Thursday, September 2, 2010

News Flash: Rabbi on Way to Fourth Divorce. This is Newsworthy?


This week's Jewish Week, the premier Jewish newspaper in New York, carries a front page story this week about a well-known rabbi's marital woes and alleged sexual behavior. Apparently, said rabbi is on the verge of ending his fourth marriage and will be investigated by the Rabbinical Council of America to determine whether his behavior warrants disciplinary action by the organization.

There is no allegation whatsoever of misconduct on the job per se. The investigation and the article focus on his personal life.

Full disclosure: I have met the guy. Once. And, no comment. The opinions I'm about to express are not about him, but about the life of any rabbi. Or public official for that matter [yes, I'm still appalled about the use of millions of dollars of tax money used to find out that Monica L. disproved a negative stereotype about Jewish women while hanging out with President Clinton].

My thoughts:
  • Nothing in this story even remotely constitutes "news". This is National Enquirer type of stuff. No purpose to be served by reporting that a rabbi may have had an affair and can't manage to stay married.

  • Not everyone, not even every rabbi, ought to feel that they have to be married. Interestingly, there was a time that it was impossible for a single rabbi to find a congregation to lead. That is less true today. The rabbi's congregant who said "He's just not good at marriage" spoke wisely. Again, this should not be newsworthy. It should be part of the cheshbon ha-nefesh soul-searching that he ought to be involved in as Rosh Hashana approaches.

  • The Rabbinical Council of America is a private membership organization for professional Orthodox rabbis. Not every Orthodox rabbi is a member and nobody is required to be. If they want to discipline a member, they can. And its "investigation" into the rabbi's personal life should be private and dignified. And it seems to be trying to keep it that way, to its credit

  • There was a time at which a congregational rabbi was always to be considered "on duty." He/she would dress the same way when doing grocery shopping as when in the synagogue. And rabbis were not often seen at Grateful Dead or ZZ Top concerts. Baseball games were about as risque a place as they would be found. Today's rabbis, especially of the younger generation, are more able to assert their right to a personal life and to personal space. Putting evidence in an upcoming divorce proceeding onto the front page violates a person's right to some amount of privacy.

  • The congregation chooses its leaders. Even this article asserts that the rabbi's congregation has no intention of changing its relationship to its rabbi. Whether the public reading The Jewish Week agrees with them or not is entirely irrelevant. A community chooses its rabbi. And will hopefully have its private space within which to deal with this

  • Marital woes and divorce are a tragedy. Not illegal, not newsworthy, but tragic. If we feel guilty watching a train wreck in which lives are lost (and we should feel that guilt), then we should feel guilty for reading an article about a marital train wreck.

  • The rabbi made matters worse by stating that all the marital and other problems are the result of his supposed mental illness. First of all, I don't want or need to know about his mental illness any more than I need to know who he is sleeping with. None of my business. Secondly, making the association between his actions and mental illness cheapens the meaning of mental illness. I fear that it will encourage everyone to blame everything on brain chemistry, and may actually discourage those with actual illnesses to seek treatment.

  • I am saddened by knowing that there is a couple, any couple, that have (or will soon have) seven marriages and divorces between them. As a rabbi, I would hesitate or probably outright refuse to officiate at any fourth marriage until everyone involved could prove to me that they had gone through a successful round or more of psychotherapy to determine why this was happening and to assure me that it wouldn't continue [A famous quote, source unknown, states that "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”].

  • Finally, on an admittedly cynical note, the Jewish Week failed to report on the one part of this story that might actually interest me: Exactly how much money does a rabbi have to earn in order to afford to marry and divorce four times? And why am I not earning that kind of money?