The Rabbinical Council of America and Yeshiva University were critical of Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt’s practice of mentoring boys and young men in extended mutually nude interactions in showers and saunas. However, the Orthodox Union (OU) used Rosenblatt for rabbinic mentoring events starting in 2009 and 2010. These events ran through 2013 but it is not clear if he was used for all of the remaining events, though the OU did not claim otherwise when I inquired.
According to a 2010 email by OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil,
In Toronto I attended a three-day conference for over 30 rabbis from large, medium and small shuls across North America. This is part of a regular series of gatherings organized by the OU, which occur on-site in numerous locations; last year, the rabbis met in Chicago, while next year’s conclave is planned IY”H for Kansas City.
Many of the rabbis who participate in this group are relatively new to the pulpit (within the past decade, but most newer). They are mentored by more experienced rabbis, foremost among them Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt of the Riverdale Jewish Center. This event was held at Shaarei Shomayim, following which, I was privileged to remain behind in order to serve as Shabbat scholar-in-residence. (emphasis added).
In a reply, OU spokesman *Mayer Fertig wrote, “Rabbi Rosenblatt was featured at the request of the participants, as were other guest speakers.” (See full statement below).
However, Fertig downplayed this as something designed to showcase Rosenblatt.
Apparently, Executive VP Steven Weil thought otherwise when he organized the very first such event for the OU in February during the time between May 2008 when he was slated for the OU job and when he actually started in July 2009.
Los Angeles based blogger, Luke Ford, reported:
Did you hear that Rabbi Weil convened a special OU meeting/retreat last weekend in Los Angeles with six of the top rabbis in the country? What went on there? A source says: “It was a rabbinic training event for nearly – and newly – ordained rabbis. Jonathan Rosenblatt, the rabbi from Riverdale was the guest presenter.
Rabbi Weil’s decision was a serious failure on the part of the OU. Rosenblatt’s proclivity for nude sauna and shower bonding was widely known as reported in the New York Times and the Jewish Week (NY). Worse, he defended it as an ideal way to mentor younger males. Rosenblatt was not a fit mentor or a suitable model on how to mentor others.
The OU should not have legitimated Rosenblatt’s misconduct while others were trying to curb it or keep him away from influence on others. The OU owes the public an account of this failure and an apology.
*Full statement by Mayer Fertig, OU Chief Communications Officer on 6/8/15:
The OU facilitated and partially sponsored a program for certain congregational rabbis. The program offered opportunities for these rabbis to network, to discuss issues of common interest and to enhance their skills. The participants drove the agenda topics, the guest speakers and the schedule. Rabbi Rosenblatt was featured at the request of the participants, as were other guest speakers. Typically 20-30 pulpit rabbis would participate. The last such event was held in November 2013.