Open Orthodoxy

Where Open Orthodoxy Ends: Your final destination for open review of fringe Orthodox Judaism. If you have comments, send them to

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Why did Rabbi Avi Weiss/YCT hire Rabbi Saul Berman?

Recently (Sept. 2006), Rabbi Saul Berman was a special Shabbos weekend guest lecturer at the local "Open Orthodox" shul, Kidma. As a point of interest, I Googled Rabbi Berman. Instantly, I saw surprising information that I was unaware of: Rabbi Saul Berman (former director of Edah) defended Mordechai (Marc) Gafni (an admitted sex abuser) on multiple occasions. Even more surprising was that Rabbi Avi Weiss, dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah hired Rabbi Berman (as Director of Rabbinic Enrichment) with no apparent regard for or acknowledgement of Rabbi Berman's role in the Gafni fiasco.

One only needs to Google "Saul Berman Marc Gafni" to see dozens of related links.

Considering the controversy surrounding Rabbi Saul Berman, Kidma's choice of lecturer was at the very least, questionable. However, I am not surprised, since Kidma's spiritual leader is Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, a YCT graduate and protege of Rabbi Avi Weiss.

Based on Rabbi Berman's adamant support for Gafni, there are individuals who believe that Chovevei Torah should not have hired Rabbi Berman. So, why did Chovevei Torah hire Rabbi Berman?

Rabbi Berman is a preeminent liberal Modern Orthodox scholar and former director of the flag-ship liberal Modern Orthodox Edah organization. Rabbi Berman's viewpoints complement and support YCT's philosophies. With Edah closing, the hiring of Rabbi Berman was a major recruit for YCT. Due to Rabbi Berman's extensive credentials and compatibility, did YCT deliberately overlook certain factors in their hiring decision?

Related sources/links in date sequence:
Rabbi Saul Berman defended Gafni when Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rabbi Yosef Blau wouldn't: The Re-Invented Rabbi The Jewish Week 9/22/2004

Defending Rabbi Gafni By Rabbi Saul Berman, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Rabbi Tirzah Firestone - Jewish Week (NY) Letters - 10/8/2004:
We pray that this unfair, scandalous moment will soon be forgotten and that Rabbi Gafni will be able to free his spiritual energy and formidable intellect in order to help build Jewish consciousness and commitment.

Letter from Rabbi Saul Berman presented by The Awareness Center (undated but presumably after 2004 and before the 5/26/2006 Jewish Journal article, "Rabbi Gafni Ousted for Misconduct"):

Indeed, I firmly believe that the notion suggested by Vicki Polin of the Awareness Center that he [Marc Gafni] poses any danger whatsoever is patently absurd.
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.

Gafni's Letter to Aleph 5/15/2006:
I want to say I understand I have made grave mistakes. I made choices that clearly hurt people I love. I am infinitely saddened and profoundly sorry for the pain I have caused.

I take full responsibility for all the pain I have inflicted. Clearly all of this and more indicates that in these regards I am sick. I need to acknowledge that sickness and to get help for it. That is what I am doing in this letter.

Rabbi Saul Berman Must Be Removed From Public Jewish Life Immediately Failed Messiah blog 5/18/2006

Rabbi [Marc Gafni] Fired Over Sex Claims, Defenders Offer Mea Culpa Forward 5/19/2006

Rabbi Gafni Ousted for Misconduct Jewish Journal 5/26/2006:
Rabbi Saul Berman, the founder and director of Edah in New York, has been an outspoken defender of Gafni. In a letter taking this reporter to task for writing about the controversy in 2004, Berman, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone and ethicist and author Joseph Telushkin said they had looked into past allegations and found them “totally unconvincing.” They described the article as “unfair” and “scandalous.”

This month, Berman said he is “deeply regretful” of his prior support for Gafni, and worried that his past defense may have prolonged the rabbi’s “predatory behavior against women.”

“I was clearly wrong in stating that Rabbi Gafni’s continued role as a teacher within the Jewish community constitutes no risk to Jewish women,” he wrote in a statement.

Rabbi Saul Berman Hired by Chovevei Torah - letter from Rabbi Avi Weiss 7/2/2006:
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.
I am proud and delighted that Rabbi Berman, a person of great brilliance, integrity and sensitivity, has agreed to come on board [YCT].

Should the Community be Concerned About YCT's Berman Hiring? Canonist 7/4/2006:
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 (addressed to Rabbi Avi Weiss) by Jewish Whistleblower, reprinted at Jewish Survivors blog 7/4/2006. This letter harshly questions the hiring of Rabbi Berman by Chovevei Torah.

Does Rabbis Saul Berman, Joseph Telushkin, Tirzah Firestone and Psychiatrist, Stephen Marmer have the courage to do Teshuva? Jewish Survivors blog 9/28/2006

Other related links:
- Case of Rabbi Mordechai Gafni - The Awareness Center
- Rabbi Saul Berman Profile - Like Ford
- Mordecai (Marc) Gafni Profile Part 1 - Luke Ford
- Mordecai Gafni Profile Part 2 - Luke Ford
- "Secular spiritualists" have the common-sense to repudiate Marc Gafni: A Statement About Marc Gafni from "What Is Enlightenment?"