Rabbi Aaron Bisno assumes new role at Rodef Shalom
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Rabbi Aaron Bisno assumes new role at Rodef Shalom

Bisno will become the Frances F. and David R. Levin Rabbinic Scholar, available for life cycle events, and focusing on teaching and writing.

View of Rodef Shalom Congregation from Morewood Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Rodef Shalom Congregation)
View of Rodef Shalom Congregation from Morewood Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Rodef Shalom Congregation)

It’s official: Rabbi Aaron Bisno, Rodef Shalom Congregation’s senior rabbi since 2004, will continue to serve his congregants — but in a different role.

On June 30, Rodef Shalom’s board of trustees announced in an email to members that Bisno will become the Frances F. and David R. Levin Rabbinic Scholar. As such, he will be available to officiate at life cycle events and will also focus on teaching and writing.

The announcement comes after months of conflict within the congregation, beginning in November when its board announced that the rabbi had taken a leave of absence without sharing details of what led to that leave.

In February, the board told Rodef Shalom’s membership that Bisno had been placed on paid administrative leave due to “personnel allegations” and “workplace culture concerns.” After an investigation by an outside firm concluded, the board announced in March that it would not be renewing Bisno’s contract, but acknowledged that the investigation “did not identify any illegal actions.”

Rabbi Aaron Bisno (File photo)
Many Rodef Shalom congregants were bewildered and upset by the board’s actions and its lack of transparency. They still don’t know what Bisno is accused of doing.

This past spring, the board held two congregational meetings to discuss its actions, and in late May announced it had made “significant progress” in ironing out the details of Bisno’s future relationship with the congregation, while recognizing the “deep divide within our congregation.”

“It’s been a difficult time for Rodef Shalom,” Bill Battistone, the newly installed president of the congregation’s board told the Chronicle on July 1. “I hope, and we hope, and are confident that we will begin to put the anger and divisiveness behind us and move forward as one congregation.”

In its June 30 email to members, the board stressed that Bisno wasn’t accused of anything illegal, and that the allegations against the rabbi were limited in scope.

“To the extent that there were issues between Rodef Shalom and Rabbi Bisno, those were limited to staff and supervision issues and did not relate to illegal conduct, sexual misconduct, or financial wrongdoing, nor did they touch on his interactions or relationships with Rodef Shalom congregants,” the email stated. “We are pleased to have found a path forward that allows Rodef Shalom and its members to continue a relationship with Rabbi Bisno.”

The agreement reached between the congregation and Bisno will ensure that he continues to serve the congregation “taking advantage of all his strengths, as a writer, a teacher and a pastor,” Battistone said.

The board president said he could not comment on the agreement’s specific terms.

Bisno has already begun serving the congregation in his new role.

“I am grateful to be able to continue serving our congregation and her members long into the future,” Bisno wrote in a text to the Chronicle. “And in the months and years ahead, I look forward, in particular, to piloting novel ways for our city’s Jewish and interfaith communities to collaborate, learn and grow in understanding together.”

Rodef Shalom’s board is now focused on “building trust and relationships back,” Battistone said. “We are all working for the same cause.”

It will also work to find an interim rabbi to fill Bisno’s former position, a permanent executive director and a new cantorial soloist, as Molly May, who helped lead the congregation’s services for almost a decade, has moved to North Carolina. Rabbi Sharyn Henry will continue in her role as rabbi.

One of the board’s priorities, Battistone said, is to ensure that every congregant has a voice and uses it to “help us chart a path forward.”

“Shame on us if we don’t learn from the past and make it better moving forward,” he said. PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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