Bronx Rabbi Who Had Sauna Chats Is in Negotiations for Buyout

By Andy Newman
New York Times
June 11, 2015

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt

The prominent rabbi of a Bronx synagogue who has been the focus of attention for having taken boys and young men to the sauna naked is negotiating a buyout and expects to reach an agreement to step down “in the near future,” his lawyer said on Thursday.

The rabbi, Jonathan Rosenblatt of the Riverdale Jewish Center, anticipates a “very fair” settlement that recognizes his 30 years as the leader of the 700-member Modern Orthodox synagogue, his lawyer Benjamin Brafman said in a statement.

The synagogue board told congregation members on Tuesday that it had voted to try to “achieve an amicable resolution with Rabbi Rosenblatt.”

Rabbi Rosenblatt, 58, has three years left on his contract, Mr. Brafman said. He and synagogue officials declined to say how much the rabbi’s salary is.

For at least 25 years, Rabbi Rosenblatt would take younger male members of his congregation, other young men and rabbinical interns to play squash and then to the shower and sauna where, often naked, he would engage them in long talks that he described as critical to his mentoring process.

The scrutiny arose after an article in The New York Times last month described how in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the rabbi often took boys as young as 12 to the sauna, some of whom told The Times that the rabbi made them uncomfortable by gawking at their naked bodies or touching a clothed leg during one-on-one nighttime chats.

No one has accused Rabbi Rosenblatt of sexual touching.

The synagogue’s leadership in the 1980s and 1990s knew of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s conduct but took no action at the time. Eventually, Yeshiva University elected to stop placing interns with him, and in 2011, the Rabbinical Council of America had Rabbi Rosenblatt agree to stop taking congregation members to the sauna.

After the Times article was published, congregation members were divided in their reactions. Competing petitions circulated. One, signed by nearly 200 people, called on Rabbi Rosenblatt to remain as leader; another, signed by at least 44 people, urged him to step down.

Rabbi Rosenblatt sent a letter to his congregation last Thursday saying that he deeply regretted “the humiliation” that the new scrutiny caused to him and to the synagogue.

“I also deeply regret,” he wrote, “if my conduct at any time inadvertently offended anyone during my many years of service.”

The synagogue board’s vote on Monday to begin negotiating Rabbi Rosenblatt’s departure was 34 to 8, according to The Jewish Week.

“Despite the board’s vote,” Mr. Brafman said in a statement, “the vast majority of the membership have expressed overwhelming support for the rabbi and have been openly critical of those few who elected to speak publicly about an issue the congregation has been aware of for more than 20 years.”

One longtime synagogue member said Rabbi Rosenblatt’s departure would allow the synagogue to move forward.

“It is a sad moment,” said the member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions in the community, “but it’s also clear that with everything that has come out in the last few weeks, it’s almost impossible to see the rabbi continuing in his current role.”








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