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April 29, 2013 10:48 am

One Strike and You’re Out?

avatar by Shmuley Boteach

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Rabbi Broyde.

The news over the last few weeks of the sockpuppet scandal of Rabbi Michael Broyde is disturbing, but not for the reasons you might imagine. On the face of it, this is the story of a Rabbi regarded as brilliant and erudite, both in Jewish and secular law, who destroyed his career by using an alias to engage in online Rabbinical conferences and discussions. Furthermore, his denial of the alias sealed his fate. He was forced to resign from the Beth Din of America, where he was one of its most prominent judges, and his name has become sullied.

I do not know Rabbi Broyde and cannot recall if we ever formally met. But I do know this. The growing American and Jewish culture of ‘one-strike-and-your-out’ is tragic and disturbing.

Say a Rabbi like Broyde makes a terrible mistake. He assumes a invented identity on the internet and even uses it – so it is alleged – to promote his candidacy as potential Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. Does that mean he has nothing left to contribute? That because we discover he can be deceitful that it negates any good thing he may have done? Does he really now have nothing more to teach us? And should this be the end of an otherwise distinguished career?

Whatever happened to the idea of repentance, predicated as it is on the larger idea that a man is not merely the sum total of his most recent actions. That there is something that lies beneath his mistakes, a plane of innocence, into which he can tap in and resume his course on the path of righteousness.

By all accounts Broyde was a pathfinder in areas of Jewish law. By all means, let him be censured and punished for his error. Rabbis must act with ethical excellence. Let us also encourage him to go for counseling so that he can heal from his mistakes. But then let us allow him, should his repentance be complete, to resume his communal offerings and be restored to a position of significance.

New York is right now speculating whether Anthony Weiner will run for Mayor. His poll numbers are growing stronger. That gives me hope. He had a sex scandal where he tweeted pictures of his crotch to women who were strangers. He then denied it and was caught. He paid a huge price, losing his congressional seat and faced public disgrace. I personally have never cared much for Weiner or his politics. I am a Republican and he is a partisan Democrat. But enough is enough. Stop punishing the man. He has suffered enough. Allow him to contribute, now, to the public good and stop reminding him always of his failures. I do not wish to live in a world where a man is only remembered only for his mistakes and never for his virtue.

I am a Jew and as such I am part of a religion that has no perfect Jesus figures. In Judaism no woman is divine and no man is the son of God. In the Hebrew Bible everyone is flawed and everyone makes mistakes. Moses, the greatest prophet that ever lived, was so imperfect that God denied him entry into the Holy Land, the only personal wish the lawgiver ever had. Yet we Jews do not remember him for his errors, but for the glorious deliverance he gave our people from Egypt and for the even more glorious Ten Commandments.

Three years ago I traveled with a Christian evangelical organization to Zimbabwe to distribute food and medicine. In Harare I met three young doctors who were volunteering. They spoke of the difficulties of treating AIDs patients in one of the poorest, most oppressive societies on earth. “But what about medicines?,” I asked them. “Do you have any antiretrovirals?” “Oh,” they said, “those we have in abundance, teeming from the shelves, thanks to the Clinton Global Initiative.” And yet some want to remember the former President just for Monica Lewinsky.

I for one never focused my ire on President Clinton for his sex scandal and saw it more as a sad and private matter. I was much more interested in his failure to stop the Rwandan Genocide, and I am pleased to see that he is attempting to repent of that monumental failure with his focus on saving as many African lives as possible.

In 1997 UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks penned a secret letter wherein he accused Britain’s most famous reform Rabbi, Hugo Gryn, of being ‘a destroyer of the faith.’ Gryn, a holocaust survivor with whom I was friendly, had just passed away. Anglo-Jewry was aghast. As an orthodox Rabbi who was regularly invited to speak before reform communities, I defended the Chief Rabbi with every breath I had. Sacks was, and remains, one of the most eloquent apologists for Judaism in the English language and, arguably, its finest writer. He made a mistake. He repented. It was time to move on.

Far more important was Sacks’ omission in combating the growing anti-Semitism that blossomed during his tenure, and with just a few months left to his Chief Rabbinate, it behooves a man of such extraordinary eloquence to fill that void in his leadership. He must devote the majority of his remaining time and speeches in the UK, before he executes his plans to move for half of each year to the USA, to condemning the Israel hatred being spawned on UK campuses that saw even Oxford University vote in February to ban Israeli academics.

Had I been told that a University where I served as Rabbi for half of my adult life would actually conduct a vote as to whether they should ban Israelis from attending I would never have believed it, especially in the year 2013.

There is only one person who can really make a difference, given his gargantuan standing in academic circles. And that is Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

As the great sage Hillel said, “If not now, when?”

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books and the winner of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He has just published “The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering”. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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  • GAON

    I find it far far more difficult to excuse intellectual dishonesty, lack of ethics, lack of integrity, than a relatively victimless “crime” such as Anthony Weiner’s indiscretion, unfortunate and frankly bordering on lunacy as it was. That type of error affects one’s family, if there is such, but is a relatively victimless action.

    It never ceases to amaze me that so many public figures, be they politicians or athletes, are willing to sacrifice everything for momentary lust. History demonstrates that many are caught, sooner or later. This makes this kind of lapse even more incomprehensible when one is in the public spotlight.
    It is said, “k’she hazayin omed, hasechel ba’tachat”. Truer words were never said. I understand that there is a Yiddish version. A truism is a truism, which explains the multiple language versions.

    • Quixote

      Some of us have been discussing this at length at:

      where it has been pointed out, for example, that the Gemara says that if people will not accept someone’s halakhic view he is allowed to lie and tell them that this was in fact the view held by a well known halakhic figure. So the ethics of this matter are far from clear.

      Indeed, far more troubling, from an ethical perspective, is Rabbi Boteach’s focus on this particular case, when he has remained utterly silent, for example, in the face of the prosecution of Raphael Golb in retaliation for his satirical Internet sock-puppet and “impersonation” campaign concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now the good rabbi comes to the defense of a colleague of his who engaged in conduct arguably far worse than anything Raphael Golb did, and who has not even been charged with a crime. For further information on the trial of the “Dead Sea Scrolls provocateur,” see the documentation at:

  • GAON

    Rabbi Boteach:
    i agree that people are capable of Teshuvah, if they are indeed motivated by pure reasons, and not PR reasons.
    I tend to agree with you that “one strike and you’re out” is not always appropriate. But, whether it is appropriate for the public to accept that teshuva, or “dan L’kaf zechut” , give the benefit of the doubt, offer slicha , is really very contingent on the original error/ta’ut/crime, and what possible damage to others that that individual could potentially cause were he to err again.

    An example of of a case where I and many others believe that “ONE STRIKE AND YOU ARE OUT”, is appropriate and necessary, is pedophilia, which is rampant in many Orthodox communities, (predominately Charedi, but even venerable bastions of liberal modern orthodoxy such as YU, have had their share of this phenomenon). Until now most cases in the various communities including YU have been shoved under the rug. My stance and that of others, including professionals in the field, is that pedophiles are not curable, psychotherapy rarely, if ever, is successful, and the only “treatment” is life imprisonment, or physical or chemical castration. There are those who would even advocate the death sentence as they are Rodfim. (I personally believe that life imprisonment with no chance of parole, is sufficient.) Pedophiles are serial predators, and they are always searching for their next prey. ONE STRIKE AND YOU’RE OUT. Those who are now being prosecuted in the civil courts, if they plea bargain, can get sentences of as little as FIVE years. In five years, they will be out and searching for their next prey. One strike and you are out.
    Perhaps others in their comments will suggest additional situations where the one strike rule should be enforced.
    Dealing with pedophiles, MUST be a case of “ONE STRIKE AND YOU ARE OUT”.

  • Interestingly, his error was not being self-referent, that’s an interesting error, right?

  • Ari

    Rabbi Broyde is writing as Rabbi Boteach now?