Rabbis I have known

Recently I wrote a blog article criticizing the aberrant behavior of Roman Catholic priests.  In case someone believes that I am biased against priests (which I am ), I want to show that I am an equal opportunity blogger, so this article is about Rabbis, and not just any Rabbis, but Rabbis I have known.

My wife worked as an administrator in several Synagogues in the US.  In one case she worked in the Synagogue in Laurel, MD, that she had to drive to every day.  The Rabbi there (who I won’t name) was extremely demanding and arrogant, but also noticeably friendly to some of his female congregants.  What happened to my wife was that our car needed servicing, so we took it into the dealer and left it, expecting it to be for only one day.  The Rabbi warned my wife that he needed her and she could not be out, it was up to her to get to work on time every day, but there was no bus.  They kept the car for two days, so I called the dealer and told them I needed my car, and they told me that it was being repaired and I must come in the morning.  When I went they told me they didn’t know where my car was (this is a true story), so I threatened to go to the police if they did not produce my car.  Eventually they did (I think they were using it as a test drive for buyers) and my wife drove to work, and the Rabbi fired her, just like that.  Later he was forced to leave that congregation because of complaints from female congregants, and then went to a Synagogue in the Mid-West, where he was forced to leave again for the same reason.  His wife divorced him, and he became…a marriage counsellor.

Our son had his barmitzvah in Beth El of Montgomery County, MD, our Conservative Synagogue.  The Rabbi there was a nice old man, getting close to retirement.  But, he was known to have a quite strong independent streak, maybe he was a little bitter about being forced to retire.   When we had the rehearsal for the barmitzvah, just a short run-though, I took the Rabbi aside and mentioned that we would have some Christian friends in the congregation for the ceremony, I thought that maybe he might explain some things for them.  On the Shabbat the Rabbi gave his sermon and he launched into an anti-Christian diatribe like I had never heard before.  I was livid, but I could do nothing about it.   Afterwards I asked one of our dear Christian friends what they thought about what the Rabbi has said, she replied “I wanted to get up and run out, but then I realized that this is what it must be like to be a Jew in a Christian world.”  Yes, but it was very inappropriate, I avoided the Rabbi after that.

In another case, my wife was working at Beth El as the Administrator with Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman, the replacement for the old Rabbi.  He was was a very charismatic young man with two children.  Everyone liked him and he brought many younger people into the synagogue.   The President of the Synagogue received a few queries from congregants, for example, one old lady had been giving money to the Rabbi’s discretionary fund, and each year he had pressed her to increase the amount, but she was unsure where this money was going.  In another case a man had given a large donation to a local food bank and the Rabbi said he would deliver it, but they told the man that they had not received it.  So while the Rabbi was away in Israel on a visit, the President and some Board members went into the Rabbi’s office and checked his files.  What they found convinced them to call in a forensic accountant, who after reviewing all the Rabbi’s financial records concluded that the Rabbi over a period of over 10 years had embezzled money from the Synagogue to the extent of ca. $600,000.  He had been using the Rabbi’s discretionary fund for his own expenses, and had been mingling that money with his own money and making investments for which only he could sign.  This was all strictly illegal.  On his return the Board met with him and told him what they had found and offered to drop any charges if he repaid the money (they did not want a scandal).  But the Rabbi refused and made it a public issue.  The Board could not fire him, so there was a  congregation meeting, with record attendance, where people spoke for and against the Rabbi.  It split the congregation, and became an issue written up in the Washington Post.  The local Attorney General stated that he would bring charges against the Rabbi, but to avoid further scandal the Rabbi and the Board made a deal that he would repay $300,000 (essentially an admission of guilt) and leave the Synagogue (see http://ww2.gazette.net/gazette_archive/2001/200131/bethesda/news/65197-1.html).   About 30% of the membership left with him and they formed another Synagogue in another part of the area.

Rabbi Barry Freundel was the well-respected Rabbi at Kesher Israel in Georgetown, Washington DC, and he was the Rabbi of my daughter and her husband and officiated at their wedding.   HIs name came into the media recently when he was accused of voyeurism, a congregant complained that he had watched her naked at the mikve (ritual water submersion bath) and she saw he had a collection of tapes in his office.  The police investigated and found that he had been taping women undressing to go to the mikve and in the mikve.  He was forced to resign and was tried and is now in prison for six and a half years (http://forward.com/news/breaking-news/308317/rabbi-barry-freundel-faces-sentencing-in-mikveh-peeping/).

The Rabbis I have known have been far from paragons of virtue. There have also been cases of Rabbis abusing and mistreating children in schools.  I am sure there are pure and honest Rabbis somewhere, but I have not met any.  It does not say much for Judaism or religion in general.


5 thoughts on “Rabbis I have known

  1. I went to that zionist101 website you mentioned yesterday and watched the film about the birth of the Hebrew language and what I can’t understand is why no mention is made of the fact that Jews all over the world prayed in Hebrew – that is what has unified us wherever we live. It might be made up of words that are only used in worship but a lot of it is the same and has the same meaning.
    They make it sound like none of our holy books or prayer books used Hebrew.
    This really upsets me and I see a lot of the online antisemites use this as a way of attacking us by saying that we invented Hebrew from nowhere!


  2. I followed Naomi working at Beth El and knew both rabbis mentioned. On the younger one, it amazed me how people refused to question him and just “assumed” he was too busy to bother and too honest to question. The president, Dr. Benson D. Adams, was willing to finally question him as he was a man of incredible principles , honest, and generous with his time and money, although not often liked as he often stood by his principles in a gruff manner which others found offensive. I, on the other hand, found his qualities honorable and totally respected him even when his gruffness was turned on me. Dr Adams was overseeing a $12m fundraising capital campaign to renovate the facility to the dream we shared for a large modern facility.

    When the scandal broke Benson was devastated as he had wanted the congregation he loved not to suffer and suffer it did. Benson’s term ended and the leadership was supportive of the rabbi and now there was in a sense a civil war and thus the Washington Post and the huge membership meeting. Benson was castigated by the leadership and some of the more vocal members and was essentially punished for doing the right thing. He was shunned and not allowed to carry the torah on Yom Kippur with other past presidents. Opponents claimed it was a conspiracy and the report conducted by the independent forensic accountant proving the rabbi’s guilt was buried by his friends now running the congregation. In the end the rabbi resigned with a year’s salary and an arrangement which did NOT include a noncompete clause so that he couldnt open another congregation in the vicinity. Some of the members who were close friends of the rabbi, including the Treasurer who should have caught the thefts, and several well known individuals like Dennis Ross and Tom Friedman, formed a congregation nearby. Some dub it Kol Ha’Ganov…

    Unfortunately Dr Adams developed pancreatic cancer and died. At his funeral, in the new chapel, the old rabbi you mentioned as speaking strongly and who I had seen give many eulogies, gave a fiery lectern banging dedication to Dr. Adams and one for which Dr. Adams would have enjoyed. When I drive by the building I think “this is the house that Benson built” and he should be so proud. It stands as a testament not to a rabbi but to a man with high principles and morals, zichron libracha…may his memory be a blessing and for me it always will be.


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