Pittsburgh rabbi alleges abuse while enrolled at Hebrew Union College
ImproprietyOhav Shalom Rabbi outlines allegations

Pittsburgh rabbi alleges abuse while enrolled at Hebrew Union College

“I am one of the victims,” Weisblatt told the Chronicle.

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, along with the CCAR and URJ, all recently released the results of iindependent ethics review.  (Photo by ajay_suresh,  creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, along with the CCAR and URJ, all recently released the results of iindependent ethics review. (Photo by ajay_suresh, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Temple Ohav Shalom Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt says he was the target of sexual misconduct while enrolled at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. HUC-JIR is the Reform movement’s seminary, with campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles and New York.

“I am one of the victims,” Weisblatt told the Chronicle.

Weisblatt said he was a victim of abuse in 2012-2013, while he was interning as part of his rabbinic studies. He declined to identify the rabbi who allegedly abused him, the synagogue where he interned or the nature of the alleged sexual misconduct.

Weisblatt said the rabbi he is accusing is still employed by a congregation affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism but he is not a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. It is not a requirement for URJ-affiliated congregations to hire CCAR-affiliated rabbis.

Weisblatt said he reported the alleged misconduct to leadership at HUC-JIR when it occurred, but was told by those overseeing the program that he would have to complete his internship alongside his alleged abuser.

“I was told by HUC that if I didn’t continue, I would not be ordained,” Weisblatt said.

It was only through the direct intervention of Rabbi David Ellenson, the seminary’s president from 2001-2013, and that of then-professor and future HUC president Rabbi Aaron Panken, that Weisblatt was allowed to leave the internship and still be ordained, Weisblatt said.

When he was preparing for ordination, Weisblatt said, the administration of HUC-JIR told him the rabbi he accused was interviewing new rabbinic students for internships.

“They said, ‘We won’t tell our students about it. We want you to call the students and tell them why they shouldn’t take internships with the rabbi.’ Today, this rabbi is still currently working with HUC,” Weisblatt said.

Weisblatt decided to come forward with his story following the recent release of independent reports by the CCAR, HUC-JIR and URJ regarding incidents of abuse by rabbis associated with the Reform movement.

“I’m not doing this to name the person,” Weisblatt said. “I’m doing this to explain and add further evidence that the HUC is not handling this correctly.”

Weisblatt said that he met with a representative from Morgan Lewis in 2021, when the firm was hired to investigate allegations of misconduct at HUC-JIR.

Weisblatt ended participation in the investigation, they said, after one of the investigators told him that they were very active in the Reform Movement and that they knew all the players.

“I immediately stopped the conversation,” Weisblatt said. “I can tell you I am not the only person who was told that, and I am not the only person who decided not to share their story because they decided the HUC did not hire an impartial firm and felt very unsafe with the investigator. I know that for a fact.”

The Morgan Lewis report — which was commissioned after several allegations of sexual misconduct and discrimination were posted on social media following the death of HUC-JIR professor Michael Cook — found accusations dating to the 1970s.

In the Morgan Lewis report, published in November, almost half of the people interviewed described various forms of gender discrimination they had either experienced or witnessed. Six faculty members had multiple accusations of sexual harassment levied against them.

After the report was released, Sue Neuman Hochberg, the HUC-JIR’s board of governors chair, pledged to create a plan of action by Dec. 14 that addressed the recommendations made by Morgan Lewis.

In response to an interview request by the Chronicle, a spokesperson for HUC-JIR sent the following statement:

“Last year’s Morgan Lewis investigation and resulting report illuminated the suffering of many from within our community, and their voices are guiding the process of self-examination and reform we are now developing and implementing. We are committed to making sure this type of abuse does not happen in our community and are creating additional secure paths for reporting and sharing to ensure accountability.

“While it would be inappropriate to comment on any specific allegation, we can only say that we are deeply sorry for anyone who has been harmed, appreciate their willingness to come forward, and that our College-Institute must — and will — reconnect with our highest Jewish values as we build a sacred, respectful community of academic inquiry and spiritual exploration.”

In December 2021, the CCAR issued “Reports of the CCAR Ethics System Investigation.”

“The purpose of our recent investigation was to examine the entirety of the CCAR ethics system,” said Rabbi Hara Person, chief executive of CCAR, in a written statement. “The CCAR strongly believes that changes need to be made to the Code of Ethics and the Ethics Process as soon as practical. To that end, the Board has called a special business session in June 2022 with the purpose of voting on changes to the CCAR Ethics Code. Additional changes are already underway, including the creation of a T’shuvah Task Force to determine what institutional t’shuvah might be, creation of a special sub-committee to expedite changes to the Code and present them to the membership for a vote.”

The URJ declined to issue a statement or make a spokesperson available to be interviewed for this story.

Weisblatt said the HUC-JIR should take responsibility for the actions that occurred under its watch.

“I don’t see an apology,” he said. “I don’t see anything resembling the reality, understanding the trust they broke through the decades. So, they admitted that they hired rabbis who are accused of things and found guilty of things. Where are the apologies? Where’s the recognition? This all happened over several generations. Where is Rabbi Rick Jacobs (president of the URJ)? You cannot tell me he’s not aware.”

Weisblatt said he isn’t seeking retribution against the rabbi who targeted him; rather, he wants victims to know he can identify with them and that he would like to see the HUC-JIR initiate changes to help victims.

“It’s about HUC taking responsibility, and when something happens, to take it seriously,” Weisblatt said. “To investigate it, to try and figure it out and to do right by the student. I’m seeking them to be better because I know they can be better.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

This is the first in a series written in reaction to reports on sexual misconduct recently issued by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Union of Reform Judaism.

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