirschner said he will leave immediately to accept a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University. 

"Academic life may be a welcome respite from the arduous labors of leading a large congregation," he said. "It has been a great privilege to serve as rabbi. The demands have been many, and I have not always felt equal to them. It has been difficult maintaining a family life, working seven days a week, being on call." 

Kirschner said he is most proud of establishing a community service department at the synagogue, serving on Mayor Art Agnos' HIV task force, launching a tutorial program for underprivileged children, beginning Jewish outreach programs for the deaf and elderly and developing a strong ecumenical relationship with Bay Area Christian leaders. 

Gary Cohn, executive director of the Reform movement congregation, said Kirschner approached the synagogue board last month and asked to resign "for personal reasons." In November, Cohn said, Kirschner had asked for a leave of absence to accept the Harvard fellowship and was told that he could take the leave. 

Last week, letters were sent to 1,600 synagogue members announcing Kirschner's abrupt resignation. 

"It took everybody by surprise," said Rita Semel, former executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council and a member of Temple Emanu-El for almost 40 years. "We've seen a lot of rabbis come and go, but Rabbi Kirschner has been a remarkably innovative and inspirational person." 


Orange County Regsiter - January 8, 1992


Rabbi resigns: Rabbi Robert Kirschner, who heads Northern California's largest synagogue, resigned suddenly after being confronted by the board of directors with allegations of sexual harassment, according to a published report. 

Kirschner resigned from Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco after the board of directors confronted him with the allegations brought by four women, according to a report in today's editions of the San Francisco Examiner.


S.F. Rabbi Quits in Face of Sexual Harassment Allegations
Los Angeles Times - January 9, 1992

The rabbi of the largest Jewish congregation in Northern California resigned after being confronted with anonymous allegations of sexual harassment, a temple official confirmed Wednesday. 

Rabbi Robert Kirschner, 41, resigned from Temple Emanu-El last month after allegations by four women were presented to him, according to Gary Cohn, the synagogue's executive director. 

The resignation was first reported in Wednesday's San Francisco Examiner, which said Kirschner had denied the allegations. 

"I believe that once these kinds of charges are brought against someone, particularly a clergyman, there is no way not to be dirtied by them," Kirschner said. 

He said he resigned "to try to minimize the public ordeal and pain this would cause to my family and to so many other people." 

Cohn said the board of directors of the 1,600-member temple met with Kirschner early last month to discuss the anonymous affidavits brought by the women. 

Board members said they contained charges that Kirschner made inappropriate comments, said he wanted to have sex with the women, asked the women to fondle him and discussed oral sex with them. 

Paul Matzger, a vice president on the board of directors, stressed that the allegations were unsubstantiated. Board members said they will not investigate the allegations now that Kirschner has resigned. 

Kirschner, who became associate rabbi at the temple in 1982 and senior rabbi in 1985, said he has accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University and will leave immediately.


Rabbi Forced to Quit
NewsDay - January 9, 1992 

The rabbi of the largest Jewish congregation in Northern California resigned after being confronted with anonymous allegations of sexual harassment, a temple official acknowledged yesterday. 

Rabbi Robert Kirschner, 41, resigned from Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco last month after the allegations by four women were presented to him, according to Gary Cohn, the synagogue's executive director.


Rabbi Resigns In Wake Of Sex Harassment Claims
Orlando Sentinel - January 9, 1992

The rabbi who heads Northern California's largest synagogue resigned suddenly after being confronted by the board of directors with allegations of sexual harassment, according to a report published Wednesday. Rabbi Robert Kirschner resigned from Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco after he and the board discussed allegations brought by four women, the San Francisco Examiner reported. Kirschner, 41, has denied the allegations but said, "I believe that once these kinds of charges are brought against someone, particularly a clergyman, there is no way not to be dirtied by them." 


S.F. Rabbi Denies Sexual Allegations / Claims of misconduct surround prominent clergyman's resignation
San Francisco Chronicle - January 9, 1992

Rabbi Robert Kirschner resigned from the pulpit of Northern California's largest synagogue amid allegations that he made "unwanted sexual advances" to four women, including three members of his San Francisco congregation, Temple Emanu-El. 

In an interview yesterday, Kirschner said the women's charges stem from "misunderstandings" about the nature of conversations he had during counseling sessions.
"There were discussions of an intimate nature about their private lives in counseling sessions," said Kirschner. "Somehow, there emerged from those discussions a terrible misunderstanding for which I feel somewhat responsible. That there have been misunderstandings by more than one person concerns me." 

Kirschner, 41, denied anonymous allegations that he asked any of the women to fondle him or have sex with him. He says he resigned because "it was impossible to function as a rabbi once these allegations are made." 

Synagogue leaders denied they sought to cover up the sexual misconduct allegations. They also defended their decision to give Kirschner one year's severance pay and the continued use of a San Francisco home he co-owns with the synagogue. He had led the temple for six years. 

"No judgment or conclusion regarding the allegations was reached by the board," said synagogue president Rhoda Goldman in a letter sent yesterday to the 1,600 members of the congregation. 

Goldman said the allegations of "unwanted sexual advances" came in the form of sworn declarations by three unidentified women of the congregation, followed by a fourth anonymous declaration. 

Kirschner said he decided not to have the board investigate the allegations and clear his name because "it was one person's word against another." 

"If I choose to fight it, the net effect would be the same," he said. "A rabbi must be above and beyond reproach." 

Kirschner is the latest of four Northern California clergymen to resign amid public charges of sexual misconduct -- cases that have highlighted the problem of clergymen who get too intimate with church members. 

In November, the Rev. Frank Evans resigned as pastor of Marin Community Congregational Church after admitting he had sexual relations with women parishioners. 

Last summer, the Rev. Victor Wei, rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in San Francisco, was suspended for three years after a former seminarian alleged that counseling sessions led to a four-month sexual relationship. Wei was also accused of pocketing church funds.
That case followed the defrocking of the Rev. H. Roger Bothwell of Napa County. Two of his Seventh-day Adventist congregants said their counseling sessions led to sexual relations. 

Peter Rutter, a San Francisco psychiatrist who counsels women who feel sexually abused by clergy and other care-givers, questioned how there could be such serious "misunderstandings" about what happens in spiritual counseling. 

"There should be less of a gray area for both clergymen and therapists because they are trained to receive delicate sexual information," said Rutter. "They should know when they are behaving professionally or crossing the boundary toward personal gratification." 

Rutter said he has had an "enormous number of women" contact him about abuse in pastoral counseling situations. 

"Priests and clergymen are able to use the guise of spiritual direction and pastoral counseling for a good squeeze," said Cathy Grenier, the founder of Good Tidings, a support group for women involved with Catholic priests. "Spiritually and emotionally, this relationship is often very intimate. Sometimes, it gets physically intimate. Hugs can be mistaken for something else." 

Judith Kurtz, a San Francisco attorney who handles sexual harassment cases for Equal Rights Advocates, said that there are legitimate reasons to be talking about one's sex life to a priest, rabbi or pastoral counselor. 

"At the same time, a clergyman is not a sex surrogate," she said. 


West Rabbi Quits Over Charges  
Sun Sentinel - January 9, 1992
SAN FRANCISCO -- Rabbi Robert Kirschner, 41, who heads Northern California`s largest synagogue, resigned after being confronted by the board of directors with charges of sexual harassment, the San Francisco Examiner reported on Wednesday. 

The allegations, according to Temple Emanu-El board members, include charges that Kirschner made inappropriate comments, said he wanted to have sex with the women, asked the women to fondle him and discussed oral sex with them. The women who complained were not described except that some were members of the synagogue. 


Rabbi Quits After Allegations
Washington Post - January 9, 1992

Rabbi Robert Kirschner, head of the largest Jewish congregation in northern California, resigned after four women accused him of sexual harassment, a temple official said. 

Kirschner, 41, resigned from the 1,600-member Temple Emanu-El last month, said Gary Cohn, the synagogue's executive director. The San Francisco Examiner said Kirshner had denied the allegations.
"Once these kinds of charges are brought against someone, particularly a clergyman, there is no way not to be dirtied by them," Kirschner said.


More Women Say Rabbi Sexually Harassed Them / Fellowship at Harvard now 'under review' 
By Don Lattin 
San Francisco Chronicle - January 25, 1992 

Amid new allegations of sexual harassment against Rabbi Robert Kirschner, Harvard University is reconsidering whether to offer the San Francisco clergyman a fellowship in Judaic studies. 

Earlier this month, Kirschner resigned as spiritual leader of Temple Emanu-El, Northern California's largest synagogue, as charges surfaced that he made sexual advances to three congregants and a synagogue employee. 

Kirschner, 41, said at the time that he was leaving immediately to accept the five-month fellowship at Harvard's Center for Judaic Studies, which had already approved his participation. 

Since then, however, four more women have accused Kirschner of making sexual advances -- including two students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. 

One of the four women says she had sex with the married clergyman. 

Peter Costa, chief spokesman at Harvard, said yesterday that the status of Kirschner's fellowship "is under review" after the two women students made charges similar to those of the synagogue members. Kirschner was to begin the fellowship next week. 

(NAME REMOVED), a student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, said she was doing research on the Holocaust about 18 months ago and came to see Kirschner -- a Holocaust scholar -- in his study at the San Francisco synagogue. 

"After about 10 or 15 minutes he started talking about how lonesome he was because he was in a position of authority and could never relax and be a human being," said Warwick, 39. "He wanted me to go with him to different cities and have a sexual affair. He said I wouldn't get pregnant because he had a vasectomy." 

(NAME REMOVED) said she declined his proposition. 

"I said, `Isn't this against Jewish law?' He said it wasn't, because nobody would be hurt."
San Francisco attorney John Keker, who is representing Kirschner, said the rabbi has decided not to make any further comment on the sexual harassment allegations. 

Two other women who asked to remain anonymous -- another seminary student and a potential congregant -- told similar stories about turning down the rabbi's sexual advances.
"This synagogue is supposed to be a moral and ethical haven," said a woman who came to Kirschner to discuss questions about her Jewish beliefs. "You come for spiritual guidance and find someone staring at your chest." 

This woman said she contacted The Chronicle because "Nobody has come flat-out and said this is wrong. He has a problem and can't admit it. He is trying to cover it up, and the Jewish community is trying to cover it up."


Woman Sues Rabbi -- Sex Allegations / He resigned from S.F. temple last year 
By Harriet Chiang
San Francisco Chronicle - April 24, 1993

Rabbi Robert Kirschner, who resigned last year from Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco under a cloud of allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances to four women, has been accused of sexual misconduct in a lawsuit. 

In a San Francisco Superior Court suit, (Name Removed) said that Kirschner abused his power as rabbi of the temple to "coerce her into degrading sexual acts." (Name Removed), who lives in San Francisco, said Kirschner engaged in the sexual misconduct on a "regular and frequent basis" from May 1990 to October 1991. 

The suit was filed Wednesday and names Temple Emanu-El and Kirschner as defendants. 

Paul Matzger, president of the temple board, said yesterday that he had not seen (Name Removed)'s complaint. "Until such time as I've been able to read the allegation and confer with our attorneys, it would not be proper to make any comment," he said. 

"When the matters came to the attention of the leadership of the congregation," he said, "we acted in what I think was a thoroughly appropriate matter, in putting the rabbi on administrative leave until the issues could be resolved." He stressed that the board was not passing judgment on Kirschner. 

Kirschner, who is married and has four children, resigned in January 1992 after six years as spiritual leader of Northern California's largest synagogue, when charges surfaced that he had made sexual advances to three congregants and a synagogue employee. 

The women told similar stories of seeking counseling or advice, only to have the rabbi respond with unwelcome sexual advances. 

(Name Removed) was not one of the four women who claimed last year that they had been sexually harassed by Kirschner. 

Kirschner denied the charges and said at the time that he was resigning because "it was impossible to function as a rabbi once these allegations are made." 

(Name Removed) was a part-time college student and a restaurant hostess when she became sexually involved with Kirschner, according to Elftman's lawyer, Michelle Kuhlman. The relationship caused (Name Removed) to suffer "extreme emotional distress," the suit said, as well as embarrassment, anxiety and humiliation. (Name Removed) has been unable to work since the relationship ended, Kuhlman said. 

(Name Removed) charged the synagogue with failing to investigate the allegations against Kirschner and refusing to punish him after the claims became public.

Jews Begin to Address Allegations of Sexual Misconduct by Rabbis Ethics: Only Reform movement has guidelines. But other branches acknowledge that they are needed
Los Angeles Times - June 19, 1993

In the wake of recent allegations of sexual misconduct within the rabbinate, members of the Jewish community are mobilizing efforts to address the problem and determine the appropriate course of investigation and healing. 

Incidents have been reported in all three branches of Judaism over the years, but so far only the Reform movement has directly addressed the issue. It drafted its first ethics code dealing with relationships between rabbis and congregants two years ago and is updating and revising it. 

Representatives from the Conservative and Orthodox movements acknowledge the need for a code of conduct but have yet to prepare any guidelines. 

"We are looking toward a revision in view of the fact that the whole issue has become so prominent lately," said Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, chairman of the Committee on Ethics and Appeals for the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the governing body of the Reform movement. 

Rabbis and other experts say sexual misconduct among rabbis is not widespread, but several recent cases have brought the issue to light. 

Two weeks ago, Rabbi Robert Kirschner, who resigned from his Reform congregation in San Francisco 18 months ago after four women accused him of sexual harassment, withdrew his candidacy from a summer teaching post at Hebrew Union College after community members expressed outrage at the appointment. 

In March, a San Diego rabbi, also of the Reform movement, resigned after admitting an affair with an associate rabbi. 

In April, the dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, which represents the Conservative Jewish movement, resigned after allegedly making sexually explicit remarks to a man during an admissions interview. 

About eight years ago, an Orthodox rabbi in a community near Los Angeles was dismissed from his congregation and his ordination was revoked after he acknowledged having an affair with a congregant, according to Rabbi Danny Landes, who teaches Jewish ethics at Yeshiva of Los Angeles. 

On Sunday, a conference of the North American Reform Rabbinical Assn., which includes the United States and Canada, will adopt code revisions that deal with the "process, investigation and means of enforcing boundary violations," Stiffman said. 

One suggested change, Stiffman said, includes publishing the results of investigations of rabbis found guilty of misconduct. Under the current code, results are kept confidential. "We want to prevent rabbis who are found guilty to be placed in new pulpits without first getting counseling," he said. Reform Rabbi Laura Geller, regional director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the American Jewish Congress, agreed that a need for open discussion of the issue is important for the community and said courses for rabbis in training would be another positive step. 

"I think (sexual misconduct) happens more than people think in all religious communities," Geller said. "Clergy people are in powerful positions, and unless people are adequately trained to understand what's going on, they can find themselves in inappropriate situations which can be very damaging." 

Problems of sexual misconduct have been disclosed in virtually every major Christian denomination. The reports of misconduct by clergy have involved adults and minors. 

The Orthodox and Conservative movements acknowledge the potential for sexual misconduct, but admit they have been slow to take any definitive action. 

"It's probably something that we should discuss and develop, and I'm in full agreement with what the Reform movement is doing," said Rabbi Joel Rembaum, senior rabbi for Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles and secretary of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of Conservative rabbis. "Unfortunately, this whole issue and the sensitivity surrounding it is a relatively recent one, and we don't anticipate problems until they arise." 

The Orthodox movement is bound strictly by Halacha, or Jewish Law, which in many instances works as a safeguard against sexual misconduct, said Rabbi Landes. 

Orthodox Jews, especially rabbis, are not allowed to be alone with a woman unless there is a chaperon or someone near, Landes said, and in any private meeting the door cannot be completely closed. "There should be privacy, but the door should never be closed and locked-so what happens `behind closed doors' is not an issue," he said. Landes, who is the rabbi of Temple B'nai David-Judea in Los Angeles, said any rabbi found guilty of sexual misconduct would be discharged immediately. 

Still, he said, the Orthodox community would benefit from developing structured guidelines built from Halacha. 

"I'm very impressed by the Reform guidelines. Our guidelines are the Shulchan Aruch (one of the books of Jewish law) but an articulated policy of conclusions should be out there for protection of rabbis and the congregation," Landes said. 

Complaints about the conduct of Orthodox rabbis are heard by a Beit Din, an informal court made up of three rabbis. Landes, who has served on two Beit Din, said that cases concerning sexual misconduct are extremely rare but that the court is open to hearing such complaints. 

In the case of Rabbi Kirschner, who would have taught two classes in the school of Communal Service at Hebrew Union College, rabbis, students and alumni of the Reform seminary protested his appointment. 

Kirschner, who is involved in a civil suit brought by a woman alleging sexual harassment, said in a letter to the heads of Hebrew Union College: "In view of the conflict and antagonism that my appointment has generated, I believe that it is in the best interest of the college and Communal Service program to find a more acceptable candidate." 

Dean Lee Bycel defended and upheld the decision to hire Kirschner, noting that the rabbi had received professional counseling and had confronted his difficulties "in a constructive and forthright manner."


Temple's bitter taste of scandal
By Elizabeth Fernandez
San Francisco Chronical - July 11, 1993

The 1992 case of alleged sexual harassment by Rabbi Robert Kirschner of Temple Emanu-El rocked San Francisco's Jewish community, and, coupled with allegations of improprieties by other rabbis, has helped prompt important changes in how the Reform branch of Judaism handles ethical misconduct charges.

Woman's story of sexual ordeal
By Elizabeth Fernandez
San Francisco Chronical - July 11, 1993

(NAME REMOVED) discusses her lawsuit against Rabbi Robert Kirschner and Temple Emanu-El, charging that Kirschner coerced her into degrading sexual acts.  


Rabbi scandal leads to policy review
By Elizabeth Fernandez
St. Petersburg Times - July 17, 1993 

Before it all went wrong, a venerated young rabbi led one of San Francisco's most prestigious Jewish congregations. He was handsome and charismatic, by all accounts a brilliant scholar and devout man of God. 

But he had a flaw: At the very apex of his career, at least five women in his temple accused him of sexually harassing them. Those accusations not only led to the downfall and disgrace of Rabbi Robert Kirschner, they also damaged the reputation of Temple Emanu-El, the largest synagogue in Northern California, for failing to investigate the women's charges.
Now the case that rocked San Francisco's Jewish community, coupled with allegations of improprieties by rabbis in San Diego and New York, has helped provoke important changes in how the Reform branch of Judaism handles ethical-misconduct charges. 

The new codes of conduct may halt what former Emanu-El board member Alan Rubin calls "good-old-boy cronyism of the first order." 

Kirschner, who has maintained that he never sexually harassed any of the women, last year resigned from the Presidio Heights temple and underwent therapy. He now lives apart from his family and spends his time researching ancient religious texts. 

His wife, bitter about her husband's fall and the affairs she says he confessed to her, worries about her family's financial future and fears their notoriety will always haunt them. 

Finally there are the women who call themselves Kirschner's victims: They have thwarted the rabbi's efforts to find a new job. 

"I don't think he should ever (work as) a rabbi again," says Lisa Sherman, a former temple member who now lives in Southern California. "I don't feel he should be placed in any position where he has any kind of power, because he abuses it, and I think the way the temple handled it was an even bigger crime than Kirschner'sThey should have gone ahead with the investigation." 

In late June, the Reform branch changed its policies. No longer will rabbis move from one congregation to another, as Kirschner tried to do, with a cloud of uninvestigated allegations trailing behind, and no longer will proven ethical violations be shielded by a cloak of secrecy. 

Instead, ethics-code infractions will become public, with the rabbi's name printed in the monthly publication of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the national governing body of Judaism's Reform branch (the other branches are Conservative and Orthodox). The rabbi also can be denied a job until he undergoes therapy. 

"The sanctions we hadwere not sufficient," said Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, chairman of the CCAR's ethics committee. "We were able to tighten our code." 

Two weeks ago, a new senior rabbi, Stephen Pearce, formally took the helm of the 1,450-member Temple Emanu-El. The congregation, which includes some of San Francisco's most influential citizens, has begun healing. Said board President Paul Matzger, "We did the best we could." 

Rubin said the ordeal illustrated a fundamental problem: "Everyone was so concerned about Kirschner and his family but not for his victims. There should be equal concern for his victims." 

From the perspective of the rabbi's wife, the primary victims of the case and its lingering fallout are her husband, herself and their four children. 

"He doesn't want to be a rabbi anymore," Reesa Kirschner told the San Francisco Examiner. "It took life's blood from our family. We gave everything. The trauma has been tremendous." 

Kirschner, 44, is staunchly protective of her husband of 20 years yet aware of his shortcomings. "People came to him, they pursued him," she said. "He never said he would leave his wife and family. It was a sickness. It wasn't even about sex; it was probably about power." 

She said he has admitted to her that he had affairs, including a relationship with a San Francisco woman, (NAME REMOVED). Two months ago, (NAME REMOVED) filed suit against the temple and Kirschner who, she said, abused his pastoral duty and forced her into "degrading sexual acts." 

In court documents, Kirschner denied (NAME REMOVED)s allegations, but, said his wife, "Except for the fact that she said it was coercion, which it was not, he said it did happen. He could have denied it, but he didn't." 

The 42-year-old rabbi and his attorney declined to be interviewed. 

Reesa Kirschner contends her husband had emotional problems that became exacerbated by his prominent job. Kirschner was a rabbinical prodigy, the youngest in Reform Judaism to become spiritual leader of a major congregation. After his appointment as senior rabbi in 1985, he oversaw a sizable increase in temple membership and served on former Mayor Art Agnos' AIDS task force. 

In late 1991, four anonymous women, not including (NAME REMOVED), filed sworn declarations with the temple board accusing him of sexual misconduct and harassment. Kirschner denied the charges but resigned in January 1992. 

Experts in the field of clergy sexual misconduct say that thorough investigations are critical, even when the cleric resigns. In the Kirschner case, much criticism stems from the temple's failure to investigate the allegations after the rabbi's resignation.


Jews, blacks form a bond for education
By Gregory Lewis
San Francisco Examiner - January 20, 1995 

When Rabbi Robert Kirschner, then of Temple Emanu-El, and the Rev. Amos Brown of Third Baptist Church found themselves marching arm-in-arm in Forsyth County, Georgia, in 1987, they wondered why they couldn't join together to battle social ills. 

Their conversation turned into a collaboration in San Francisco between Jews and African Americans, longtime civil rights allies whose relationship in other parts of the country has either crumbled or been strained in recent years. 

But Brown and Kirschner, who has since left the temple, didn't let the recent history get in the way of fulfilling a need. So, recognizing that a disproportionate number of African American students were performing below grade level in San Francisco's public schools, they agreed to work together on that problem. 

"They knew they couldn't solve all of the world's problems," recalled Terri Forman, director of development at The Congregational Emanu-El, "so they decided to take a bite out of one of them." 

What emerged from talks was a mutually funded tutorial program called Back on Track. 

Now in its seventh year, the tutorial program aided more than 100 children during the last academic year alone. Tutors work one-on-one with a pupil, encouraging academic achievement. In addition, it has provided a bridge for cross-cultural understanding. 

During the King holiday weekend last week, the congregations came together. They worshipped at Temple Emanu-El on Friday and at Third Baptist on Sunday. 

This Saturday, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Maya Angelou comes to Temple Emanu-El at Lake and Arguello in San Francisco to read poetry, in the first fund-raiser for the program, which is seeking financial independence from the religious organizations. 

Such efforts between different races are the norm here, said James Jefferson, the court-appointed overseer of the integration of The City's fire department. 

Jefferson cited the African American / Asian American Roundtable that exists in the Western Addition as another example of racial bridges being built locally. 

"There's a genuine interest in making the relationship work and making it successful," he said. "That's why the efforts continue to come about. The reason for that is you have blacks and Jews here who like each other and that tends to transcend the structural obstacles in business and economics." 

Third Baptist member Leroy King, co-founder of the tutorial program, said what has been important about the collaborative effort is that the two religious organizations and two ethnic groups have come together to solve an issue.


Rabbi Robert Kirschner apologizes
by Debra Nussbaum Cohen and Natalie Weinstein
Jewish Bulletin (Northern California) - October 18, 1996

Nearly five years after Rabbi Robert Kirschner left the pulpit of San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El, he has for the first time publicly apologized for sexual improprieties that led to his resignation.

"I hereby acknowledge, with sorrow and profound regret, that I engaged in sexual relations outside of my marriage," Kirschner said in a recent statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The statement included quotes from a letter he wrote in October 1995 to the Central Conference of American Rabbis' executive board. However, releasing the information to the JTA marked the first time his apology has been made public.

Kirschner referred in that letter to his conduct as "morally and ethically indefensible," adding that "I ask the forgiveness of anyone who was hurt by my actions, and of my rabbinic colleagues, whose standards I breached."

But according to several of the women who accused Kirschner of sexual misconduct, some of whom were Emanu-El congregrants, the rabbi has never directly apologized to them.

In addition, "there are still people who feel an apology should have come to the congregation," said Stephen Pearce, Emanu-El's senior rabbi who replaced Kirschner.

The public apology may mark a turning point for both Kirschner and Emanu-El, even though Kirschner's story illustrates what critics charge are deep flaws in the way congregations and the religious movements generally deal with accusations of rabbinic sexual misconduct.

"The fact that he has been able to admit it is very significant, not only in the eyes of people but in God's eyes," Pearce said.

Because Kirschner resigned, Pearce said, synagogue leaders saw no reason to investigate the women's charges of sexual misconduct. "Since there was no definitive judgment of guilt other than the statement of the women who came forward, there were those who felt he had been wronged."

Calling Kirschner "a brilliant rabbi, but a fallen rabbi," Pearce said the statement creates a sense of closure for the congregation.

"There were doubts in people's minds. They now know there was misconduct and regret," Pearce said. "What more is there to say after this?...Everyone involved should now be getting on with their lives."

Stuart Aronoff, Emanu-El board president, similarly called the apology "a step in the right direction."

Kirschner was once a rising star in the Reform movement. While still in his 30s, he became the religious leader of one of the two largest synagogues in Northern California and the youngest rabbi ever to head such a sizable Reform congregation.

He was destined for a major leadership role in the Reform movement. Some say he would have been on the short list of candidates to succeed Rabbi Alexander Schindler as president of the movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

But after serving Emanu-El for 11 years, Kirschner suddenly resigned from his pulpit on New Year's Day 1992 amid accusations from three congregants and a temple employee that he had sexually exploited or harassed them.

Eight other women later came forward to the temple board to complain about the rabbi's conduct, including members of his congregation and two students from the Graduate Theological Seminary in Berkeley. According to parties involved, at least three of the accusers later reached financial settlements with the temple's insurance company.

The rabbi left the 1,600-household congregation with a package that included a year's pay, his accrued pension, and the equity from his share of the family home jointly owned with the temple. According to a source close to the congregation's board, the total figure came to about $230,000.

It took nearly four years after charges against Kirschner first surfaced until the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform movement's rabbinical association, suspended him from its ranks.

As a result, he cannot receive CCAR benefits, such as the use of its placement services or pension fund, until at least the year 2000. The suspension does not affect his rabbinic ordination but basically precludes any Reform congregation from hiring him as its rabbi.

He is required to get counseling from a psychotherapist and from a senior rabbinic mentor, according to Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, then-chairman of the CCAR ethics committee. Kirschner's suspension will be lifted in the year 2000 only upon the recommendations of his therapist and rabbinic mentor.

The CCAR's executive committee, which acts on recommendations from the ethics committee, did not stipulate what Kirschner must do to illustrate his repentance.

But according to Kirschner's written statement to JTA, the rabbinical association has appointed a committee of three rabbis to "approve and supervise" his rehabilitation process.

Though he has not returned to the pulpit, Kirschner is now program director at the prestigious, new Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, which has strong ties to the Reform movement.

Kirschner has refused to discuss any of the charges leveled against him with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency or with the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California. After initially refusing several phone interviews, he agreed to respond to a written list of questions from JTA.

But then he demurred, and through his attorneys, Kirschner provided JTA with the statement in which he admits engaging in extramarital relationships during his years at Emanu-El and violating the CCAR's Rabbinic Code of Ethics.

In the statement, Kirschner also said: "In June 1994, I acknowledged in writing to the Ethics Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis that I had failed to abide by the provision of its Ethics Code relating to sexual misconduct. `For this failure,' I wrote, `I express my contrition to those whom I wronged and to the CCAR, whose standards I breached.'"

In the statement to JTA, Kirschner said that as part of his "process of rehabilitation" he has indicated his "willingness to apologize personally to anyone to whom my conduct as a congregational rabbi was hurtful or offensive."

He has never apologized to Gemma Elftman.

Elftman, who weighs less than 100 pounds and has been battling anorexia nervosa for years, now lives in Hawaii. She moved there after dropping out of U.C. Berkeley, which she attended during her relationship with Kirschner.

Their 18-month sexual relationship began in early 1990 after the rabbi approached her at a reception for new members and offered to drive her home, according to a 48-page document she submitted in connection with her complaint againt the rabbi and the temple.

Now in her early 30s, Elftman no longer has a connection to the Jewish community.

Lisa Sherman also has left the community.

Sherman was a newlywed and new to Emanu-El, she said, when Kirschner approached her in the late 1980s.

After pursuing her "ardently" for nearly four years, Sherman said, Kirschner kissed her against her will in February 1991, shortly after her father's death. She rejected him, she said, but Kirschner continued to pursue her for months.

Today, the 41-year-old woman has no connection to Judaism and has divorced her husband of that time. She has returned to Greek Orthodoxy, the religion she was raised in, and had her son baptized into that faith.

The extent of Kirschner's actions began to surface in November 1991 at a party. Sherman said she was talking with three other women from Emanu-El when one expressed doubt about Kirschner, describing him as "shady."

"Though she didn't know it, she was talking to three other victims," Sherman said.

According to Sherman, the four of them jointly hired an attorney and wrote statements that were presented to Emanu-El's board in December 1991. The women threatened legal action if Kirschner was not immediately removed from his job.

Kirschner resigned from his pulpit on Jan. 1, 1992.

A letter from the temple president informed congregants of Kirschner's resignation "with regret" in language that spoke warmly of his contribution to the synagogue and made no reference to the circumstances of his departure.

In Kirschner's own letter of resignation, sent to the temple's members, he cited personal reasons for stepping down and did not acknowledge any misconduct.

But in the next few months, another eight women came forward and told temple leaders that they had been sexually harassed or abused by Kirschner, said a member of the Emanu-El's executive board. That board member agreed to be quoted only anonymously because of the pain the congregation had suffered over the matter.

The CCAR did not get involved in the case until later. The association said it would not investigate the matter until someone filed an official complaint with its ethics committee.

When a formal charge was made, CCAR's Stiffman wrote back to the complainant declining to investigate Kirschner's conduct, according to a copy of the letter obtained by JTA. As long as allegations about Kirschner were being worked out through lawsuits, he wrote, the CCAR's ethics committee could not get involved in the case.

But the CCAR did try fruitlessly to find Kirschner a job shortly after he left Emanu-El.

Rabbi Arnold Sher, the CCAR's placement director, defended the decision and said a new position would have enabled Kirschner to get "psychological help."

This year, Kirschner was hired as program director of the newly built Skirball Cultural Center. It is a position he assumed after holding a research fellowship at the Skirball Museum, the center's predecessor, which was then part of the Reform movement's seminary in Los Angeles.

The fellowship was funded entirely by Kirschner's supporters from the leadership of Emanu-El, according to Rabbi Uri Herscher, president and chief executive officer of the Skirball Cultural Center, which has strong ties to the seminary but is legally independent.

Herscher said he believes that Kirschner has repented and that the rabbi's record has been made clear to the staff of the cultural center. He said every staff member expressed confidence in Kirschner.

But sources at the Skirball, who asked not to be named, say no such presentation was made to the center's dozens of volunteers, nearly all of whom are women.

Still, there are those who believe that Kirschner has made the necessary amends.

Rabbi Lee Bycel, dean of the Reform seminary in Los Angeles known as the Hebrew Union College, said Kirschner "has done more repenting and more work and more dealing with this than anyone I've ever known in my life."

"In my own conversations with him, I saw a man who had recognized what he had done, was well aware of what these actions meant and had addressed them psychotherapeutically," said Bycel, who in 1993 offered a seminary teaching job to Kirschner, which he turned down after a small uproar from HUC alumni.

"He was reflecting on it in what I felt was a very Jewish manner, in examining what he had done wrong, seeking to understand why and trying in every way to make teshuvah, that is, restoring the wholeness of his own life."


First in a Series: Rabbinic sexual misconduct -- breaching a sacred trust
Jewish Telegraphic Agency - October 18, 1996

On a hot summer's day in 1991, when her husband had taken their two adolescent sons out of town, Connie Rappaport's rabbi asked to come over for a swim in the lake near her house.

Rabbi Arnold Fink, the family's spiritual leader at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria, Va., for more than a decade had been counseling one of the boys and had grown close to Rappaport and her sons.

"I was welcoming a friend and teacher who had been part of my religious and family life for a long time," said Rappaport.

As they ate the ice cream sundaes she had served, Fink suddenly shoved his spoon in her mouth and said, "`You must taste mine,'" Rappaport recalled in an interview.

"In the next instant he grabbed me and pulled me over to him in a tight embrace. I found myself locked with him in an intense and passionate kiss."

A "passionate sexual involvement was not what I expected," said Rappaport, a freelance radio reporter, of her ensuing six-month relationship with the rabbi.

In a recent interview, Fink acknowledged the relationship but said it was not inappropriate, because he was not counseling Rappaport in any way at the time and he believed that Rappaport was in the process of getting divorced.

But Rappaport says that although her marriage was troubled, she planned to stay with her husband another several years until their sons were in college. She was also dealing with the recent death of her mother.

"I honestly did not know how to say `no' to my rabbi, the most important authority figure in my life at the time," she said.

Rappaport's story is not unique.

Although the overwhelming majority of rabbis do not misuse their power by sexually harassing or abusing their congregants, sexual exploitation happens more often than anyone would like to think.

"We're dealing with a huge problem that I don't think we fully understand," said Rabbi Mark Winer, senior rabbi at the Jewish Community Center of White Plains, N.Y.

Rabbinic sexual exploitation involves more than adultery. It is the misuse of a powerful role, experts say, and includes unwanted sexual advances toward a congregant, verbal or physical harassment, taking advantage of a counseling relationship, or even acquiescing to a congregant's overtures.

American society has grown more conscious of the issue of clergy sexual misconduct in recent years. And the problem has not escaped the Jewish community, as several recent cases illustrate:

*Early in 1995, a Philadelphia-area congregant complained that she had been fondled by a widely beloved Conservative rabbi. The rabbi had led her synagogue for nearly 50 years. Once she came forward, the floodgates opened. At least a dozen women in the congregation said the rabbi had been verbally harassing and fondling them, with some incidents dating back 40 years. The rabbi was forced to retire promptly.

*In mid-1995, a Reconstructionist rabbi was accused of pedophilia by someone he had allegedly molested 17 years earlier, when he worked as youth director at the complainant's congregation. When questioned by members of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association's ethics committee, the rabbi admitted to having molested one or two other minors since his ordainment eight years before. The association expelled him earlier this year.

*The married senior rabbi of one of modern Orthodoxy's most highly respected Northeastern synagogues began dating a congregant who had been seeing him for counseling while she was separated from her husband. The rabbi divorced his wife and married the congregant. The synagogue did not renew his contract.

*In June of this year, a former part-time employee and congregant at San Leandro's Conservative Temple Beth Sholom filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and other misconduct by Rabbi Ira Book. The rabbi, who had been fired from the East Bay congregation on an unrelated charge in the spring, adamantly denies any wrongdoing. He has filed his own lawsuit against the synagogue for breach of contract, slander and libel.

*In a well-publicized 1992 case, Rabbi Robert Kirschner, a charismatic and successful young Reform rabbi who led San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El, allegedly sexually exploited and harassed female congregants and others -- including an anorexic woman -- over a period of several years. When four of those women came forward to the synagogue board and demanded Kirschner's resignation, the married father of four complied. He left with a package that included a year's salary, his accrued pension and his share of the equity from a home co-owned by his family and the synagogue. A dozen women ultimately came forward to complain and at least three women settled out of court with the synagogue and its insurance company.

Although no official statistics exist that measure the extent of the problem of rabbinic sexual misconduct, there are some reliable indicators, say those who have studied the issue.

In the mid-1980s, when Winer, a member of the Reform rabbinic organization's executive committee, informally studied the approximately 60 largest congregations in his movement, he found that during a 20-year span, allegations of rabbinic sexual misconduct resulted in nearly as many pulpit changes as deaths and retirements combined.

Experts on the sexual misconduct of clergymembers -- Jews and non-Jews alike -- estimate that the incidence of rabbinic sexual exploitation is about the same as among Protestant ministers.

A 1992 analysis of surveys of ministers from five mainline Protestant denominations revealed that 39 percent had had sexual relationships of some type with congregants, according to Marie Fortune, founder and director of the Seattle-based Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Twelve percent of the ministers surveyed admitted to having sexual intercourse with their congregants.

Leaders of each of the American Jewish community's major religious organizations vehemently disagree that the Protestant figures apply to the Jewish community.

"That number bears no relationship to the reality of incidents in our community," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations. "I think it is a wildly exaggerated figure and until there is evidence to the contrary, I don't believe it."

Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, said, "I don't believe [that percentage figure] is right."

"I don't want to sound like I'm denying the fact that I know there probably is such sexual exploitation," he said. But "our approach to the whole issue of human functioning, including sexuality, as Jews is quite different than that of Protestants or Catholics, and I think that our approach by and large is much healthier. I have a feeling that there is less of the exploitative."

Rabbi Steven Dworken, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox organization with about 1,000 members, said the Orthodox rabbinate, too, is less exploitive.

"I would like to think that it doesn't exist," he said. "We're all human beings and all have the potential to make mistakes. But there are different levels of mistakes and I would like to think that an Orthodox individual would be particularly careful when it comes to any kind of suggestion of impropriety."

But many rabbis working in congregations and other settings say the comparison with the Protestant figures confirms their own sense of what is happening in the rabbinate.

"People who make light of it, who say it's a few rotten apples, don't get it," Winer said. "When you have an epidemic like this, you have to look at something going on underneath the surface."

Rabbi Nina Cardin, a member of the executive council of the Conservative movement's rabbinic organization, said she believes that "we as rabbis don't yet know how to handle this."

When a married rabbi has sex with a congregant, or a single rabbi has sex with a married congregant, more than adultery is at issue. Similarly, any sexual relationship between a rabbi and a congregant he or she is counseling -- formally or informally -- is widely considered inappropriate.

Jewish and non-Jewish experts in the field say something comes with the title "rabbi" that some clergymembers do not understand and others exploit: power.

Rabbis have spiritual, psychological and emotional power over their congregants, say experts in clergy sexual misconduct.

No matter how egalitarian the relationship between rabbi and congregant appears to be, they say, there remains an ineluctable imbalance of power.

"Rabbis, or any religious figures, embody a representation of God whether they want to or not," said Debra Warwick-Sabino, director of the California Center for Pastoral Counseling, a Sacramento-based agency that deals with clergy sexual misconduct.

"With other people you have a secular type of trust, but with clergy there is a sacred trust," said Warwick-Sabino.

Warwick-Sabino said she was sexually harassed by Congregation Emanu-El's Kirschner, which she says led her to study the issue professionally.

Some rabbis -- particularly those who have dated members of their synagogues -- dispute the notion of an imbalance in the dynamic with congregants.

"A rabbi is not God, not an emissary of God. A rabbi is a teacher; our tradition is clear on that," said Fink, the Virginia rabbi accused by a former congregant of sexual exploitation.

But that congregant, Rappaport, had a different view. "I never called him `Arnold.' He was `Rabbi,'" she said. "I felt like I was making love to God. That's what made it so powerful.

"It was the most intense spiritual and sexual relationship I'd ever had in my life."

Fink, who has since remarried, said in a telephone interview that when he dated Rappaport, he made it clear to her that he was "dating her as a person, not as a rabbi, that this could in no way be construed as a rabbi or counselor relationship."

When "we had the relationship, whatever power we had was a shared power," he said.

After the rabbi broke off the relationship, Rappaport brought a complaint to the Reform movement's rabbinical organization, claiming that Fink had exploited her.

In response, the ethics committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis sent Fink a letter of censure for conducting a relationship that it said had "the appearance of impropriety."

"In publicly accusing me, Connie grabbed a different kind of power," Fink said. "My hands are tied behind my back. The congregation has been victimized by it."

Fortune, of the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, said: "A congregant who turns to her rabbi for counsel or as a student is not his peer.

"She is not in a position to be fully consenting even though she may be eagerly engaged in this process" of sexual relations, and "may even have initiated it."

Arthur Gross Schaefer, a Reform rabbi at Kehilat HaAlonim in the Southern California city of Ojai, said his peers, by and large, "don't understand that `consenting adults' really doesn't mean `consenting adults.'"

Gross Schaefer, also a professor of business law and ethics at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles, has been one of a handful of rabbis within the Reform movement advocating a change in the way rabbinic sexual misconduct is handled.

According to Rabbi Howard Jaffe, a member of the executive committee of the Reform movement's CCAR, "The role of rabbi is theoretically one of teacher but in reality is, in the vast majority of cases, much more akin to that of pastor."

Mental health professionals use the term "diminished capacity to consent" to describe a situation in which congregants or patients are unable to rebuff unwanted overtures because of the powerful influence of clergy members, therapists or doctors.

The central professional organizations in some other fields have established stringent ethics codes about such relationships and have prosecuted violators.

The American Psychiatric Association's ethics code, for example, clearly states that "sexual contact between psychiatrists and their patients is unethical."

It is also a widely accepted standard in the mental health community that therapists should not begin a social relationship of any kind with a client until two years have passed since the professional relationship has ended.

Fifteen states have criminalized sexual exploitation between therapists and clients; most consider it a felony. Some of those laws apply to clergy as well.

In Gross Schaefer's view, when a rabbi sexually exploits a congregant in some way, the damage can be more profound than when a doctor or therapist does the same thing.

"Not only is a congregant being abused by a very powerful figure," he said, "but the tradition is abusing them and God is abusing them."

How a synagogue heals itselfby NATALIE WEINSTEIN- Bulletin Staff
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California - October 26, 1996

For a congregation shaken by accusations of rabbinic sexual misconduct, quickly re-establishing familiar routines of services and rituals may be the key to its emotional recovery.

"I think the greatest comfort you can give to congregants is to once again allow them to live their lives with some sense of order," Rabbi Mark Schiftan said.

Schiftan served as interim senior rabbi at San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El for 1-1/2 years, after Rabbi Robert Kirschner resigned amid allegations of sexual improprieties in early 1992.

"We made it very clear to the congregation that one person or one rabbi cannot bring about the collapse of a congregation...I was very proud of the spirit of the congregation," Schiftan said.

Today, the temple's leaders said, remnants from the past psychological shock rarely crop up -- due in part to how the congregation handled the trauma at the time.

"I just don't believe anyone is having angst over this anymore," said Paul Matzger, who is the temple's immediate past president and was the vice president when Kirschner left.

Yet Rabbi Stephen Pearce, who became Kirschner's permanent replacement in mid-1993, said the incident will always remain in the back of the temple's institutional memory.

"It is a legacy," he said.

Schiftan, who left San Francisco to become leader of San Jose's Temple Emanu-El in mid-1994, offered a similar assessment. He compared a congregation facing such trauma to a family dealing with a loss such as death. Neither will ever completely recover.

"That loss is never truly over. No matter how complete the healing, the scar always remains," he said.

Kirschner quit on New Year's Day 1992 after three congregants and an Emanu-El employee alleged he had engaged in sexual misconduct. With the widespread media coverage that followed, a dozen women -- not all of them congregants -- eventually came forward with similar stories.

He denied the accusations at the time. But Kirschner, in response to a recent Jewish Telegraphic Agency request for an interview, has issued his first public apology for "sexual relations outside my marriage" during his 11 years at one of Northern California's largest synagogues.

At the time, the allegations plunged the temple's 1,600 families into turmoil. Their reactions ranged from shock, sorrow and outrage to embarrassment, disbelief and a sense of betrayal.

"It hit like a thunderbolt," Matzger said.

Before knowing whether the allegations were true or false, Schiftan said, Emanu-El took a number of immediate steps to deal with the emotional trauma.

The Reform synagogue held two congregational meetings of up to 200 members each and offered individual counseling to victims, congregants and employees.

Soon after, Emanu-El drafted its first sexual harassment policy.

But Schiftan maintained that continuing the spiritual life -- Shabbat services, holiday celebrations, weddings, b'nai mitzvah and programming -- was the most important element of all during those "very long and often lonely days."

As far as the alleged victims, Matzger said the original three congregants who came forward are no longer members of Emanu-El. Matzger said he doesn't know whether any others remain.

Pearce, who said he never saw a list of alleged victims, said it would have made sense for these women to leave. "Let them heal and get some therapy and start fresh," he said. "They should get on with their lives."

While Emanu-El has had the advantage of time -- nearly five years -- to heal and reflect, another Bay Area congregation has been dealing with a fresher wound.

San Leandro's Temple Beth Sholom fired its longtime rabbi in May, amid allegations of financial wrongdoing. A month later, a congregant who was also a part-time employee filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment.

Rabbi Ira Book has denied both charges. Book filed his own lawsuit against the East Bay synagogue last month, alleging breach of contract, slander and libel.

Regardless of the outcome of either lawsuit, synagogue leaders acknowledged that congregants have suffered a shock.

Like Schiftan, Cantor Linda Hirschhorn said preserving the cycle of services and rituals has kept the congregation functioning as it heals.

"We're just right at the beginning. It's most important for community life to continue, for no one to feel cheated," said Hirschhorn, the Conservative synagogue's sole spiritual leader until a new rabbi is hired.

Shortly after Book was placed on administrative leave in March, Hirschhorn said, a significant event occurred.

The congregation held an already scheduled service to honor volunteers. The event helped congregants realize they were the ones who would sustain the 240-household synagogue, regardless of its leadership.

"The main concern was: Can we survive and continue?" Hirschhorn said. "We discovered we could."

Marvin Zinn, Beth Sholom's board president, agreed, saying he learned that "everyone is expendable."

At the same time, he credited Hirschhorn for helping the congregation forge ahead.

"She's done a magnificent job," Zinn said. "She's held it together."

Like Emanu-El, Beth Sholom offered psychological counseling. But no one at Beth Sholom showed an interest, Zinn said.

While the passage of time has eased the trauma of a sex scandal in the case of Emanu-El, some there still question whether the matter could have been handled better.

Emanu-El's Matzger criticized the response of the Reform movement at the time of the Kirschner controversy, particularly by its rabbinic association known as the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

"What I found out early on: The CCAR was of no help, except to suggest an appropriate severance package," he said. "We were kind of on our own."

But Matzger doesn't regret Emanu-El's response to the situation. He continues to defend Kirschner's exit package, which has been cited as $230,000 in severance pay, accrued pension and equity from a jointly owned home. Kirschner's wife and four children didn't need to suffer any more than they already had, Matzger said.

"What are you going to do? Put him on the welfare rolls? We are a Jewish institution," Matzger said.

Today, Kirschner is suspended from the Central Conference of American Rabbis until at least the year 2000. He works as program director at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, which has strong ties to the Reform movement.

Since his resignation, Kirschner has returned to Emanu-El only once. In February, he responded to a family request and officiated at the funeral service of Rhoda Goldman, who was board president when Kirschner left.

Despite the potential reactions, Pearce approved of Kirschner's appearance in that instance. "It was a family funeral," he said. "They had the right to ask for that rabbi."

A few people made angry phone calls to Pearce, but "more than that, people said it's great he could be here and get on with his life."

Kirschner did not mention the scandal from the bimah that day.

Though his brief return to Emanu-El might appear monumental, Matzger even envisions a time when Kirschner could come back as a visiting rabbi before the entire congregation in a "spirit of reconciliation."

Such a scenario would mark the "final healing," Matzger said, because it would show that everyone had made peace with the past.

"Under the right circumstances and given sufficient time, it was and still is my...hope that Bob Kirschner can return to Emanu-El" as a guest speaker, Matzger said.

Those "right circumstances," he added, include an acknowledgment of wrongdoing directly to Emanu-El, and evidence of his spiritual and emotional recovery.

Matzger doesn't view this scenario as impossible.

"I don't think he's a fallen man for all time."

Disgraced S.F. rabbi admits to sex scandal Kirschner apologizes for infidelities at Temple Emanu-El 
By Ray Delgado
San Francisco Examiner - October 30, 1996 

The scandal-plagued former rabbi of San Francisco's Temple Emanu-El has admitted to sexual infidelities while at the congregation for 10 years. 

Former Rabbi Robert Kirschner offered apologies to women who were affected by his sexual advances in an article published Oct. 18 in the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, four years after he resigned when the sexual harassment allegations surfaced. 

"I hereby acknowledge, with sorrow and profound regret, that I engaged in sexual relations outside of my marriage," Kirschner said in the Bulletin. 

Kirschner served as an assistant rabbi at the congregation, the largest in Northern California, beginning in 1982 and was named senior rabbi in 1985. He resigned the post in early 1992 after being confronted by the temple's board of directors over the sexual misconduct complaints registered by four women. 

The allegations caused an uproar in the tightly woven congregation and brought criticism on the temple's directors for not continuing the investigation into the charges after Kirschner resigned. Eight other women later came forward with similar allegations, but not all of them belonged to Temple Emanu-El. 

At least three of the women later reached settlements with the temple's insurance company, the Bulletin reported. 

Kirschner called his conduct morally and ethically indefensible and asked for the "forgiveness of anyone who was hurt by my actions, and of my rabbinic colleagues, whose standards I breached." 

Following his resignation, Kirschner split up with his wife and their four children. He now lives in Southern California, where he is currently the program director at a new cultural center in Los Angeles. He is forbidden from serving any new congregations until 2000, the Bulletin reported. 

Rabbi Stephen Pearce, the current rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, said he hoped the apology would help heal wounds so the incident could be put to rest. 

"Anything that helps people get on with their lives is certainly worth noting," Pearce said. "If it helps the rabbi, the victims and the congregation move on, that's great, but most have already moved on for the most part." 

But the apology is not enough for (NAME REMOVED), one of Kirschner's victims. 

Now living in Honolulu with her boyfriend and infant son, (NAME REMOVED) told The Examiner she would like a personal apology. She said the settlement called for an apology but she never received one. 

"If he really meant it, he'd try hard to track the people he hurt down and apologize to them," (NAME REMOVED) said. 

(NAME REMOVED) settled her lawsuit in late 1993 but is not allowed to disclose the terms. She said the incident had driven her away from Judaism but that she was thinking about looking for a new congregation in Hawaii. 

"I think about it but haven't made the effort," Elftman said. "I have mixed feelings about it because of what happened."


S.F. accusations raise awareness 

Jewish Bulletin of Northern California - November 1, 1996

When one of the most powerful rabbis in Northern California was accused of sexual improprieties five years ago, at least one of his colleagues swore off closed-door meetings or unnecessary physical contact with women.

"It temporarily threw a tremendous scare into me," said Rabbi Alan Lew of San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom. "For two years, I didn't hug anybody and I left my door open."

Lew eventually returned to his normal patterns but hasn't forgotten the chilling effect those accusations had on Bay Area rabbis.

Today, rabbis and other Jewish community leaders across the region agree that the consciousness surrounding rabbinic sexual misconduct is as high as it's ever been.

"It seems that people are more aware of the problem and more willing to come forward and ask for help," said Anita Friedman, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services.

"One of the most encouraging signs is that organizations, including synagogues, are having discussions about it when they're not in crisis."

Despite that increased awareness, not all Bay Area congregations have sexual harassment policies in their employee handbooks. Some rabbis assert that synagogues, as centers of Jewish values, don't need such policies. Others maintain that synagogues should, at the very least, draft written guidelines.

The case that many consider the watershed in the issue is that of Rabbi Robert Kirschner.

Accused of sexual misconduct by four women in late 1991, Kirschner resigned from San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El on New Year's Day 1992. A dozen women eventually came forward with similar accusations. Earlier this year, Kirschner made his first public apology for "sexual relations outside my marriage."

Locally, the Kirschner case "started more conversations and increased awareness" of the issue, Friedman said.

Rabbi Andrew Straus of Burlingame's Peninsula Temple Sholom said the case brought the issue of rabbinic sexual misconduct to the public, though rabbis were already aware of the problem through other incidents across the country.

"I think it was something that brought the issue to the forefront for congregants," he said. "I think it made people aware that rabbis are human."

Despite his own reaction to the Kirschner case, Lew said he considered the incident such an aberration that it didn't help people to better understand the dynamics of more typical cases of sexual misconduct.

"To present that as an example of a problem in the community is misleading," he said.

One of the points that hasn't been addressed, Lew added, is that rabbis turn down advances from congregants many, many times more often than rabbis make propositions.

"The rabbi is much more often the prey," he said. "It's happened to every rabbi I've ever spoken to about it...If a rabbi succumbs to such a thing, he's got a problem, he's betrayed his trust. But to portray the rabbi as predator is wrong -- it's not realistic."

Lew's congregation is among those in the Bay Area without a specific sexual harassment or misconduct policy in its employee handbook -- though one is included in Beth Sholom's insurance policy.

But Lew said his Conservative congregation takes the issue so seriously that it could handle any accusation, even without a specific employee policy.

"It is so obviously a given that rabbis shouldn't be involved with congregants," said Lew, who also is president of the Board of Rabbis of Northern California. "It seems like it never needs to be stated. This behavior violates Jewish law...The policy is our Torah."

Rabbi Yisrael Rice, who heads Chabad of Marin, said his congregation doesn't have a specific policy except for the one in its insurance policy. For Orthodox Jews, he said, such a policy is unnecessary.

Halachah, or Jewish law, already forbids even seemingly innocent touching that could conceivably lead to adultery. Unrelated men and women cannot hug, give pecks on the cheek, or even be alone in the same room under many circumstances.

"I don't mean to say that Orthodox rabbis are stronger. There are simply more hoops to go through," Rice said.

Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, interim regional director of the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations, disagrees with those who say no written policies are necessary.

Without such policies, she noted, someone who has been harassed doesn't necessarily know where to turn.

"I say we're not as good as our values want us to be," she said.

Rabbi Lavey Derby of Tiburon's Conservative Congregation Kol Shofar agrees.

"Torah is our policy," he said. "But there's no reason it can't be made concrete to hand out to employees."

Rabbi Stephen Pearce, who became permanent replacement for Kirschner at Congregation Emanu-El, said his synagogue now has a four-page sexual harassment policy.

"We're serious about not allowing these things to happen," he said.

But Pearce advises that synagogues move far beyond simply enacting policies to prevent problems. His suggestions:

*Congregations should periodically offer workshops on the issue to employees.

*Local Jewish communities should create groups that enable rabbis to meet monthly, perhaps with a therapist on hand, to discuss the demands of their jobs.

*Synagogue leaders should regularly sit down with their rabbis and sincerely ask: "How are you doing?"

"This is a stressful position with a great deal of pressure," Pearce said. "Rabbis feel beleaguered...Congregants have no idea."

Officially, the East Bay Council of Rabbis and the Board of Rabbis of Northern California haven't gotten involved in disciplining rabbis accused of sexual misconduct.

Rabbi Roberto Graetz, chairman of the East Bay council, said his group doesn't formally deal with the issue.

"I think we deal with these things within our movements," he said. "But every time an incident is reported, it is the informal topic of conversation."

In theory, Lew said, any member of the Board of Rabbis of Northern California who clearly violated rabbinic ethics would be kicked off.

But that has never happened, even in Kirschner's case. He resigned from his position at Emanu-El before the board could have taken action, Lew said.

Still, it has been active behind the scenes -- mediating in the Kirschner case, for example.

Lew recalled two occasions when the board has investigated accusations of sexual misconduct. In one case, he said, the woman's accusations were "unprovable and not all that serious." In the other, the two sides gave "wildlyconflicting accounts of events" that also were unprovable.

"Just because something doesn't appear in the press doesn't mean nothing happens," Lew said.

While not denying the problem of rabbinic sexual misconduct, several rabbis said one message they also want to emphasize is its rarity.

"The problem is real within the rabbinate," said Rabbi Martin Weiner of San Francisco's Reform Congregation Sherith Israel. "However, I would still emphasize that it's a very small number of rabbis who have abused the rabbinic this way. And I hope people would keep this in mind."

Last in a Series: `Conspiracy of silence' fuels rabbis' sexual misdeeds
Jewish Telegraphic Agency - November 1, 1996

NEW YORK -- When women charge sexual exploitation by a rabbi, a conspiracy of silence often ensues.

The secrecy protects the perpetrators, leaving victims alienated.

Victims who speak out often find themselves ostracized by their religious communities. And they say that when they turn to the rabbi's professional association or their movement's congregational organization, they feel unwelcome.

Many congregants are unable to imagine that their spiritual leader, who has overseen so many significant moments in their lives, is capable of sexual misconduct.

"By and large, the people who are exploitative are charismatic and well-loved, not sleazy people on the street who we're all going to be afraid of," said Debra Warwick-Sabino, an expert in clergy sexual abuse.

"When you say to someone that their rabbi is capable of this, for them to suspend their disbelief would cause such a spiritual crisis in their own lives that it's easier for them to say `Boys will be boys' than face that faith crisis," said Warwick-Sabino, who directs the California Center for Pastoral Counseling, a Sacramento-based agency that handles clergy sexual misconduct.

At the congregational meetings that follow allegations of rabbinic sexual misconduct, synagogue members often ostracize accusers. Some accusers have been called "liars," "whores" and worse, she said.

"Even in situations where the perpetrator admits all the things the women allege, congregations sometimes will line up behind the rabbi," said Marie Fortune, another expert on clergy sexual abuse. "It blows my mind."

Fortune, a United Church of Christ minister and the founding director of the Seattle-based Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, has handled more than 3,500 clergy sexual misconduct cases in dozens of faiths and denominations.

She has run a seminar on the topic at a regional meeting of Reform rabbis as well as one for students at Los Angeles' Reform rabbinical seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Women who have experienced rabbinic exploitation usually feel a deep and degrading sense of shame and guilt, experts say.

They often feel they have a lot to lose: their place in their synagogue communities, respect and success in their careers and even, in some cases, their marriages.

At Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, some congregants allegedly tried to discredit the women who came forward to charge their rabbi, Robert Kirschner, with sexual exploitation.

At a congregational meeting soon after Kirschner resigned, the women were accused of wanting to ruin the well-liked rabbi's career. They were called "harlots" and "jezebels," some of the women reported.

Two of the women overheard a congregant saying "`Boys will be boys. I don't see what the big deal is,'" said Warwick-Sabino, one of the women who claimed Kirschner sexually harassed her. Then a student at Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union, she has since become a professional in the field of clergy sexual abuse.

In a letter to the dean of the Reform movement's Los Angeles rabbinical seminary, she wrote that she heard another congregant saying: "If [Kirschner] made a pass at me, I'd be flattered. I wouldn't object."

The Emanu-El congregants' responses were typical, experts say.

In one highly publicized case, Michele Samit -- who does not claim to be a victim of rabbinic sexual misconduct -- says her community vilified her after she wrote a book about the relationship between Anita Green and Green's rabbi, Steven Jacobs.

Green was the president of Shir Chadash/The New Reform Congregation in Los Angeles when she was murdered in 1990.

Her husband, Mel Green, was convicted of ordering the killing, and is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Although the Greens were separated at the time of the murder, Anita's affair with Jacobs began while she was still living with her husband, according to Samit's book, "No Sanctuary: The True Story of a Rabbi's Deadly Affair."

Mel Green was an angry, jealous and violent man who had long threatened Anita, even in public, Samit wrote.

Several people who were Jacobs' congregants at the time said in telephone interviews that at Green's funeral, Jacobs -- who had first denied but later reluctantly admitted the relationship -- eulogized the dead woman not as arabbi talking about his temple president but as a lover.

Samit wrote of the eulogy: "The rabbi recalled `admiring or just staring at her beautiful nails and her gentle hands; those hands, her skin so very soft, so reassuring, those beautiful hands.'

"No one [in the congregation] said anything" about it, Samit said in a recent interview, referring to what she believed was Jacobs' inappropriate language

"The reaction of the congregation was nothing. Not even discussion."

That's what convinced Samit she had to leave the congregation and the rabbi who had been her lifelong spiritual guide, she said. She said she was the target of a smear campaign.

"People called me from the congregation and harangued me. They said, `You egomaniacal whore, you think you're better than us. How could you destroy such a wonderful man?'

"This was the most painful thing. Rabbi Jacobs was my hero. I had him on such a pedestal. He bat mitzvahed me" and presided at her wedding. "I baby-sat his kids. We were so close."

Jacobs denied that his relationship with Green was an illicit affair.

"She was a dear friend, my temple president, and after the fact that she was going through a divorce and I had already been divorced, there was a romantic relationship," he said in a recent telephone interview.

He described Samit's book as "full of lies," and said some have accused him of adultery because "people are angry when you achieve a lot in rabbinic life.

"I would not be in the position and stay in the position if people didn't know who I am."

Samit said she believes she and every other member of Jacobs' congregation bear some responsibility for Anita Green's murder.

"There were signs to all of us that Anita was in danger, and we ignored them because we wouldn't dare cross our beloved rabbi," she said.

Another congregant, Michael Hirsh, outraged by his rabbi's behavior and his community's response, wrote to the head of the Reform rabbinical association's ethics committee in April 1993, charging Jacobs with violating the group's ethics code and demanding that it assess Jacobs' behavior.

Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, then the head of the committee, wrote back to Hirsh that Jacobs had agreed "to uphold all provisions of our Code of Ethics," which requires rabbis "to adhere to an exemplary moral code" and "to avoid even the appearance of sexual misconduct."

Hirsh responded to Stiffman with a letter saying that the action amounted to nothing more than "a rabbinic consent decree" for Jacobs to do it all over again.

"If there is a shanda [shame] here, it is not only in Jacobs' immoral conduct but in your organization's complicity in covering it up," wrote Hirsh, a former investigative journalist and current television producer.

Jacobs remains the rabbi of Temple Kol Tikvah, the name adopted after Shir Chadash merged with another synagogue.

Experts in clergy sexual abuse say congregants' denial is dangerous because a rabbi can harass and exploit numerous victims for decades on end without any of the individuals knowing the others exist, forcing each to suffer alone.

If a rabbi has sexually exploited one congregant, he almost always has exploited several, Fortune said, without referring specifically to any of the above-mentioned cases.

In the end, while rabbinic perpetrators often take a new job within their movements or even stay in their pulpits after a slap on the wrist from their rabbinical organizations, it seems the victims often go away.

They often break all ties to the Jewish community and, in some cases, convert to another religion.

According to Fortune, denial of the problem is so pervasive because "none of us wants this to be happening."

There is "long-term damage being done here that we're going to be living with for years," she said.

"It doesn't have to be that bad if we respond better."

Kirschner assesses scandal and his life
by ANDY ALTMAN-OHR - Bulletin Staff
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California - April 28, 2000

For the first time since his sexual improprieties with female congregants and other women made headlines eight years ago, Robert Kirschner has spoken publicly about the scandal.

His ruminations on the saga take center stage in a new history of San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El.

Kirschner does offer self-reflection. But in atoning for his sexual misconduct, Emanu-El's former senior rabbi doesn't give anything more than "a partial apology," said Fred Rosenbaum, author of "Visions of Reform: Congregation Emanu-El and the Jews of San Francisco 1849-1999."

Kirschner is blunt.

"I will not accept responsibility for the allegations that were falsely and maliciously brought, that were simply untrue," he tells Rosenbaum.

"These [sex] acts were between consenting adults. That's the limit of it," Kirschner adds in the 76-page chapter titled "Fallen Star."

The man who resigned as Emanu-El's head rabbi on New Year's Day 1992 -- accused of having sex with female congregants, sometimes in his synagogue office -- goes on to blame a media feeding frenzy for many of his woes, even though 15 pages earlier he said he didn't want to "make any excuses."

In a sweeping 10-hour interview with Rosenbaum, Kirschner describes his reaction to the media coverage of the scandal as "worse than I ever could have thought -- my life as I knew it ended."

But he does put some of the blame on himself.

"I climbed too far, too fast and seemed to develop a certain form of narcissism, arrogance [and] obliviousness to the feelings of others," the 49-year-old said.

"I wasn't aware of it and [that] was part of the problem."

Although he owns up to the truth that he engaged in sexual relations outside his marriage -- accusations he initially denied when the scandal broke -- readers learn almost nothing about the liaisons themselves.

In an interview, Rosenbaum acknowledges he left out "the steamy, lurid details," even though he knows "that there are some people who are interested in this kind of prurient detail."

Writes Rosenbaum: "By his own admission, he had many adulterous affairs, several of them with his congregants, which he consummated in the temple."

But that's about as steamy as it gets. In fact, the first 56 pages of the chapter focus squarely on Kirschner's mostly positive contributions to the Reform congregation, where he was a pioneer of social justice during his tenure there from 1985 through 1991.

"I really praise him, and I believe justifiably," Rosenbaum said in an interview. "On a personal basis, before the scandal, I admired Kirschner greatly. And I still admire him for what he accomplished in terms of the programs he was able to implement...for his vision, his innovation, his great ability as a sermonizer and a scholar."

When the chapter finally turns toward Kirschner's sexual deeds, Rosenbaum sets the tone by writing, "In one sense, [Kirschner's] actions may be seen as a mirror of the times."

Rosenbaum goes on: "He belonged to a generation known for its self-indulgence, and had reached the top during a decade marked by excess, in a city that celebrated sexual freedom. It was a period too when his marriage was deeply troubled and when the pressures of his work were the most intense."

Kirschner insists, however, that all of those were minor factors and instead offers a psychological explanation.

"When you are elevated -- literally -- on this pulpit," Kirschner said, "with the light on your face, kind of the way I remember thinking in my youth of Jesus, you get that look from people...of admiration and even more. It can be very seductive; it can be toxic for someone like me...

"I didn't have the most important attributes needed to serve in that capacity; that is self-knowledge, humility, experience."

Rosenbaum writes that Kirschner "was privately cautioned twice about his sexual misconduct" -- by Rabbi Jacob Milgrom, a former professor at U.C. Berkeley, and by Rabbi Malcolm Sparer, the then-president of the Board of Rabbis of Northern California.

But Rosenbaum writes that Kirschner "denied his misdeeds to both men, and quickly put their warnings out of his mind." Neither men relayed the complaints they had received to the congregation's board.

Although Kirschner did issue a written apology through the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in the mid-1990s, which was printed in the Jewish Bulletin, he has not spoken publicly about the scandal to anyone except Rosenbaum.

In fact, a recent phone call from the Bulletin to him in Los Angeles, requesting an interview or his comments on the new book, ended abruptly with a stern "No," immediately followed by the sound of the phone being emphatically hung up.

Two years ago, he agreed to meet with Rosenbaum, who was updating his 1980 history book about Emanu-El, "Architects of Reform," with developments of the last 20 years.

The new project was commissioned by Emanu-El in conjunction with its 150th anniversary this year, but Rosenbaum apparently had the freedom to write whatever he wanted.

Still, Emanu-El Rabbi Stephen Pearce admitted that he scoured the manuscript before it went to press, "and had there been something egregious, I would have had a discussion with Fred."

Pearce, who is the congregation's senior rabbi, nevertheless claimed editorial constraint was not an issue. He insisted, "This was not an exposé. It's a purely historical account. We were not interested in catering to people's prurient interests."

Rosenbaum said he wasn't seeking to illuminate any shocking revelations from Kirschner, whom he describes as "well into middle age, portly and without the neatly trimmed red beard he sported in San Francisco."

The "remarkably forthcoming" interview lasted as it did, Rosenbaum said, still expressing amazement, because of a rare but powerful rainstorm in Los Angeles. All Kirschner's appointments for the day were canceled, and phone service was out at the Skirball Cultural Center, a Jewish museum where Kirschner is now the program director.

"So the two of us just sat and talked. Hour after hour went by, the day turned into evening and we didn't stop until 8:30," Rosenbaum said.

Kirschner resigned on the first day of 1992 amid accusations from three congregants and a synagogue employee that he had sexually exploited or harassed them.

Eight more women later came forward to the congregation board to complain about the rabbi's conduct, including more members of his congregation and two students from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. There were rumors of more, perhaps many more, sexual liaisons -- which the book does not address.

"It wasn't just one or two cases," Rosenbaum said in an interview, "but a pattern of unwanted sexual advances."

Some of the women went public with their accusations. One of the students called the Bulletin with her story, and three women sounded off in the San Francisco Examiner.

In his book, Rosenbaum chose to focus on facts that were not as titillating as some news stories, such as some congregation leaders' early reluctance to believe the accusations against Kirschner. He "simply didn't fit the 'profile' of someone who would abuse his exalted office in this manner," Rosenbaum writes.

The chapter goes on to address the media's entrance into the foray, how synagogue leaders reacted to the scandal, Kirschner's resignation and his eventual suspension by the Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis.

There is also a short passage on the rebuked attempt of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles to hire him as a part-time teacher 1-1/2 years after the scandal.

The book tells of Kirschner returning to the Emanu-El pulpit only once since his resignation. It was in 1996, when he delivered a eulogy for Rhoda Goldman, "with the title of 'doctor' rather than 'rabbi,'" Rosenbaum writes. Goldman, one of Kirschner's close friends, was the congregation president when he resigned.

One thing the book doesn't do is offer any overt apologies from Kirschner.

"I'm not sure that a book would have necessarily been the proper venue for that," Pearce said. At the same time, Pearce expressed regret that Kirschner "has yet to formally apologize to the congregation and the victims."

Kirschner was a rabbinical prodigy, becoming the youngest spiritual leader in Reform Judaism when he was installed as Emanu-El's head rabbi at age 34 in 1985. He took over for the retiring Rabbi Joseph Asher.

Kirschner oversaw an increase in the synagogue's membership from 1,000 households to 1,500 and made a national name for himself by taking progressive stands toward AIDS patients and the homeless. Emanu-El is an institution "on the moral and spiritual horizon of our community," he said at the time.

In 1985, he delivered what Rosenbaum describes as a "catalytic Kol Nidre sermon" about his visit with a young Jew dying from AIDS. At a time when anti-gay sentiment was widespread, he pointed out the neglect and disdain the homosexual community received. He also lashed out at an injuction in Leviticus that makes homosexuality punishable by death.

"The sermon, published in Reform Judaism, energized the entire movement on the issue," writes Rosenbaum.

That's not to say all of the chapter's first 56 pages put Kirschner in a glow.

Rosenbaum writes that synagogue employees and lay people described him as "top-down, autocratic and even abusive...[Some say] he lacked warmth and collegiality. Most remember him as being quick to anger and stinting on praise."

Rosenbaum points to older congregants expressing disappointment that while Kirschner was making a name for himself, he didn't even know their names when he met them in synagogue.

But none of that would have brought him down had he managed to stay faithful to his wife. That failure, Rosenbaum writes in the first sentence of the chapter, made Kirschner's tenure resemble a "Greek tragedy."

As evidence that he was struggling with inner demons, Rosenbaum quotes Kirschner's 1991 Kol Nidre sermon as a veiled acknowledgment of his dilemma. Speaking of physical imperfections such as Moses' stutter and Jacob's limp, Kirschner said, "We too have defects, limitations and obstacles to overcome...We are not flawless as the ancient priests."

His wife divorced him following the scandal, although the chapter gives few details about Reesa and the couple's four children. It does say that Kirschner remarried in Los Angeles and that his new wife is a computer specialist around his age, a child of Jewish Austrian refugees.

"Yet despite the promising fresh start in his professional and personal life, Kirschner remains a man filled with anguish and regret about the past," Rosenbaum writes.

When the Skirball center opened to the public in Los Angeles, fliers were found in the restroom attacking Kirschner as a sexual predator.

"Who I am now is somebody who feels very different, has a different life," Kirschner said. "I'm not ashamed of who I was, but I don't feel very acquainted with him."

Toward the end of the chapter, Kirschner said he resented the term "victim" being applied to his sexual partners, women he described as "consenting adults."

Rosenbaum writes, "But can there be authentic consent for a sexual relationship between a rabbi and a counselee, a student, a potential convert?"

He cites a noted ethicist, Rachel Adler, as answering that question: "Certainly not."

Kirschner sums up, "I had this image of myself -- it turns out perhaps a flawed one...I felt I was destined for something. I wanted to make a difference in the world.

"A big struggle for me now is to try to figure out how to live without this kind of self-image...I feel that kind of winnowing...and the humbling that came with it...needed to happen."

Letters to the Editor - 'Time heals pain'
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California - May 12, 2000

Your April 28 front page story on the tribulations of Rabbi Robert Kirschner was unworthy of your newspaper. In "yellow journalistic" fashion you seemed to be pleased to open sores that had long been healed. The story was certainly not newsworthy. Kirschner is paying his dues to society and is making a new life for himself as a Jewish museum official in Los Angeles.  It is unfitting to Jewish and American tradition to beat a man when he's down.

The passage of time heals pain. All injured parties in this unhappy affair should be allowed to live in peace and get on with their lives without your unwarranted intrusion.

WALTER S. NEWMAN- past president
Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco, CA

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