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.