The fake identity created by a rabbinic court judge and Emory University law professor who was revealed in an investigation by The Jewish Channel to be Rabbi Michael Broyde provided false claims of having received rabbinic ordination from a prominent sage in order to gain admission to a rival rabbinic group.
The fake identity of Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser wrote to scholarly journals, was cited in a prominent new prayerbook, and joined an upstart rabbinic group that rivaled Broyde’s own. Broyde has admitted to having been Goldwasser, and all e-mails from Goldwasser cited in The Jewish Channel’s reporting come from Atlanta-based Internet Protocol, or IP, addresses also used by Broyde.
Goldwasser joined the International Rabbinic Fellowship, or IRF, in the months when it was just beginning to formalize itself as a group and when it launched a members-only e-mail listserv. The IRF was launched as a more-liberal rival to the group of which Broyde has been a member, and on whose rabbinical court he presided as a judge, the Rabbinical Council of America, or RCA.
In the summer and fall of 2009, the IRF began to more formally authorize each of the more than 100 members who had joined at that time. Each member was asked to submit a form that identified their basic personal details, including mailing addresses, as well as to certify that they had received rabbinic ordination from a recognized seminary or rabbi.
According to a copy of Goldwasser’s application obtained by The Jewish Channel, Goldwasser’s application asserted that he had received rabbinic ordination, or semicha, from Rabbi Yehuda Gershuni at Yeshiva Eretz Yisrael in Brooklyn, in 1957.
Gershuni is a significant Orthodox sage who had lived in Israel and the United States, and died in 2000.
The Goldwasser character made repeated reference to learning under Gershuni in e-mails to the IRF’s members-only e-mail listserv. In a November 2009 e-mail from an Emory University IP address Broyde has used, the Goldwasser character declared, “I learned in Yeshiva for many years many years ago, got semicha from Rav Yehuda Gershuni zt”l decades ago, dabbled in rabbanus for many years, but always earned by [sic] living as an accountant. I am now retired, living in Beer Sheva and my neighbors think of me as a retired accountant.”
The subject of that e-mail was a debate within the IRF regarding what kind of clergy should be admitted to the IRF, and specifically the question of including women, as the first female Orthodox rabbi, Sara Hurwitz, had months before been ordained with the novel title “maharat.” Some months later, she would be given the title, “rabba,” a female form of “rabbi.” Broyde had written an article for The Jewish Press in July 2009 celebrating the idea of women clergy, so long as they did not take the title of “rabbi.” Broyde would go on to criticize the choice to give Hurwitz the title “rabba,” and the Goldwasser character lobbied Hurwitz from within the IRF to go back to her first title, of “maharat.”
In a July 2010 e-mail to the listserv, also from the Emory University IP address, Goldwasser wrote about an episode “in the 1950’s…when I was learning in Rav Gershuni’s Yeshiva.”
A statement from the IRF released on Sunday discussed the Goldwasser character’s membership:
Prior to the formal incorporation of the organization, when the IRF lacked a formal membership committee, R. Broyde joined the IRF as a provisional member under an assumed name and participated in the closed listserve under that false name. In November 2009 following the adoption of our organizational by-laws and the formalization of our membership procedures, all members were formally vetted and their applications were re-evaluated. Suspicions arose regarding one particular name and whether it was a real person.
Vigorous efforts were made to contact that person and verify his identity but these were not successful. Subsequently, in 2010, that person was dropped from the rolls of the IRF and excluded from the listserve.
Here is the actual form provided by Goldwasser to the IRF.