Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, a leading Modern Orthodox in The Bronx, announced his plans to remain the Riverdale Jewish Center’s spiritual leader, despite last month’s embarrassing controversy over his methods of interacting with his younger male congregants.
The New York Times published an article late last month in which the counseling methods used by the Rosenblatt were brought into serious question. The paper reported that the rabbi would sit naked in the sauna with boys as young as 12, after engaging in games of squash or racquetball. Rosenblatt explained that the male fellowship in the shvitz, or steam baths, is a Jewish tradition, and a big part of his success as a mentor and counselor. However, major Jewish institutions requested that the rabbi stop the sauna talks.
On Wednesday, June 24, Rosenblatt addressed a meeting of congregants, saying, “This is a crisis created by my own lapses of judgment. I have brought pain to people, shame to my family and I have caused a desecration of the divine name.”
According to reports, Rosenblatt said that demands for him to step down from his position are “disproportionate,” and that he intends plans to continue, as he has done for the past 30 years, to serve the his congregation of 700.
The Riverdale Jewish Center’s board of directors voted 34-8 earlier this month to push Rosenblatt into resigning his pulpit position by seeking a financial settlement.
Earlier this month, the board of directors of the Riverdale Jewish Center voted 34-8 to seek a financial settlement to get Rosenblatt to resign his pulpit position.
Though the Times story alluded at foul play, Rosenblatt has not been charged with any crimes, nor have any of the boys reported being touched in any sexual manner by the rabbi. An increasing number of Roseblatt’s former rabbinical interns, university students and youth from his congregation, have however come forward in recent months saying that the meetings were uncomfortable. On more than one occasion, his congregation’s board or other rabbinic bodies has asked Rosenblatt to limit these activities.
Rosenblatt maintains his complete innocents of any criminal misconduct. The Bronx district attorney’s office said it has encouraged victims to come forward and is investigating whether a crime has actually been committed.
A petition was signed by close to 200 members of his congregation after the release of the Times article, which actually called on the rabbi to keep his petition. At the same time, approximately 45 members signed an opposing petition asking for Rosenblatt’s resignation.