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In Sauna-gate Reversal, Riverdale Rabbi Steps Down

Questionable behavior with young congregants decades ago has finally resulted in Jonathan Rosenblatt’s resignation

Sara Ivry
February 25, 2016
Photo via YouTube
Photo via YouTube
Photo via YouTube
Photo via YouTube

Jonathan Rosenblatt, the 59-year-old Orthodox rabbi who showered and took saunas with male congregants as young as 12 in the 1980s and 90s—a revelation that came to the fore last spring in a New York Times article—has announced that he’s leaving his pulpit at the well-to-do Riverdale Jewish Center.

This is a reversal of his decision of last summer to stay put in the face of calls to step down. At that time, Rosenblatt, the husband of a descendant of the Twersky and Soloveitchik dynasties and a great-grandson of the celebrated cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, apologized for his behavior.

“This is a crisis created by my own lapses of judgment,” the Times reported he said. “I have brought pain to people, shame to my family and I have caused a desecration of the divine name.” Contrition notwithstanding, he was said to think the demand for his resignation was disproportionate to what he’d done.

Many community members agreed and came to Rosenblatt’s defense, claiming that he served as a mentor to the boys in question and had engaged in meaningful conversations with them. Some 200 congregants signed a petition that he stay in place. Unsurprisingly, others found his behavior reprehensible, and left the synagogue in protest. According to the Times, at least half of the shul’s 700 members have defected; some have formed a break-away congregation, the Riverdale Minyan.

Rosenblatt’s lawyer says he changed course because “he would like to see the community grow and he thinks in order for that to happen it needs a fresh start, and this is intended to make that possible.”

Sara Ivry is the host of Vox Tablet, Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast. Follow her on Twitter@saraivry.