Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Twenty Years Later - Why Haven't Chasidic Leaders Made Changes?

Twenty Years Later - Why Haven't Chasidic Leaders Made Changes?
By Vicki Polin - February 1, 2013
The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter  

Please note this article was written nearly 20 years ago.  At the time every branch of Judaism was watching, including rabbonim from within the chasidic world. –– Vicki Polin

Please click here to learn about the case of Rabbi Robert Kirschner


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."

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