Hanky Panky on a Shul Board
07/16/10
Special to the Jewish Week
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 Q - I'm a shul president and I've just discovered that two of my board members have been carrying on an affair, using board meeting nights as cover for their trysts. I like them both and they are very hard workers. I like their spouses too. I'm not sure what to do. Do I confront them? Do I tell the rabbi? Do I kick them off the board?

Confront them in private and if they fess up, hope that they have the good sense to resign from the board, effective immediately. Otherwise, once the news gets out, if you do nothing, the reputation of your board and, by extension, your congregation, will be in the toilet.

Yes, you might consider it hypocritical not to similarly punish board members who eat ham sandwiches or break the Sabbath. But ritual laws are between a person and God. Interpersonal laws are far more complicated, but something like this can rip apart the fabric of a community, and the ancient rabbis knew it.

The Torah states "And Israel abode in Shittim and the people began to commit harlotry" (Num. 25:1). Recognizing the damage that adultery can do to a community, the rabbis stated that the place was named "Shittim" because the people committed folly - "shtut," quoting Proverbs 6:32, "He who commits adultery is a complete idiot" (my translation).

If you fail to act, you'll be implicitly condoning their behavior, and your congregation will no longer be a safe zone for the aggrieved spouses and their legions of supporters, a number that will multiply daily as the gossip makes the rounds. You don't need to take sides, but if you ignore what occurred on your watch, that's exactly what you'll be doing, at the expense of the victims.

During my first year following ordination, way back in the last century, this exact same scenario unfolded. I was sopping wet behind the ears and an easy mark for a very powerful couple. The president passed the buck to me to decide their fate. So I called the perpetrators in. As their rabbi, I had to explain that they represent the organization and should resign from the board, but as their rabbi, I also let them know that I would treasure the chance to help them move forward toward repentance and reconciliation. They looked at me, a neophyte rabbi and virtual newlywed without a clue as to the trials of long-term marriage, like I was a little chutzpah-filled punk. I think the guy might have called me that. But I stood my ground, they left the board and the incident inspired me to write about the trials of being a young rabbi.

I heard from lots of people back then that when I reached my fifties, I'd come to understand why so many people sleep around, and then maybe I'd be less judgmental. Well, here I am, having successfully made it to midlife and I still don't get it. Oh I know that successful marriages aren't easy to sustain and I understand that temptation can be overpowering. I also try hard not to rush to judgment. But the act of deliberately jamming a dagger of betrayal into the heart of someone you once loved, or maybe someone you love still, that's something I've never been able to comprehend. Once a person has betrayed that most primal commitment, how can they be entrusted with the future of anything else?

Which is why I never vote for an unrepentant philanderer. And why I wouldn't want one on the bopard of my synagogue.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Read his blog here, and follow him on Twitter.
Have an ethical dilemma? Email Rabbi Hammerman at HammermanOnEthics@gmail.com

 

Last Update:

04/23/2013 - 06:39

Comments

Unfortunately this happened to me with a Cantor in the Bay Terrace Jewish Center -I have known him for 15 years and he totally mislead me to believe that he was divorced for months until I realized that he was still married. I was and still am disturbed by this for numerous reasons but the two main ones was becasue he is a CANTOR and the second that I have known him for years. Also he promised me money in a text and lied about the money and the Rabbi of the shul covered up for him-they represent the community and as clergy are suppose to set an example. Any thoughts on how I could get him to resign he is a CANTOR and this is a disgrace. Jackie

what I find most incredible is that a man on the board is cheating with another woman from the same shul. men who cheat fall into 2 categories - those who want a duplicate wife and those who want something entirely different. obviously, your shlemazel has to stay deep inside his comfort zone. suggest to him that he run around with his secretary instead
This is so disgusting that it makes me sick. I have known of this happening so often in congregations that it is disgusting. One with a Rabbi from Cherry Hill, NJ who had to have his wife killed to be wth his lover instead of just getting a divorce and leaving the congregation. It is one thing for an individual to do this but when a Cantor or Rabbi does these acts it makes me sick. I would just tell them to leave NOW.

This happened to me but not a member -in a shul in Bayside Queens with a cantor he not only lied about his marriage he lied to me about giving me money for rent and to make matters worse his rabbi covered up for him. Its a disgrace. I am in a bind whether to rat him out or not.

Did the "President" of the shul actually witness the alleged transgression, OR did he hear the "Lashon Harah" from a 3rd party?
When the affair is between the rabbi of the synagogue and, weekly, he reminds the congregants to use their Judaism to keep their marriages strong, the situation you describe is even more depressing to the congregants ... been there and, sadly, this tore the congregation apart for years ... it cost me my beliefs in knowing that a man who was "shomer shabbat" defied and flaunted the rules of the Ten Commandments ... have never regained my love of Judaism as a result ...

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