An ultra-Orthodox community in New York has been left deeply divided after its rabbi uttered an expletive during a synagogue event, with some calling for his removal as spiritual leader.
Members of the Torah Haim synagogue, located in Borough Park, were split over whether Rabbi Simcha Gotteinstaum, 72, can continue to serve as head of the congregation after an incident that occurred last Saturday during a buffet after morning prayers, held in honor of a bar-mitzvah boy.
Eye-witnesses reported that Gotteinstaum was asked to perform the Kiddush ceremony, a traditional Jewish blessing over a cup of wine to sanctify Sabbath, the day of rest.
The rabbi made the blessing and drank from the goblet before placing it on a table. He then reached for a piece of pickled herring but his sleeve knocked over the cup, that was still half full, spilling red wine over the white tablecloth.
What happened next sent shock waves through the community that were still being felt days later.
“Oh F-ck!” Goteinstaum said according to several people who were within earshot.
The community, that adheres to a strict interpretation of Jewish law, known as Haredi, believes that since speech is used for prayer it is not to be sullied with cuss words, putting Gotteinstaum’s pronouncement beyond tolerance, for some.
“It was disgusting,” complained father of nine and community member David Schmerling, who was dressed in an all black suit and hat, the customary garb of Haredi men. “Several children heard. A rabbi can’t use that kind of language, he is supposed to set an example. I think he should resign.”
Schmerling, who sports a large beard, long side-locks and said he prays three times a day, was particularly upset as the incident happened just three weeks before the festival of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
Rabbi Gotteinstaum is slated to blow the Shofar, a ram’s horn that is the centerpiece of the Rosh Hashana prayer service, but Schmerling argued that could no longer be allowed.
“How can a mouth that has uttered such profanity now blow the holy Shofar?” he said. “It is unthinkable.”
While many agreed with Schmerling’s point of view others retorted that it was just an excuse to reopen an old feud over the highly honored position of official Shofar blower.
According to Moshe Cohen, the real issue at stake is that Schmerling wants to blow the Shofar himself.
“He’s been going on about this for years,” Cohen explained. “Every Rosh Hashana he brings it up again, he is always looking for a reason why he should be allowed to do it.”
A local housewife, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the annual dispute over the Shofar has become the object of ridicule within the community.
“The joke is that Schmerling is really keen to blow the rabbi’s horn,” she said with a blush.
Cohen pointed out that he is not bothered by the Gotteinstaum’s use of strong language.
“It’s only natural,” he said. “Who hasn’t slipped up every now and then. When Moses came down Mount Sinai and broke the tablets of stone do you really think he didn’t blurt out something a little spicy?”
Gotteinstaum, who has served as rabbi of the synagogue for nearly forty years, declined to comment on the furor surrounding his behavior.
His wife, Sorelah Gotteinstaum, 70, loyally defended her spouse of over five decades. “It shows that he is ‘liybedik’, she said using the Yiddish word for ‘lively’. “Sometimes a rabbi needs b-lls.”
Spoof and satire contributed to this blog post.