The news over the past few weeks of the scandal involving 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
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 you’re out” is tragic and disturbing.
Say a rabbi like Broyde makes a
terrible mistake. He assumes an 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? Because we
discover he can be deceitful, any good he may have done is negated? Does he
really now have nothing more to teach us? 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
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 duties and be restored
to a position of significance.
New York is currently speculating about
whether Anthony Weiner will run for mayor. His poll numbers are growing
stronger. That gives me hope. He was involved in 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 virtues.
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
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 for that monumental
failure with his focus on saving as many African lives as possible.
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,
and arguably its finest writer, in the English language.
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 term, 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 US, 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, especially in 2013, I would never have
There is only one person who can really make a difference,
given his gargantuan standing in academic circles. And that is Rabbi Jonathan
As the great sage Hillel said, “If not now, when?” The writer,
“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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