Tuesday, July 04, 2006

From the Canonist Blog - Rabbi Avi Weiss Hires Rabbi Saul Berman

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Rabbi Saul Berman Hired by Chovevei

CALL TO ACTION: Considering Involvment with the case of Rabbi Mordechai Gafni (see below)

Rabbi Avi Weiss, Founder & Dean
475 Riverside Dr., Suite 244
New York, NY. 10115
Fax: 212.666.5633
E-mail: aweiss@yctorah.org

From: Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Subject: Important Announcement to YCT Talmidim

Dear Chevre,

I am pleased to share with you some wonderful news. Rabbi Saul Berman has been appointed the Director of Rabbinic Enrichment at the Yeshiva. Rabbi Berman will head YCT’s Legacy Heritage Rabbinic Enrichment Initiative (LHREI). Established through the generosity of the Legacy Heritage Fund of New York and Jerusalem, in honor of Bella and Harry Wexner, z”l, this initiative in continuing Rabbinic education will use a combination of mentorship of newly ordained rabbis by senior rabbis, conferences, community events, and electronic resources to support YCT alumni and enhance their intellectual and spiritual growth, thus, making our rabbis in the field more effective and successful in their service to Klal Yisrael. Coming in at the unprecedented time of growth for the Yeshiva, Rabbi Berman will shape the way for the institution’s support of the growing number of chevre in the field.
As you are well aware, Rabbi Berman is one of the most respected voices in the Modern Orthodox community, and in the larger Jewish world today. His commitment to the vision of YCT and his extensive experience as a pulpit rabbi, community leader, and educator will be critically important to the development of a sophisticated continuing education component. I am proud and delighted that Rabbi Berman, a person of great brilliance, integrity and sensitivity, has agreed to come on board.

The Yeshiva is forever indebted to you, our dear students for your commitment to Am Yisroel. You are the centerpiece for all that we do. Together, B’ezrat Hashem, may we grow from strength to strength.

With blessings for a pleasant, fruitful and fulfilling summer,

Rav Avi [Weiss]


Should the Community be Concerned About YCT's Beman Hiring?

July 4, 2006

Rabbi Saul Berman’s move to Yeshivat Chovevei Torah as the director of rabbinic enrichment so soon after the revelations about Mordechai Gafni raises obvious questions about Berman’s suitability for the position. He defended Gafni not simply repeatedly and outspokenly, but on the offensive — attacking individuals trying to get Gafni removed from clergy positions, such as Rabbi Yosef Blau — and ultimately creating an environment in which Gafni was allowed to remain unchecked, where he has been found to have sexually exploited several women. In addition to that, the intimidation brought by Berman and others in the Gafni case served to assist other alleged abusers in their media campaigns, and must in some part be read as an element behind Blau’s choice to walk away from the anti-abuse battle.

Berman hasn’t made any significant apology for his conduct, and when I left repeated messages for him seeking comment on Gafni, he did not return my calls. If he’d made an effort to immediately and fully apologize for his conduct after the recent Gafni revelations, and had made a full accounting of where he’d gone wrong and how he’d hope to avoid such missteps in the future, one could argue that this episode shouldn’t factor into an assessment of his ability to “enrich” dozens of future rabbis, but that simply hasn’t happened. At this point, the question for those concerned about clergy abuse is more about why Berman should be allowed in this position than why he shouldn’t be.

Open Letter regarding Rabbi Saul Berman
From: Jewish Whistleblower
July 4, 2006

Dear Rabbi Weiss,

I am deeply disappointed and shocked at your decision to offer a position as Director of Rabbinic Enrichment to Rabbi Saul Berman at this time. Further, you refer to him in you public letter as "a person of great brilliance, integrity and sensitivity".

Unfortunately, many of us have found over the past few years that simply is not the case. Rabbi Berman has not only defended and protected now confessed sexual predator and child molester Rabbi Mordecai Gafni but he has continually made false public claims of investigations that he personally conducted and claims that determinations of Rabbi Gafni's innocence had been made (see copy of one of those public letters below). Rabbi Berman continued to make such claims while at the same time refusing to talk to several of the brave survivors of Rabbi Gafni who came forward and attempted to discuss the matter with him. Some inverstigation.

Rabbi Berman not only publicly defended Gafni, but he has attacked many individuals trying to protect others from being abused by Gafni in a very public campaign aimed at destroying their reputations and names. Ultimately, Rabbi Berman was responsible for the creation of the environment in which Gafni remained unchecked and where he abused further vulnerable victims.

Rabbi Berman throughout his conduct in the Gafni case, has demonstrated a total lack of character and integrity. His refusal to address the totality of his conduct publicly or do anything even resembling teshuvah towards the brave former survivors of Rabbi Gafni or their supporters forces me to question your judgment in hiring Rabbi Berman.

Rabbi Weiss, if Rabbi Berman is entitled to public honor from his colleagues without any accountability or teshuvah for his public conduct over the past years for protecting a sexual predator with public lies, then I believe you and your colleagues have failed to appreciate any of the lessons we had hoped you learned from the Lanner affair and our community's inability to deal with sexual predators will as such continue.

I would have expected more from you.

The Mishnah, Avot 4:4, reminds us that sequestering a hillul Hashem will always be unsuccessful: "Whoever desecrates the name of Heaven in private will ultimately be punished in public, whether the desecration was committed unintentionally or intentionally."


(Public Letter Berman attached his name to, one of several)

To Whom It May Concern,

I have had occasion during the spring, summer and fall of 2004 to conduct an extensive personal inquiry in response to accusations which have been made against Rabbi Mordechai Gafni and publicized on the Internet. A more balanced version of these same issues than that on the Internet was raised in an editor’s column by Gary Rosenblatt published in the Jewish Week newspaper, in which Rosenblatt asserted that he was unable to draw either a negative or positive conclusion about these issues, calling his extensive research into the issue an "investigation without a conclusion".

I have invested literally hundreds of hours in talking to parties directly and indirectly related, reading public statements posted on the Internet, and following the unfolding of this issue. I have come to a number of clear and unequivocal conclusions.

First, as I have written in a public letter together with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, we have found the decades-old accusations against Rabbi Gafni to be unconvincing now, as they were dismissed in responsible contemporaneous investigations. We believe that these accusations have been intentionally distorted, kept alive and circulated by a small group of people who have waged a vendetta-like campaign against Rabbi Gafni, creating a false and unfair impression of his character.

Second, the material posted on the Awareness Center website and related Internet blogs is not credible. Both in regard to Rabbi Gafni as well as to other cases posted there, the Awareness Center has grossly distorted facts and blatantly lied. Indeed, working together with a small team I have collected a host of examples of such behavior on the part of the Awareness Center. While the Awareness Center does address an issue critical to the Jewish community, that of sexual harassment and abuse, the center itself has unfortunately become an abuser itself of the first order.

The major other Internet poster of accusations against Rabbi Gafni is a certain Luke Ford. Luke Ford, who poses as a journalist, also runs a pornography site. He is a discredited Internet gossip columnist for the pornography industry, who, by his own written admission, regularly publishes libelous material as truth without even the slightest attempt at verification.

Third, I have urged Rabbi Gafni to continue actively writing and teaching his communities of students around the world. I have done so based on my firm conclusion that he poses absolutely no danger or threat to anyone. Indeed, I firmly believe that the notion suggested by Vicki Polin of the Awareness Center that he poses any danger whatsoever is patently absurd. While in some areas I would take issue with Rabbi Gafni’s thought, particularly in areas where he departs from classical Orthodoxy, the work he is doing is serious and is of great benefit to the Jewish community worldwide.

I urge the readers of this letter to continue to support Rabbi Gafni’s work, including his public teachings, writings, television projects and social activism. We are in need today of hearing the emerging voices of the next generation of Jewish leadership, and Rabbi Gafni’s voice is one of them. I look forward to learning what he has to teach in the decades to come.

Rabbi Saul J. Berman
(Director, Edah)


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