Riverdale Jewish Center’s (RJC) Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, whose congregation is sharply divided over revelations he took boys to a sauna naked over a period of years, will remain head of the synagogue — at least for now.
The rabbi announced his intention to resume his role after a return from a sabbatical at the end of June. During an emotional speech before hundreds of congregants at the 3700 Independence Ave. synagogue on June 24, he also attributed his habit of taking boys to the sauna during the 1980s and 1990s to a lapse of judgment in which he thought he was forming bonds by momentarily shedding the role of rabbi.
“I still love being a rabbi. I still believe I have contributions to make and surely, with God’s grace, I am ready to serve you. And with yours, I am ready to continue to serve you,” he said during a roughly 17-minute-long speech that drew strong applause at the end.
The speech came as RJC’s President Samson Fine continued negotiations with the rabbi, who is represented by high-profile attorney Ben Brafman, about how to resolve the crisis prompted by a May New York Times article. The story said the rabbi habitually played racquetball with boys and led them nude into the sauna. While there was no account of sexual touching — and dozens of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s former mentees have signed a letter of support for him — the Bronx District Attorney’s office has asked people who may have suffered at the religious leader’s hands to come forward. In a phone interview Monday, a DA spokeswoman declined to state whether anyone has done so, but added people are still welcome to.
During his June 24 speech, Rabbi Rosenblatt said he was anguished that the sauna incidents have brought shame to his family and community. But he insisted there was nothing sexual about the activity.
Hear the full speech by clicking the audio button above or going to this link.
Rabbi Rosenblatt's June 24 speech