Case of Rabbi Mark Dratch
Chairman, Task Force on Rabbinical Improprieties, RCA - New York, NY
Orthodox Caucus, Rabbinical Council of America - New York, NY
Rabbi, Camp Morasha - New York, NY
Yeshiva University - Washington Heights, NY
Webbe Rebbe (Ask the Rabbi), Orthodox Union - New York, NY
Congregation Agudath Sholom - Stamford, CT
Shaarei Shomayim Congregation - Toronto, Canada
Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun - New York, NY
Founding Rabbi - Boca Raton Synagogue, Boca Raton, FL
Congregation Beth Israel - Schenectady, NY
Anshei Shalom, Delray Beach, FL
Rabbi Mark Dratch was the first rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue.
Disclaimer: Inclusion in this website does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement. Individuals must decide for themselves if the resources meet their own personal needs.
- Keeping a Kosher Kitchen (11/22/1985)
- The Faith Keepers (11/22/1985)
- Is Rabbi Mark Dratch Trying to Recreate The Awareness Center? (03/22/2005)
- Rabbi Mark Dratch and NOT Rabbi Gafni/Winiarz/Winyarz was 1st Rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue (01/22/2005)
- Rabbi Fired Over Sex Claims, Defenders Offer Mea Culpa (05/19/2006)
- Awareness Center a clearinghouse of concern - and controversy (01/10/2007)
- Does Rabbi Mark Dratch Practice What He Preaches (01/10/2007)
- RCA Facing Leadership Challenge (06/12/2012)
- Yeshiva University, Rabbi Mark Dratch and JSafe (03/22/2005)
By Pat Kingcade
Miami Herald - November 11, 1985
The congregational family at Temple Anshei Shalom keeps a kosher kitchen.
When the Conservative congregation in Delray Beach designed its new temple, it included a dairy and a meat kitchen in the
plans. And to complete the cooking centers, the congregation appointed Steve Greenseid as its exclusive kosher caterer. It is the only facility of its kind in Palm Beach County.
"People had to go to Fort Lauderdale or Miami (for this service) before," Greenseid said.
All Orthodox and most Conservative Jews observe kosher dietary laws, said Jack Levine, the temple's publicity chairman. Foods served at weddings, bat mitzvahs and bar mitzvahs, circumcisions and other religious affairs are kosher.
To keep a kosher kitchen means separating not only the meat and dairy foods but also the dishes and utensils used to prepare the foods. All the ingredients carry a kosher seal and only the forequarter of a cud-chewing animal with split hooves can be used, said Mark Dratch, the supervising rabbi. No shellfish is eaten. And at Anshei Shalom, the meat kitchen is locked and can only be opened by Greenseid or Dratch.
"This is to prevent anyone from bringing nonkosher food in," Greenseid said.
Keeping kosher is important for reasons of cleanliness and tradition, said Dratch, who must oversee the preparation and serving of all the food.
Ben Simon, the temple's building chairman, suggested putting in the kitchens to the congregation. A retired building contractor, Simon had built two similar kosher kitchens before. The kitchen opened hours before Passover this year and the caterer immediately started preparations for a a public seder for 200 people.
"There are four temples in our area. None of the others wanted to do it," Simon said.
The kitchens, which cost about $125,000 to install, serve the 1,300 members of Anshei Shalom as well as other congregations and groups wanting or requiring kosher food, Simon said. For some events the food is prepared and served at Anshei Shalom, Dratch said. Other times Greenseid, supervised by Dratch, prepares the food at the temple and then serves it at a hotel or meeting place.
When the meals are served out, Dratch, who spent a year at rabbinical school learning kosher procedures, must supervise purification of the hotel's kitchen.
"Boiling water is poured on all the counters, the dishes and dishes are immersed in boiling water and the ovens are scoured and burned," he said.
As the demand for kosher-catered events increases, more and more hotels now set aside separate ovens and dishes for kosher events, Greenseid said.
Dratch, who says he has to be "part cook and part chemist," is also involved in supervising a kosher bakery in Boca Raton.
Because of the rise in the Jewish population "there is more of a demand now for kosher foods," he said. "There are also a lot of people who have been here a long time who had to go to Miami Beach for their kosher meats and breads.
"We want them to know that they can come to us and be guaranteed that all of the requirements are being met."
Dratch is spiritual leader at Boca Raton Synagogue, an Orthodox congregation. He became involved in Anshei Shalom's facility because he had to, he said.
"I had no other choice," Dratch said, "There was a demand
from my congregation."
The Faith Keepers
Miami Herald - February 22, 1985
by Herald Staff
NAME: Rabbi Mark Dratch.
TEMPLE: Boca Raton Synagogue. Orthodox services at held on Saturday mornings at Verde Elementary School, 6590 Verde Trail, Boca Raton ... formed in 1984 ... 45 families.
GOOD WORKS: Involved with the Task Force on Jewish Alcohol and Drug Abuse for Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties ... belongs to several rabbinical associations ... is involved in building a new Orthodox congregation in Boca Raton ... "We are the only Orthodox congregation servicing young families in this area."
QUOTE: "Being a rabbi is a challenge. It is a challenge to teach and a challenge to become a community builder. This position in Boca (building a new Orthodox congregation) is especially appealing to me."
PERSONAL: Came to Boca Raton Synagogue in July from Agudath Sholom in Stamford, Conn ... educated at Yeshiva University in New York City ... has a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in education ... 26 years old ... married ... is an avid reader ... loves bicycling ... "I ride to meetings on my bike when I can"... spends time with his wife, "which is very important."
We're looking for Faith Keepers. If you know of an outstanding person who is active in his or her religious life and would like to recommend that person to be featured in The Faith Keepers, please write The Faith Keepers, c/o Pat Kingcade, The Miami Herald, P.O. Box 3623, West Palm Beach, Fla. 33402.
Is Rabbi Mark Dratch Trying to Recreate The Awareness Center?
"The website and its discussion groups are an invaluable resource for many people. I had been involved at supporting them at one point in time. Vicki Polin has done tremendous work. We had a disagreement about a year ago] over some of the articles published on there with regard to accusations made against individuals. Her feeling is that as long as there is an article out there it should always be public. I disagree with that. If there is no substantiation of the allegations after a period of time and the person may be innocent, those articles should not be there. As a result of that, we have parted ways. She remains an important resource for me and I imagine I am an important resource for her.
"Luke - Dratch's argument against Polin, that she should remove old stories that have not been substantiated, comes in pretty neatly with the Michael Ozair story. Remember that in that case, only allegations against him had been printed, and the fact that he pleaded no contest in 2001 would have made the allegations three years old with no follow-up. It was precisely because his file was maintained on The Awareness Center's Website that we matched him up as Michael Ezra of KabbalahCoach.com, and that we did further inquiry into the matter, reporting his plea for the first time."
|Vicki Polin, at her Baltimore home office. Photo by Murray Levin|
It's not a physical place, but a Baltimore post-office box, cell-phone number and Web site - www.theawarenesscenter.org - where online surfers can find a listing of scores of Jewish clergy and hundreds of otherJewish officials in positions of trust or authority who are alleged tobe sexual predators. Some of them have been convicted of crimes; somehave not even been charged or sued.
Vicki Polin, 47, is the nonprofit organization's executive director and only full-time staffer. A licensed clinical professional counselor and an art therapist, she founded the Awareness Center in 2001 after becoming fed up over what she deemed to be inaction in bringing perpetrators to justice and protecting the public.
Her biggest weapon: exposure of alleged wrongdoers.
Her efforts have won her loyal supporters and harsh critics.
|Rabbi Yosef Blau|
"Vicki's site is very valuable," said Rabbi Yosef Blau, religious adviser at Yeshiva University and a vocal advocate for victims of rabbinic sexual abuse and other forms of sexual misconduct. "Since you can't get people arrested and there are no court cases, you have to use a standardthat's reasonable and [disclosure] works in that context."
The Awareness Center's outing of alleged and confirmed abusers has inspiredan army of Jewish bloggers eager to discuss the topic, with anonymous postings appearing on Web sites such as the Unorthodox Jew, the Canonist, Jewishwhistleblower.blogspot.com and Lukeford.net.
"In the Orthodox community, it is much harder to be heard, so people go online instead of going to police and the rabbi," said a woman now living in Israel who reported being abused as a child by her father, an American rabbi who is principal of an Orthodox school on the Eastern seaboard. "The blogs are safe for survivors."
The Awareness Center and the bloggers not only have brought this sensitive subject tothe attention of a wide audience, they have also stirred up considerable controversy over issues of fairness, attribution and transparency.
|Rabbi Avi Shafran|
"The blogorai, as I call it, is the new way of making irresponsible accusations," charged Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesperson for the fervently Orthodox advocacy organization AgudathIsrael. "Using a blog is a very easy and effective way of casting as persions on people."
Blau said blogs are a mixed blessing.
"Since they are anonymous, they can say almost anything," he said. "On the other hand, until the community is more willing to deal with issues, I can understand why writers won't reveal their identity."
One blog-intensive case listed on the Awareness Center site involves Mordechai Tendler, a disgraced modern Orthodox rabbi from Rockland County, New York, who was accused of having illicit sexual relationships with several women who had come to him for counsel.
|ex-Rabbi Mordecai Tendler|
Tendler was expelled from the Rabbinical Council of America in March 2005 for "conduct inappropriate for an Orthodox rabbi." The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance praised the RCA "fortaking these issues seriously and instituting formal procedures to deal with them." Those procedures included hiring a Texas-based private investigative firm to conduct a probe of the matter and convening anin-house ethics panel to rule on the case.
In April, Tendler was fired from the congregation he had helped establish in the mid-1980s, Kehillat New Hempstead. Undaunted, he held High Holiday services this year in a public elementary school directly across the street from his former shul.
Tendler, married and the father of eight, has consistently denied the allegations against him, but did not respond to inquiries seeking comment. His attorney, Glen Feinberg, said his client retains a large following in Rockland County. JTA asked Feinberg to encourage Tendler's supporters to contact JTA, but none did.
The scandal has spawned at least three lawsuits, including one filed by Tendler against his former congregation for alleged breach of contract. That suit has been dismissed, but the ruling is being appealed. The litigation filed against Tendler has publicized the sort of mattersthat once would have only been whispered about in private.
For example, a lawsuit filed in December 2005 by former congregant (NAME REMOVED) states that Tendler, who portrayed himself as "a counselor and advisor with expertise in women's issues," advised (NAME REMOVED) to have sex with him so that "her life would open up and men would come toher," and she would then marry and have children.
The suit also claims that Tendler told (NAME REMOVED) that he "was as close to God asanyone could get" and that he "was the Messiah." And when the relationship ended, the suit contends, Tendler encouraged congregants to "harass, threaten and intimidate" (NAME REMOVED) in an apparent attemptto discredit her accusations.
As for Tendler, his legal filings included petitions submitted in Ohio and California seeking to forcethe disclosure of the identities of anonymous bloggers who had been attacking him publicly for his alleged conduct. But he withdrew both petitions.
In the California case, a judge ruled Oct. 12 that Tendler must pay the bloggers' legal fees - a decision that was praisedby attorney Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen, who represented three ofthe bloggers involved in the case.
"The right to criticize anonymously on the Internet is a fundamental free-speech right and animportant tool for whistle-blowers and consumers who speak out aboutthe misconduct or corruption of big companies or public figures," Levy said in a press release.
A letter from Tendler to the judge who had ruled in the California case was posted Nov. 15 on a victims'advocacy blog. In the letter, Tendler asked the judge to reconsider hisdecision on attorney's fees, adding: "I have been the subject of aconcerted and constant Internet campaign to destroy my reputation, livelihood, and family. Disgusting allegations of sexual impropriety,all of them false, have been circulated about me and amplified in suchhorrific proportions as only can happen on the Internet. These allegations and threats have, in fact, destroyed my reputation as arabbi and teacher and have caused me hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in actual and future damages."
The letter described the bloggers as being "like poisonous snakes" who "want to continue to do their damage and spread their filthy vicious lies withno accountability."
The Awareness Center, also known as the Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault, has its own confidentiality policy regarding victims of sexual misconduct and others.
"As a victim advocate, I never name the survivors," Polin said.
The Awareness Center no longer names its board members, either, "due to harassment," according to Polin, who said she herself has been threatened repeatedly with physical harm and once was spat on by awoman who was angry over an Awareness Center disclosure.
|Rabbi Mark Dratch|
In 2003, Polin said, a supporter of an alleged abuser named on her site did background checks on her advisory board members, "found something about them or someone they cared about and threatened to make it public." Half a dozen resignations ensued, she said.
Among those who were formerly listed but resigned for other reasons is Rabbi Mark Dratch, who chairs the Rabbinical Council of America's Task Force on Rabbinic Improprieties and has founded the organization JSafe to deal with sexual abuse in the Jewish community.
Dratch said he left the Awareness Center board in "disagreement with [Polin] on the standards required for publishing on her Web site. I wasn't satisfied with the threshold of verification. There are people who've been victimized and others who've been subject to false reports also being victimized. The big problem we have in this area is verifying theallegations and moving forward."
As of early December, the Awareness Center site still listed 236 "supportive rabbis." Polin said more than 500 people receive her e-mail alerts, and the Web page averages around 35,000 visitors per month.
|Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb|
"I read everything with a grain of salt," he said. "On the other hand," Weinreb said, the Awareness Center and the blogs "have served the purpose of keeping thisin the public spotlight and keeping the pressure on established institutions to police their constituencies."
As of late December, the Awareness Center was in danger of closing for lack of funds, according to Polin, who was seeking donations to keep the organization afloat.
In a highly unusual development — some are calling it an insurrection — the proposed slate of officers set to continue in their lay posts to lead the 1,000-member Rabbinical Council of America for another year is being challenged by a group reportedly opposed to the choice of executive vice president, the only paid position and one that calls for directing the day-to-day operations of the organization.
A leader of the challengers, however, insists the executive choice is not a cause of the rebellion.
The post, most recently held by Rabbi Basil Herring, who stepped down last summer, is a non-elected position appointed by the board.
The critics are said to feel that Rabbi Mark Dratch, who was named after a long selection process to succeed Rabbi Herring, is too liberal for the job, though they have not publicly articulated their specific reasons for that conclusion.
Rabbi Dratch, who lives on Long Island, has worked at congregations in New York, Toronto, Connecticut and Florida. He now teaches Jewish studies and philosophy at Yeshiva University and founded an organization, JSafe, which advocates for Jewish victims of sexual abuse.
He has formerly served as a vice president of the RCA and headed a task force to formulate rules about investigating allegations of improprieties against members of the RCA.
The Jewish Week has learned that the proposed slate challenging the incumbents is headed by Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., as candidate for first vice president.
The nominees for regional vice presidents are Rabbi Avraham Gordimer, a rabbinic coordinator of the Orthodox Union’s kashrut department; Rabbi Jonathan Gross of Beth Israel in Omaha, Neb.; and Rabbi Eliezer Langer of Tiferet Israel of Austin, Texas.
The other alternative candidates are Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills (treasurer), Rabbi Eli Krimsky of the Young Israel of Stamford, Conn., (recording secretary) and Rabbi Dov Fisher of the Young Israel of Orange County, Calif., (financial secretary).
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Jeshurun of Teaneck, N.J, who is on the far right of the Modern Orthodox spectrum, is on the alternative slate for executive committee.
The only position not being challenged is that of president, held by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah of Englewood, N.J., who was elected last year.
Rabbi Goldin’s current top officers are Rabbi Leonard Matanky (first vice president) recording secretary Rabbi Gedalya Berger, (financial secretary) Rabbi Reuven Tradburks and Treasurer Rabbi Daniel Cohen.
Contacted during a visit to Israel on Tuesday week, Rabbi Freundel declined to comment on specifics of the differences between the two slates.
“We have a different position on many issues, which are internal issues, not a single issue,” said the rabbi. But he stressed that the potential hiring of Rabbi Dratch is “not one of the issues on the platform.”
But some, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid creating a further rift in the organization, said there is increasing pressure from right-leaning members over issues such as the possible inclusion of rabbis ordained by Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT), an institution that was founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale and that describes its philosophy as “open Orthodoxy.”
Currently, rabbis ordained by YCT are not permitted membership in the RCA unless they also have been ordained by a more traditional rabbinical school.
“People have concerns, issues and fears regarding the direction the organization is shifting to,” said one RCA leader who asked not to be identified.
“There are objections to Rabbi Dratch on the basis of concerns that he might be too liberal,” said another member. “They are making assumptions about him.”
The RCA has been grappling with the diverse views of its membership for years, confronting such issues as organ donation, the role of women in synagogue leadership and conversion, particularly regarding the strict standards of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.
“There is tremendous tension in the community, both from the left and from the right,” said Rabbi Goldin in his speech to the RCA convention on assuming the presidency last year, as reported by The Forward. “The issue of trying to hold the community together becomes extremely important. I would find it unfortunate if we were to split into splinters.”
The tension within the RCA comes at a time when a new study of the New York Jewish community by UJA-Federation of New York shows a strengthening of Orthodox life and a falling away from Judaism by close to 40 percent of the community, suggesting that the Modern Orthodox could play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of the community.
One RCA member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he would have preferred if the membership were presented with a choice of candidates for executive vice president.
Rabbi Goldin noted that the idea of presenting candidates to the general membership — the way a synagogue search committee might present candidates for a rabbi to board members — was considered by the RCA executive committee and rejected.
“We assume the search committee looks carefully and comes up with a recommendation, and they did.” He added, “It is not the executive vice president’s job to make decisions. The decisions are made by the rabbis who run the organization.”
When he entered office in 2011, Rabbi Goldin expressed willingness to explore the issue of including rabbis in the RCA who were ordained by Rabbi Avi Weiss at YCT, an issue that is still being discussed and has generated strong views on both sides. The institution does not enroll women, but Rabbi Weiss has recognized a woman, Sara Hurwitz, as a rabba, with similar duties to a rabbi, which created controversy within the RCA.
YCT has since withdrawn its application to have its rabbis accepted by the RCA.
In a brief phone interview on Monday Rabbi Dratch declined to comment about the controversy.
Rabbi Goldin, in an interview, framed the controversy as not unusual given the organization’s diverse membership. “We pride ourselves in representing many different points of view,” he said. “None of this, to me, is unexpected.”
But he acknowledged that the current situation was unprecedented.
In past years the election has taken place at the RCA’s annual convention, with voting rights extended only to those in attendance. This year voting is being allowed by mail and e-mail.
He said the process of appointing the executive vice president is now being delayed until after the board election, which means that a new slate could rescind the job offer extended to Rabbi Dratch.
On the other hand, rejection of the new slate could give Rabbi Dratch a strong mandate in the post.
Steven Bayme, director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department at the American Jewish Committee said while he was not privy to internal RCA politics, “The larger issue is that Modern Orthodoxy needs to play a very critical bridging role between Orthodoxy and the rest of the Jewish community. In that sense, the people it appoints to leadership positions, would, I hope, fulfill that role.”
He said Rabbi Dratch “has been a positive force in his work in Jewish education and at his pulpits. He is very much a person who is open and willing to work with others. His [appointment] would be a very positive step.”