No Return To The Pulpit For Sexually Immoral Rabbis

Despite the severe level of  harm required for Suspension, Suspended Reform rabbis can return to the pulpit. But the standards and procedures for this process are unclear. 
A Reform Rabbi who appeared on the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Suspension list in January 2019 is now missing from the list of Expelled, Suspended, or Censured rabbis. According to the 2019 list and a 2017 news article, the rabbi in question — we’ll call him Rabbi X — was Suspended in May 2017 “under Section I.A. (Family), Section I.B. (Social), and Section V. (Sexual Boundaries).” It has been less than 36 months since his Suspension, and his absence from the current list suggests that he has been reinstated.
Typically, Suspended rabbis move upwards, into the Expelled list, for failure to cooperate with the terms of their Suspension or outright resignation from CCAR. This is why the Expelled list is so long. But the CCAR website does not tell us when someone has been reinstated or why. Supposedly the person just disappears from the list and quietly reappears as a rabbi. Considering how severe a rabbi’s misconduct has to be in order to become Suspended, this is quite concerning.
Less severe misconduct, including sexual misconduct, can be Reprimanded or Censured while allowing a rabbi to remain in his role with no publicity for his misdeed(s). Suspension, on the other hand, is reserved for cases where the rabbi is considered a potential danger to his community. And even in cases of severe, repeated misconduct, Suspension can be an uphill battle for the victim, as I learned the hard way. This underscores just how severe and traumatic a situation had to be in order for a rabbi to end up on the Suspended list in the first place. Can you imagine going through a grueling, traumatic 6 month investigation only to have your perpetrator potentially re-instated 36 months later?
“Can you imagine going through a grueling, traumatic 6 month investigation only to have your perpetrator potentially re-instated 36 months later?”
Despite the severe level of  harm required for Suspension, the CCAR provides Suspended rabbis with the opportunity to receive counseling from their rabbinic peers and to undergo a “teshuvah rehabilitation and counseling (TRaC)” process in order to return to the pulpit. But the standards and procedures for this process, including what constitutes adequate repentance for a return to the pulpit, are not clear.
Back in 2018, I asked CCAR for details on how this process works and how often Suspended rabbis are reinstated. I did not get any meaningful answers by phone or by e-mail. I do know that my own perpetrator had been secretly Reprimanded for a prior offence and was currently in (or recently engaged in) the TRaC process during the time that he raped me. He was employed full-time as the Senior Rabbi at my region’s largest synagogue. This provides us with a clue as to how attentive and rigorous CCAR’s “teshuvah rehabiliation and counseling” actually is — likely not very.
In 2018, CCAR also did not provide me with an answer regarding what would happen if my Suspended rapist meets their teshuvah requirements but not mine. Or what would happen if I am not open to an apology and  will never be okay with him returning to the pulpit, especially as long as I still have PTSD because of it.
Simply put, there is insufficient information regarding the process by which Suspended rabbis may return to the pulpit, and this lack of information is so severe that not even the victims directly involved in the case are given the answers that they need in order to more fully move on with their lives and let go

“Not even the victims directly involved in the case are given the answers that they need in order to move on with their lives.”

The question regarding Rabbi X remains an open one: How did someone like Rabbi X make up for the Family, Social, and Sexual Boundary violations he is cited for in his 2017 Suspension? And in less than 36 months? Or did his name disappear from the list for some other, more mysterious reason?

We should not have to ask such questions. It should be clear. Transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand, and both are missing from today’s rabbinate.

“Transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand, and both are missing from today’s rabbinate.”

Do the people that Rabbi X hurt even know that his name is now missing from the list? Were they even given a say? Even if they were, were they listened to? And if they were okay with it, does that mean that he is truly fit to serve in a rabbinic capacity once again?

And what about innocent bystanders? Do his former congregants have adequate answers? Are any of them perhaps still healing from the betrayal and damage to their trust that occurred just 32-33 months ago when they found out their rabbi was Suspended and were not given enough information to even begin to process it as evidenced by one of their comments on a 2017 news article?

How is it okay, ever, to reinstate someone for such things — and only 2-3 years (read: 24-36 months) later? Are we really expected to believe that 24-36 months is sufficient time for that kind of rehabilitation? And where the “rehabilitation and counseling” is coming from other rabbis? I am not convinced.

I would like answers please.

There is of course the possibility that Rabbi X’s disappearance from the list does not mean that he was reinstated. Perhaps his status is currently under review, or he is deceased. We do not know. But this lack of transparency along with the possibility of quick reinstatement are worth being concerned about — if we are to concern ourselves at all with the safety and integrity of the synagogue and rabbinate.

Sexual immorality in the rabbinate has contributed to many Jews giving up their practice. I’ve met Jewish people who stopped keeping the Sabbath, stopped keeping kosher, and completely given up Judaism as a religion because of the immorality that they experienced directly or indirectly from rabbis. They see the lack of transparency and accountability and rightfully do not trust “organized Judaism.” Their practice falls apart because they lack a community to support it. We need to rebuild… But we cannot do that so long as the powers that be will not treat the laity with true dignity and respect.

About the Author
The opinions expressed in this blog are that of the author and do not represent the views of any organization that she is affiliated with. Sarah Ruth Hoffman was a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when an older male rabbi (now suspended by his rabbinical association) raped and abused her. She has since completed the PhD. She continues to write as part of her healing, and she often writes what she would have found comforting and useful to read during her lengthy exodus from the ongoing sexual violence that was inextricably linked to roles and scripts in Jewish institutions. She hopes that this blog will help the public to understand the dynamics of clergy sexual abuse, whether the victims are adults, or children. Much of what is written can apply to non-clergy relationships as well. If any one person is helped by any of what is written, then the purpose of this blog has been fulfilled.
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