Jun 7, 2004
A long-awaited resolution on responding to allegations of rabbinic sexual improprieties was passed unanimously this past week at the annual convention of the Rabbinical Council of America, in Rye, New York. The Rabbinical Council of America is the largest group of Orthodox rabbis in North America.
The annual convention, attended by more than 250 rabbis and spouses, featured interactive presentations, plenary sessions, concurrent workshops, special rebbetzins’ workshops, health care chaplains discussions, live video teleconferencing linking the convention to rabbinic and political dignitaries in Jerusalem, and a special live hookup that allowed for an award for distinguished service to Captain Shmuel Felzenberg, senior US rabbinic chaplain in Iraq, currently serving at a base north-west of Baghdad. An award for lifetime distinguished service was also presented to Rabbi Norman Lamm, Chancellor of Yeshiva University and Rosh Hayeshiva of RIETS.
Whereas at the previous year’s convention the RCA passed a resolution condemning any and all forms of clergy sexual misbehavior, this resolution put in place a thorough, impartial and farreaching protocol for dealing with allegations against its members. The protocol (produced by a Task Force made up of men and women, rabbis, mental health professionals in the field, and expert legal counsel,) calls for an immediate response to allegations, no matter their source; referral of such allegations to impartial outside investigators for factual investigation; and (depending on the jurisdiction and the specifics of the allegations involved) strict adherence to the highest standards of halachic laws and procedures, legal practices, and sound mental health principles. The resolution as passed (together with accompanying changes to existing RCA By- Laws) calls for prompt and thorough investigation and resolution of all allegations, while protecting innocent parties against frivolous or unfounded charges. If after full investigation the allegations are deemed to be credible, a variety of steps can be recommended to, and implemented by, the RCA, including expulsion from the organization, notification of colleagues, employers, as well as the general public, if and as deemed necessary to prevent potential harm to others.
Rabbi Mark Dratch, chairman of the Rabbinic Sexual Improprieties Task Force, noted that “we have succeeded in adopting guidelines that will respond in an effective and timely way to allegations made against a member of the RCA. We will not tolerate any abuse of the position of the rabbinate. Such improprieties can destroy the emotional, psychological and spiritual wellbeing of victims and are a desecration of all that is sacred. These procedures enable us to protect the welfare of alleged victims and, at the same time, protect rabbis from false allegations."
A second development approved at the Convention was the report of the Semicha-Standards committee of the RCA. This report delineated the standards and policies to be utilized in evaluating the semichah of applicants for membership in the RCA. Such policies are needed in light of the numerous applications received in recent years from a variety of new yeshivot and rabbinical-training institutions, in the US, Canada, Europe, and Israel. According to the standards adopted at the convention, the key consideration in accepting or denying the semichah of an institution and its graduates will be the personal status, rabbinic reputation, and communal recognition generally accorded the rashei yeshiva of the institution, as well as those who sign the semichah document of each graduate.
As explained by Rabbi Kenneth Auman, President of the RCA, “the rabbinate is a sacred calling by which the Torah community confers the aura of respected leadership, a stamp of approval attesting to mastery of essential rabbinic texts, and a profound personal commitment to the Jewish people in its historic covenant with the Almighty. Not every individual can presume to speak with authority for that sacred tradition, and the RCA is duty bound to safeguard the role and responsibilities that come with being a Rav u-Manhig be’Yisrael (“a rabbi and leader of the Jewish people.”)
Other major themes at the convention were:
- New Models of Rabbinic/Lay leadership partnerships
- The Tzedakah Crisis, and the proper allocation of scarce communal resources
- How to maximize the benefits, and avoid the pitfalls, of our young men and women studying in Israeli yeshivot
- Sinners in the Synagogue: Preferred policies and strategies
- Congregational Rabbis and Rashei Yeshiva: Old Models, New Possibilities
- Cultivating truly inspirational davenning experiences in our synagogues and schools
- Dealing with the challenges and dangers of the popularization of mysticism in Jewish life