Temple Ohav Shalom Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt says he was the target of sexual misconduct while enrolled at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. HUC-JIR is the seminary of the Reform movement, with campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York.
“I’m one of the victims,” Weisblatt told the Chronicle.
Weisblatt said he suffered abuse in 2012-2013 while interning as part of his rabbinical studies. He declined to identify the rabbi who allegedly assaulted him, the synagogue where he was interned or the nature of the alleged sexual misconduct.
Receive The Jewish Chronicle Weekly Edition by email and never miss our best stories
Weisblatt said the rabbi he accuses is still employed by a congregation affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, but is not a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. It is not mandatory for URJ-affiliated congregations to hire CCAR-affiliated rabbis.
Weisblatt said he reported the alleged misconduct to HUC-JIR leadership when it occurred, but was told by program officials he would have to complete his internship alongside his alleged abuser.
“HUC told me that if I didn’t continue, I wouldn’t be ordained,” Weisblatt said.
It was only through the direct intervention of Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the seminary from 2001 to 2013, and that of then-professor and future HUC president, Rabbi Aaron Panken, that Weisblatt was allowed to leave the internship and be ordained again, Weisblatt said.
When he was preparing for ordination, Weisblatt said, he was told by the HUC-JIR administration that the rabbi he accused was interviewing new rabbinical students for internships.
“They said, ‘We won’t tell our students about it. We want you to call the students and tell them why they shouldn’t intern with the rabbi. Today, that rabbi still works with HUC,” Weisblatt said.
Weisblatt decided to tell his story following the recent release of independent reports by CCAR, HUC-JIR and URJ regarding incidents of abuse by rabbis associated with the Reform movement.
“I’m not doing this to name the person,” Weisblatt said. “I am doing this to explain and add further evidence that the HUC is not handling this properly.”
Weisblatt said he met with a representative from Morgan Lewis in 2021, when the company was hired to investigate allegations of misconduct at HUC-JIR.
Weisblatt ended his involvement in the investigation, they said, after one of the investigators told him they were very active in the reform movement and knew all the players.
“I immediately stopped the conversation,” Weisblatt said. “I can tell you that I’m not the only person who has been told this, and I’m not the only person who decided not to share her story because she decided HUC didn’t have hired an unbiased company and did not feel safe with the investigator. I know that for a fact.
The Morgan Lewis report – which was commissioned after several allegations of sexual misconduct and discrimination were posted on social media following the death of HUC-JIR Professor Michael Cook – uncovered accusations dating back to the 1970s.
In Morgan Lewis’ report, released in November, almost half of those surveyed described various forms of gender discrimination they had experienced or witnessed. Six faculty members faced multiple charges of sexual harassment.
After the report was released, Sue Neuman Hochberg, chair of the HUC-JIR board of directors, pledged to create an action plan by December 14 that responds to the recommendations made by Morgan Lewis.
In response to an interview request from the Chronicle, a HUC-JIR spokesperson sent the following statement:
“Last year’s Morgan Lewis Inquiry and resulting report brought to light the suffering of many within our community, and their voices are guiding the process of self-examination and reform we are developing. and are currently implementing. We are committed to ensuring that this type of abuse does not happen in our community and we are creating additional safe channels for reporting and sharing to ensure accountability.
“While it would be inappropriate to comment on any specific allegation, we can only say that we are deeply sorry to anyone who has been harmed, appreciate their willingness to come forward, and that our College-Institute must – and will – reconnect with our highest Jewish values as we build a sacred and respectful community of academic research and spiritual exploration.
In December 2021, CCAR released “CCAR Ethics System Investigation Reports”.
“The purpose of our recent investigation was to examine CCAR’s entire ethics system,” Rabbi Hara Person, CCAR’s chief executive, said in a written statement. “CCAR strongly believes that changes should be made to the Code of Ethics and the ethics process as soon as possible. To this end, the Board of Directors has convened a special working session in June 2022 for the purpose of voting on changes to CCAR’s Code of Ethics. Additional changes are already underway, including the creation of a shuvah task force to determine what institutional shuvah might be, the creation of a special subcommittee to expedite changes to the Code and present them to the members for a vote.
URJ declined to release a statement or make a spokesperson available to be interviewed for this story.
Weisblatt said the HUC-JIR should take responsibility for actions that occurred under its watch.
“I see no excuses,” he said. “I don’t see anything resembling reality, understanding the trust they’ve broken over the decades. So they admitted to hiring rabbis who are accused of things and convicted of things. Where are the excuses? Where is the recognition? All this took place over several generations. Where is Rabbi Rick Jacobs (President of URJ)? You can’t tell me he doesn’t know.
Weisblatt said he’s not seeking revenge on the rabbi who targeted him; rather, he wants victims to know that he can relate to them and that he would like to see the HUC-JIR initiate changes to help victims.
“It’s about HUC taking responsibility and, when something happens, taking it seriously,” Weisblatt said. “To investigate, try to figure it out and do what’s right for the student. I seek them to be better because I know they can be better. PJC
David Rullo can be contacted at [email protected]
This is the first in a series written in response to reports of sexual misconduct recently released by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and the Union of Reform Judaism.