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  • Broyde-Led Effort Opening New Synagogue in Atlanta

    by Steven I. Weiss

    Rabbi Michael Broyde, who resigned from the largest Orthodox rabbinical association in America in January rather than face an ethical inquiry into his use of fabricated rabbinic identities over nearly two decades, is now leading an effort to launch a rival synagogue to the one he founded two decades ago — just half a block from the synagogue he founded.

    Broyde is one of three rabbis serving as a rabbinic council, or vaad, for a new Orthodox synagogue opening at 2003 Lavista Road in the Atlanta neighborhood of Toco Hills; it is half a block from the new building under construction for the Young Israel of Toco Hills, founded in 1994 with Broyde as its first rabbi.

    Broyde was replaced as rabbi of the Young Israel of Toco Hills in 2008, with the congregation electing Rabbi Adam Starr, a fellow graduate of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Broyde maintained an increasingly prominent role on the international Orthodox scene after that time through his published scholarship, his role as an authority on specific matters of Orthodox Jewish law, and by serving as a rabbinical court judge on the largest rabbinical court in the United States, the Beth Din of America. Eighteen months ago he was named one of the top 50 rabbis in America. Broyde is also a law professor at Emory University’s law school, where he is also a senior fellow at the university’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion; Emory’s law school is ranked 19th in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.

    But Broyde resigned his role as a judge on that rabbinical court and faced a significant diminution in his rabbinic reputation when reporting by The Jewish Channel in mid-2013 revealed his use of multiple rabbinic identities to join rival rabbinic groups, obtain access to their internal correspondence, write to scholarly journals touting his own work, and engage in numerous internet discussions. Broyde’s conduct was described by the then-president of the Rabbinical Council of America, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, as “extremely disturbing.” TJC’s subsequent reporting found that Broyde had provided false claims of rabbinic ordination for one of his rabbinic identities and that Broyde had many connections with another fabricated character, an 80-year-old scholar named David Keter, who had been used to provide false evidence that would buttress Broyde’s published scholarship. An Emory University investigation into the latter declared, “the Committee did not find evidence to substantiate the allegations that Professor Broyde created the Keter pseudonym,” though TJC’s reporting showed that the university’s investigators did not attempt to contact the man who had the most interaction with Keter, editor of the scholarly journal Tradition, Rabbi Shalom Carmy.

    In the months since, Broyde’s name has occasionally popped up in news reports, finding that Broyde’s biography continued to claim he was a judge on the Beth Din of America. As recently as this past winter, Broyde was still listed as an instructor of rabbinical judge candidates at an institution Broyde founded, the Atlanta Dayanut Institute.

    The new synagogue Broyde is leading, which has been temporarily named the New Toco Shul, is launching without a permanent rabbi, according to an announcement from the synagogue’s president, Yaacov Freedman, a producer at the TV network HLN. Instead, it is being led by a “Rabbinic Vaad” that consists of Broyde and two colleagues who are both rabbis and also affiliated with Emory University. Rabbi Don Seeman is a former assistant rabbi to Broyde and is an associate professor of religion at Emory; according to dozens of sources, Seeman has been a vocal advocate for Broyde within Emory, the Orthodox rabbinate, and the Atlanta Jewish community. Rabbi Shlomo Pill is a PhD candidate in Broyde’s law and religion department at Emory’s law school, and a graduate of Broyde’s rabbinical judge training program.

    The synagogue’s announcement declared that it will apply for membership in the largest Orthodox synagogue membership association, the Orthodox Union, “once a permanent board of directors is elected.” The synagogue’s holiday schedule lists four classes to be taught by Broyde in the coming month, two by Pill, and one by Seeman.

    The synagogue’s interim board includes a staff writer at the local Jewish newspaper, the Atlanta Jewish Times, Suzi Brozman, and local community members Akiva Gimpelevich, Mordechai DeLuca, Ilana Gimpelevich, Jodi Lewis Lipsitz, and Rhondda May.

    The synagogue’s building, a private home, is owned by Miriam and Izahk Abramov, according to Dekalb County property records, and was listed for sale in September of last year for $269,000, according to Zillow.com.

    September 16, 2014 | Read more Newsdesk posts. 17 Comments »

    Comments

    17 Comments »

    1. The Jewish Channel here continues with its vicious smear campaign against Michael Broyde. I must again repeat what I stated when the campaign was first launched: this priggish assault on reason revealed nothing but neglect, lack of culture, and cowardice in our community and particularly in the Jewish press. All that was missing was the malicious arrest and prosecution of Rabbi Broyde for “criminal impersonation,” in retaliation for using the “name of another” to promote a theory and thereby obtain an intellectual “benefit.”

      Perhaps it will eventually be discovered that he used over 70 names, like Fernando Pessoa, or like Raphael Golb, the Dead Sea Scrolls blogger? Or at least dozens of names, like the criminally minded Benjamin Franklin and that repugnant author, Voltaire? In fact, if he used anyone’s name in an unsuccessfully satirical manner to his “advantage” or to “promote a theory,” he could be sent to the Rikers Island penal colony. I’m sure that would make everybody happy. The Jewish press clearly turned against him with feigned concern and the most hypocritical expressions of schadenfreude, and would predictably have goaded the prosecutors on if it had come to that. For the potential “legal” consequences in New York, see the documentation concerning the ongoing Raphael Golb “affair”:

      http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

      Comment by Quixote — September 17, 2014 @ 1:38 pm

    2. Now, to get an idea of how far the vicious scapegoating campaign against Rabbi Broyde went in distorting reality, some readers may want to take a look at a pertinent discussion in Atlantic Wire (link provided below), where we read, for example, that “if an account is not verified, assume it’s a fake,” as well as the opinion of Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor at the Oxford Internet Institute: “We’re in a … postmodern world where we can’t tell the truth from fakery.” The author of the Atlantic Wire article states: “some argue… these misrepresentations are a part of our own identities. The Internet is what Philosopher Slavoj Žižek called a ‘space of false disidentification.’” The article these quotes are taken from appears at:

      http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2012/02/learning-cormac-mccarthy-twitterhoax/48147/

      Comment by Quixote — September 17, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

    3. And anyone who would like to study a few examples of this kind of delightful pseudonymous conduct in Jewish history may want to start with cases like this:

      http://seforim.blogspot.com/2009/08/gemeinde-gemeinheit.html#_ftnref2

      and I’m happy to wager that if we study the hundreds of pseudonyms in the work by Shaul Chajes entitled Otzar Beduyey HaShem (Index of Pen-Names in Hebrew Literature) (Vienna, 1933) we will find all sorts of other examples. Many of them will obviously be of a different quality or degree than the pseudonymous activity engaged in by Michael Broyde and Raphael Golb, because such is the variety of experience. But that they belong to the same phenomenon and have played a significant role in intellectual history can hardly be denied.

      Comment by Quixote — September 17, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

    4. At one point during the campaign of smears, Rabbi Levi Brackman felt obliged to comment that if Broyde “employed unorthodox literary strategies as a means to disseminate ideas that would otherwise not be accepted by [his] audience, [he is] standing on strong ground in doing so. Whilst I do not like it, if such a crime truly warranted [his] firing from [his] positions of prominence, there are bookshelves full of classical works we should be throwing out with [him].” See:

      http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4376055,00.html

      Finally, even Jewish law permits this sort of conduct, as a someone pointed out in the comments under Rabbi Brackman’s statement, referring to Orech Chaim siman 156 si’if katan 2 [Eruvin daf 51, Pesachim daf 112]and a comment of Rashi on Pesachim 112a. I’d be happy to quote the passages at length, but I think anyone who is really concerned can simply look up the material for themselves.

      So I conclude: the campaign was despicable. Michael Broyde deserves, at the very least, an apology, instead of the arrogance and repugnant priggish grandstanding we’ve been seeing from people who simply appear to enjoy getting their kicks from embarrassing him.

      Comment by Quixote — September 17, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

    5. This article is very unfair to Rabbi Broyde.

      Comment by Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser — September 18, 2014 @ 5:21 am

    6. Probably makes no difference if you like or dislike Rabbi Broyde, nor does it make much difference if his actions were (a) in keeping with many worldly scholars over the years or (b) despicable, it may be time for the “lashing horites” of the world to move on to other pastures. Otherwise, one might suspect a personal vendetta of some sort instead of objective, useful and informational reporting. Finally, just as 20 years ago it was time for a new shul to add value to the Toco Hill area of Atlanta, so may that be the case now. Remember! It takes at least 10……….one can never do it alone (nor can three). Make no judgments on (the seven) others without walking the walk. Anyone can talk the talk.

      Comment by Sandy Hartman — September 19, 2014 @ 12:13 am

    7. Dr. Hartman -

      With all due respect to my bar mitzvah teacher and family friend, I think your reaction, as with those I’ve seen and heard from a number of Atlantans, operates on a series of mistaken assumptions.

      Let me start with the suggestion that unless I “move on to other pastures” it would suggest I might have “a personal vendetta of some sort instead of objective, useful and informational reporting.”

      The first assumption here is the classic “shoot the messenger” fallacy. I simply gather and share information, and have no part in what decisions are made with that information. In order for me to be carrying out a “vendetta,” I’d need to be the one punishing. But I’m not the one punishing here: the modern Orthodox rabbinic leadership of the United States has essentially expelled R’ Michael Broyde from all rabbinical court positions, entirely of its own volition, and certainly without any prodding or suggestion by me. Rather than face an ethical inquiry from the Rabbinical Council of America that would determine whether he could ever serve as a rabbi again, Broyde chose to resign. To the degree the Atlanta community feels that Broyde has been unfairly punished or excluded from the rabbinate for his actions, your protest should be directed at these institutions: the Beth Din of America, the Rabbinical Council of America, and most specifically the leadership of the RCA, including recent president R’ Shmuel Goldin, who called Broyde’s conduct “extremely disturbing.”

      If the Atlanta community wants to continue to maintain as its rabbinical leader someone whom the largest body of Orthodox rabbis in America is not willing to include in its ranks, that is obviously the Atlanta community’s prerogative. But certainly the degree to which the Orthodox rabbinate has refused to allow Broyde to serve in rabbinic roles is none of my doing.

      The second mistaken assumption turns on this point. The idea that persistence in reporting is a problem evolves from this last bit: the message you’re seemingly sending here is that whatever happened in the past, what Broyde does from here on out is not newsworthy. I’ve seen this complaint from Broyde supporters time and again — and, once more, obviously, I’m just the messenger here. But obviously the newsworthiness of these events I’ve continued to report on speak for themselves: they’ve led to statements from national rabbinic leaders and been excerpted and/or repeated by other national Jewish news outlets. The article above, for example, has led to critical statements regarding Broyde’s latest actions from other rabbis, and has been picked up by the Jewish news wire service JTA, and then by other national Jewish news outlets like the Forward. Leaders in the rabbinic and Jewish journalism worlds think this is national news for the Jewish community; it’s no fault of mine that they think so. Again, you’re entitled to disagree with them, but your problem is not then with my reporting, but with its results.

      Wishing you a pleasant Sabbath and a sweet New Year,
      Steven I. Weiss

      Comment by Steven I. Weiss — September 19, 2014 @ 11:03 am

    8. Precisely, Mr. Weiss: your campaign had very real results. Your denial of bias and responsibility is both laughable and disturbing. As for your argument based on the consequences of your smears, those consequences reveal nothing whatsoever about Michael Broyde’s character, but a great deal about the priggish institutional actors who picked up on what you were doing. Enjoy your “pleasant Sabbath” and “sweet New Year.”

      Comment by Quixote — September 19, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

    9. P.s. let’s linger for a second more on Mr. Weiss’s words: “I simply gather and share information.” What an accurate way of describing what he’s done! A man of great integrity! Such a decent human being! And so skilled at finding just the right expression!

      Comment by Quixote — September 19, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

    10. P.p.s. And his appeal to his bar mitzvah teacher and family friend! So much dignity! But why this need to justify himself?

      Comment by Quixote — September 19, 2014 @ 1:38 pm

    11. The reason a lot of Atlantans are unhappy about this post is because it rakes out community and lay community members through the mud based on a false premise. And I say this as a Gabbai and Chazzan at the Young Israel, whose Minyan stands to lose several people to this new Shul.

      R’ Broyde is not founding, launching, running, or leading this new Shul. Clearly he is involved, but is by no means the majority force behind this effort. You can hate on the new Shul for many reasons, but to disparage its board and its existence for the claim that he’s the leader here is factually wrong.

      Comment by Daniel W — September 21, 2014 @ 11:51 am

    12. Well yes, of course, Daniel, and there are other false premises involved as well, such as the premise that Broyde engaged not merely in what is arguably at most a minor impropriety, but in serious unethical conduct that should disqualify him from involvement in various activities (including his teaching career–but somehow, inexplicably, Emory officials saw things differently). But these little premises are insignificant, because the great journalist Steven Weiss, a man of absolute professional integrity (far more so, it goes without saying, than the Emory officials involved), is merely presenting “facts,” and leaving the “punishment” to others. His hands are clean! Who cares about premises and interpretations? It’s the facts that matter, the facts!

      Well, where have we seen something similar? Could it perhaps be a trial for criminal satire that took place in New York, based on the “premise” that “neither good faith nor truth is a defense”? Oddly, Mr. Weiss and others have decided to remain silent about that particular abomination in which so many influential members of the New York Jewish community have been, sad to say, involved from top to bottom. It’s far more important, isn’t it, to expose the “facts” concerning Rabbi Broyde, than to linger on such sordid events, which seem to point to something so terribly sad going on in American Jewish society…

      Comment by Quixote — September 21, 2014 @ 10:55 pm

    13. Daniel Wenger -

      It’s interesting that you think simply listing the names of lay leadership in a synagogue that will have R’ Michael Broyde on its rabbinic council is something that “rakes [those people] through the mud” and something that would “disparage” them. Why is that?

      As to your rather silly idea that being a rabbi of a synagogue — even temporarily, and even as part of a triad — doesn’t constitute “leadership,” well, you just won’t find much traction with that in the real world.

      Comment by Steven I. Weiss — September 23, 2014 @ 9:56 am

    14. I say that because this article is clearly negative in tone. Not only do you call it a “rival synagogue”, but you use it to recall R’ Broyde’s sins. Thus attaching the board members names is saying “and look here who is supporting this sinner’s rivalry!”

      There is a stark difference between being among the “leadership” and actually leading the effort to open the Shul, as your headline and opening paragraph state. Many people are in leadership positions of all kinds, mostly for aiding and advising. Just because I’m a “leader” at the Young Israel – Chazzan, Gabbai, and former board member – doesn’t mean I’m in any way in charge of getting its new building built.

      To report that he is involved in the new Shul, to state what his role will be, what classes he will teach – and then to challenge your readers as to whether he is so deserving – very good. But I challenge you on the fact that the Shul is his idea and that he is the driving force behind its opening.

      Comment by Daniel W — September 24, 2014 @ 10:24 am

    15. Daniel Wenger -

      I don’t mean to offend, but in many of your comments over the past year or so on this an other stories, the logic just doesn’t flow, and it’s all very silly.

      Again, I’m not calling what R’ Michael Broyde did, “sins.” That’s your term. I’ve simply reported facts of what he’s done, and then what he’s doing now. I don’t call him a “sinner,” but you seem to think that associating with Broyde too much would make these people appear to be “supporting” a sinner. These are all your terms and your judgments, whereas my reporting says nothing of the sort. If you and these folks have a problem with having their names associated with Broyde for the reasons you’ve stated, that problem is not with me.

      And your argument about leadership again devolves to silliness. No one in the world thinks that single chazzan, gabbai, or board member would necessarily be in a leadership position in a new synagogue. But being a rabbi, serving as part a three-member rabbinic council alongside two rabbis who have been or currently are in other subordinate positions — there’s no one outside your bubble who’d believe that doesn’t constitute synagogue leadership in a very significant way.

      I’ve never said that the shul is “his idea” or that “he is the driving force behind its opening.” These things are different from leadership, and your overwrought, pilpulistic readings of the situation aside, that’s how pretty much everyone else will interpret it.

      Comment by Steven I. Weiss — September 24, 2014 @ 12:46 pm

    16. “is now leading an effort to launch a rival synagogue.” I equate that with “he is the driving force behind its opening”. I suppose that’s just silly logic, though.

      But in the end, you are correct about this: it’s entirely a question of how people interpret. Perhaps my comments are truly silly. Perhaps I’m being nitpicky and semantic and overlooking a bigger picture. Perhaps people do indeed interpret this as listing R’ Broyde’s sins anyway.
      The deep journalistic question, I suppose, is how the average somebody interprets the written word. Yes your goal is to present facts, but how you tell them paints a picture, whether or not that is your intention. Why do you consider certain facts to be useful to the picture? The reader is left to interpret this. Just like how I interpret your words as defining him as the driving force. That’s the picture I saw.

      I could believe that I am below-average in my reading skills here. It would be interesting to see/hear how others see it.

      Comment by Daniel W — September 24, 2014 @ 6:23 pm

    17. On the astonishing discussion that has erupted between Daniel W and Steven Weiss, I must comment that the lady doth protest too much: even the most basic analysis of Weiss’s articles makes their bias quite clear.

      In this one, for example, Mr. Weiss begins by attributing an intent to Broyde, as if he could read his mind: “rather than face an ethical inquiry.” Some informed people might interpret this as meaning “rather than waste his time with an unethical inquiry”; but the average reader will simply grasp the plain gist of it and assume that the insinuated guilt is what motivated Broyde.

      And here again, that pesky word “faced”: Broyde “faced a significant diminution in his rabbinic reputation.” Oh, and is that “diminution in,” or “smear on”? Is that “significant,” or “unjust”? How does Mr. Weiss define “significant”? To me, the conclusion reached by the Emory ethics committee seems far more significant.

      But Weiss has an answer to this too; as he puts it, Emory concluded that Broyde had not engaged in unethical conduct, “though TJC’s reporting showed that the university’s investigators did not attempt to contact the man,” etc. The implication in the word “though,” of course, is that Emory ought to have contacted this man — when anyone with actual knowledge of Emory’s academic code of conduct would conclude that Broyde was the object of a smear campaign and didn’t violate the code regardless of what the “man” would have said, certainly not in a significant manner worthy of investigation, as the “investigators” themselves were rapidly able to conclude.

      Then, for added measure, we read that “in the months since” the smear campaign, “Broyde’s name has occasionally popped up in news reports,” etc. Here the prime creator of the campaign dignifies articles generated by the smear campaign itself as “news reports,” and clucks his tongue at his victim’s “name” (i.e., reputation) with the seemingly casual choice of words, “popped up.”

      So again, it’s difficult not to conclude that the lady doth protest too much: Mr. Weiss, for reasons only known to himself, appears to have concluded that it was important for him to defend himself by hiding behind the shield of “objective” journalism. Surely Mr. Weiss himself knows there’s no such thing and that writers always betray their perspective — and convey it to their readers, such as the innocent, “below-average” Daniel W, or the good Sandy Hartman — in one way or another. Unfortunately, the “news” reporter career attracts all sorts, and the results can be very damaging to the lives and reputations of perfectly decent people like Michael Broyde.

      Comment by Quixote — September 28, 2014 @ 4:03 pm

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