The lay leadership of Rodef Shalom Congregation announced that it has made “significant progress” in ironing out the details of Rabbi Aaron Bisno’s future relationship with the congregation.
Bisno, senior rabbi of the congregation since 2004, was placed on administrative leave late last year. Although the specific reasons for that leave were not disclosed to Rodef Shalom’s membership, a Feb. 11 email to congregants from the board said that “personnel allegations” and “workplace culture concerns” had been brought forth relative to Bisno.
Many Rodef Shalom congregants were bewildered by the board’s actions and its lack of transparency. They still don’t know what Bisno is accused of doing.
After Bisno was placed on leave, the congregation engaged a firm outside Pittsburgh to “conduct an independent, thorough, and objective investigation,” a Feb. 11 email to the congregation from the board stated. That firm interviewed current and former employees, as well as Bisno. While the board declined to share details of the investigation for “legal reasons,” it confirmed that the investigation “did not identify any illegal actions.”
In a May 27 email to members, the president of Rodef Shalom, Matthew Falcone, revealed what he described as “preliminary, but promising news,” while acknowledging the “deep divide within our congregation.”
After three days of mediation, Rodef Shalom and Bisno “are heading toward an arrangement under which Rabbi Bisno will remain a part of the Rodef Shalom family, focusing his energies on teaching and writing, and being available to members,” Falcone’s email said.
The board also will begin a search for an interim rabbi to work alongside Rabbi Sharyn Henry to “provide spiritual direction for the congregation,” according to Falcone’s email.
“We spent a lot of time in the mediation process, and I think we are in a really good place to move forward,” Falcone told the Chronicle.
Bisno’s new position will allow him to use his “strengths as a writer, teacher and pastor to best serve the congregation,” Falcone added. “We are pleased to have found a role that allows Rabbi Bisno to remain part of the Rodef Shalom family.”
The board hopes to have the agreement with Bisno finalized by the beginning of July.
In a written statement to the congregation contained within Falcone’s May 27 email, Bisno wrote: “After nearly 18 years as your Senior Rabbi, I am incredibly proud of all we have shared. Over and above the true friendships I have created with many of you, I am most proud of the ways in which, over the last two decades, we embraced and embarked upon a vision of inclusion and collaboration appropriate for the 21st century. This strategy of being open to change allowed us to recruit and train the most diverse staff in our history, to build new and productive relationships within the Jewish community and, especially in these last two years, to establish new partnerships across Pittsburgh’s wider interfaith and non-profit communities.
“All of these successes will serve our Temple well as we move fully into the future,” Bisno continued. “And now, as I anticipate transitioning from my day-to-day responsibilities as Rodef Shalom’s Senior Rabbi to the next chapter of my professional life, I look forward to continuing to share in your lives and that of Rodef Shalom Congregation, more generally. May our beloved Temple be strengthened by our good actions towards one another always.”
Falcone acknowledged “it’s been a tremendously difficult time for Rodef Shalom.” He said he hopes its membership can put “the anger and divisiveness behind us so we can move forward as one congregation.”
“We have a lot of very good people,” he said. “These have been very trying times, and we are stronger together.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.