Is Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt a Pervert?

Jonathan Rosenblatt

          Jonathan Rosenblatt

Imagine a young rabbi applying for a pulpit. His resume is impressive. He is a talented scholar, an excellent public speaker and he comes well recommended. His pedigree is very high level. He is the great-grandson of cantor Yossele Rosenblatt and the grandson of Rabbi Samuel Rosenblatt a formidable scholar and pulpit rabbi in Baltimore. His wife is the daughter of Rabbi Dr. Isadore Twersky, the Tolner Rebbe whose wife was the daughter of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, the Rav.

Imagine his cover letter where he describes his approach to mentoring teen boys and young men:

I like to “shvitz bond” with younger males by spending extended periods talking to them while we are both naked. I also like to shower alongside them in the gym having long conversations while we face each other.

I don’t know about you, but I would be freaked out. The guy is a pervert and however impressive his other credentials, he is not fit to be a rabbi. He can deny, dismiss, minimize, and proffer drivel about bonding, athletics and all that. But at the end of the day he has a sick man. He is sexualizing interactions. He is using others for his sexual gratification. When he did it with underage minors he was guilty of child endangerment according to former Manhattan sex crimes chief, Linda Fairstein. Even when he did it with adults, whether or not it was legal, it was an abuse of authority, a perversion of authority.

I am of course talking about Jonathan Rosenblatt, the rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center. Even now with the story being covered by the New York Times and the NY Jewish Week, Rosenblatt continues to deny there was anything sexual or improper.

The sad thing is that this conduct was known to his employer for about 25 years and he was allowed to stay on as rabbi.It was known to the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and he was allowed to continue as long as he confined himself to young males over the age of consent. It was known to Yeshiva University which stopped placing rabbinical interns with him, but did not actively prevent their students from taking on internships on their own.

I have read a lot of back and forth about whether he is a pervert, a creep, a little weird, or totally innocent. Those who defend him speak of all the things he does well. I understand why congregants get attached to the rabbi who nurtured them, buried their dead, counseled them and lead their services all these years.

However, I think such congregants have to ask themselves the question: would you have hired him if his proclivities were stated up front when he applied for the job? If the answer is no, then you also should not allow him to continue as a rabbi.

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21 thoughts on “Is Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt a Pervert?

  1. In the comments section of another blog.

    Read this comment posted on the Jewish Week article:

    Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/03/2015 – 22:43.
    First, I must first compliment Gary Rosenblatt on having navigated well through a very difficult article, which I believe was thoughtful and balanced. I will also add that I say this as one who is often critical of Gary’s articles as being agenda driven. This time, I believe that Gary handled it with the requisite sensitivity, and I give him kudos for that.

    After reading through each of the subsequent comments on the article as well, I have a feeling of having observed a ping pong match, going back and forth between those who feel that Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt behaved inappropriately, and those who feel that Rabbi Rosenblatt is a victim of a smear campaign. Some of the comments were very well written and make excellent points, but in truth, not one of them has gone far enough.

    I say this as someone who can confidently say has known Jonathan Rosenblatt for longer than all, or at least most, of those who have posted comments. I knew him in the yeshiva before he was “Rabbi” Rosenblatt, when he was still a Semicha Student. We were friends, and I admired him and appreciated his friendship. Even back then, however, he had the same Modus Operandi, inviting the boys to join him for an early game of racquet ball. I was one of those young men, and I remember our one racquet ball game quite well; though I don’t recall the facility having had a “shvitz,” and though we showered after our game, I don’t recall him doing anything inappropriate. But I remember asking him after our game if he was interested in a rematch the following week, to which he replied that this was his chance to get to know the boys, and tries to take a different one of the boys every week. Sounded sensible to me.
    Our friendship continued after we left the Yeshiva, and he subsequently became “Rabbi” Rosenblatt. I watched with pride as he rode his extraordinary talents and charismatic personality to a meteoric rise in the Modern Orthodox Rabbinate, ultimately landing the prestigious Rabbinic position at the Riverdale Jewish Center before the age of 30. But amidst all his gifts, and despite my personal affection for him, I always had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right with him. Then with the passing of a bit more time, my suspicions were confirmed. Something was definitely not right with him.

    As a young single guy back then, I recall my friend Rabbi Rosenblatt paying me a visit in my apartment. I don’t remember whether he made a special trip, or was passing through the neighborhood, but was understandably flattered by the attention and by the visit. We chatted for a bit, and then he said, “I’ve got to go soon, so I’ll work on you now for a bit,” meaning, he wanted to give me a massage. I was a bit surprised by the offer, but after all, it was “Rabbi” Rosenblatt. So I laid myself down on my stomach and said “OK, go ahead.” He replied, “I can’t really do such a good job like this, you need to get into a towel.” By this time, I was uncomfortable, but was more uncomfortable refusing him. So I did as he asked, and he proceeded to “work on me.” Then he said, “OK, back is finished, roll over.” So I rolled over, and he continued. By this time, I was starting to get creeped out by what was going on. Then, while “working” on my stomach he asked “want me to go lower?” I quickly said no thanks, told him he had done a wonderful job, and rushed to get my clothing back on.

    From that point on, our friendship continued, but it began to change. I made sure that our future encounters were not in secluded places, and opted out of any future “massage” offers. As time went on, he started becoming more critical of me, and over time, the criticism intensified. At one point, he began heavily criticizing my abilities in an area that I had decided to pursue professionally, telling me I should abandon it because I had no propensity for it (which incidentally, I did ultimately pursue, with much success, b”h). These later encounters with him left me confused and riddled with self doubt, until I confided in another close friend about what was going on. On his own initiative, he called Rabbi Rosenblatt and questioned him about why he was being so negative with me. My friend reported back to me that Rabbi Rosenblatt told him that he felt I was in need of help, and the best method of doing so would be to break me to pieces, then put me back together. Clearly, the relationship had value to Rabbi Rosenblatt only so far as he could control the agenda, and thus gratify his needs. If his needs were not served he became embittered by it, and even lashed out.

    By this point, I realized that I had best stay away from Rabbi Rosenblatt, and have kept my distance ever since. I knew back then that given his talents and charismatic personality, he would surely be on the fast track toward Rabbinical stardom. Nevertheless, I watched from the sidelines, holding my breath and hoping Rabbi Rosenblatt could keep himself in check, but clearly he couldn’t, and his downfall was just ,a matter of time. What truly surprises me at this point is not what has transpired, but that it took this long. As other commenter’s to Gary’s article stated, Rabbi Rosenblatt had so many positive attributes going for him, that people denied what was going on, or turned a blind eye.

    Returning to my comment in paragraph two, there is a hesitance to state the true extent of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s problem . It is not merely one of bad judgment or impropriety, but rather, one of serious and unresolved sexual conflicts which are at the source of this troubling behavior. it is eminently clear to me that Jonathan Rosenblatt clearly struggles with latent tendencies of homosexuality, and has no doubt been struggling with them for as long as I know him. Rabbi Rosenblatt’s behavior is typical of one who struggles with his sexual impulses, leave him feeling out of control and disempowered. However, by using his position of authority, he persuades the young men who stir these feelings within him to strip naked in front of him and bear their souls. I know this may be a blunt and difficult way to describe it, but it is precisely what he is doing, and there is nothing “innocent” about it. Rather, it is the ultimate abuse of the power afforded him as a Rabbinical leader, and he should no longer be entrusted with it.

    Unfortunately, we are all too familiar with this type of abuse of power, exemplified in the extreme by the recent debacle of Rabbi Barry Freundel in Washington DC. Rabbi Freundel’s abuses clearly went much further, crossing the line into the criminal, but make no mistake, Jonathan’s Rosenblatt’s abuse of power is no less egregious, no less manipulative, and no less an encroachment upon the boundaries of his victims.

    One comment to the article mentioned Rabbi Rosenblatt’s derogatory dismissal of those boys who declined his offer to join him for one of his “racquetball encounters.” This is no surprise, and jives quite well with the derision that he directed at me after I placed some physical distance between us. It is for this reason that I am quite reluctant to extol his efforts in lavishing attention upon the male children of his congregants, while lounging naked with them in the “shvitz.” Clearly, it is more an exercise in quelling his own sexual impulses than in mentoring and giving over his sage wisdom.

    Rabbi Rosenblatt, the jig is up, and very frankly, I didn’t think you were going to last in the Rabbinate as long as you did. I do agree that it is probably a testament to all those extraordinarily positive things about you that led your congregants not to pull the plug on you a long time ago. It would have been a very wise choice for you to have accepted the RJC’s generous offer of a few years ago, and had walked away to seek other pursuits while quietly seeking psychological treatment. Now, that quiet and uneventful exit is no longer available to you, but I truly hope – from the bottom of my heart – that you will not persist in this destructive and arrogant effort to justify your behavior, which quite frankly, has gone on much too long. Speaking from the part of me that remembers fondly the good parts of our friendship and does not want to see harm come to you, PLEASE resign now and seek help, as if you do not, this fight is most certainly going to get ugly, and will likely lead to many more unnecessary victims.

    • Rosenblattnews.wordpress.com has a lot of helpful and credible information to better understand the situation.

      Note by bloggger, YL- I edited to submitter’s name so as not to confuse it with another commenter already using the name, TruthSeeker

    • I find it credible though I have no way of authenticating it. I find it credible because I know the Jewish Week is very conscious of liability for its comments and the editor, Gary Rosenblatt (no relationship to the rabbi), is deeply involved in this story. I strongly suspect that Rosenblatt knows the story is true but does not like quoting sources not willing to use their names in articles.

      I also find it consistent with other things I have heard.

    • Oy!!!!I am admittedly young and what do I know, but I am aghast! Even if every single story, like the removed one Mark Shaw quoted, were true and historically accurate, to hear someone speak of a Rabbi in those words has me horrified. I guess this is my Scout moment; where my naivete is gone…The Jewish community speaks like this?!!!

  2. Report him to whom????
    Get real! No one would have acted then, and frankly what is prompting action now is the widespread media attention to this man with the title ‘rabbi’ who seems to be more interested in the young male phallus than a mohel.

  3. I attended the Riverdale Jewish Center Community Hebrew School in the late 80’s and early 90’s. In hindsight, Rabbi Rosenblatt was friendly with the boys. It seemed strange to me. Years later I heard one of the boys had committed suicide. I can’t help to wonder if it was related.

    • Rebecca,
      to join in here and go beyond YL’s question for more explicit information, i do indeed ponder several issues,
      already stated, what does “friendly with the boys” mean?
      Seemingly it made an impression on you way back then?
      Did you ever discuss this with anyone, even a classmate???
      What year did the guy commit suicide?
      at that point in time, did you have anyone to confide in, perhaps a former classmate??
      i.e. besides your wondering, (and clearly you never brought charges–i’m sure an impossibility based on hunches) but seriously,
      Did you ever discuss your discomfort re his “being friends” with some of the boys, with any classmates?
      and well beyond that, at the time of your mentioned suicide, did you have former friends with whom you discussed your misgivings??

      I do not intend to sound like a Kategor, but am hoping that you can provide more information,
      Kol Tuv.

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