Rabbi Aaron Bisno, senior rabbi of Rodef Shalom Congregation, will continue on paid administrative leave “for the foreseeable future,” Matthew Falcone, the congregation’s president, told the Chronicle.
Bisno was placed on administrative leave late last year. In a Nov. 30 email to congregants, Falcone said that Bisno had taken a leave of absence “to have some time away from work.” No additional details were provided then as to the reason for Bisno’s leave.
Bisno has been senior rabbi of Rodef Shalom, the largest Reform congregation in Pittsburgh, since 2004.
Rodef Shalom’s board updated the congregation on Bisno’s employment status in a Feb. 11 email.
“Late last year, we were put into a difficult position when personnel allegations were brought forth relative to Rabbi Bisno and employees communicated workplace culture concerns,” the email said. “The Board felt that the pattern and tone of these allegations were concerning enough that the most just and best path forward was to place Rabbi Bisno on paid administrative leave while we gathered more information.”
Details of the allegations, including the names of those who made the claims, were not shared in the email in order to “protect the employees’ confidentiality,” consistent with Rodef Shalom’s personnel policies, the email stated.
The congregation engaged a firm outside Pittsburgh to “conduct an independent, thorough, and objective investigation,” the email continued. That firm interviewed current and former employees, as well as Bisno.
“We wanted to ensure that our Senior Rabbi had as much due process as possible,” the board said in the email.
The investigation recently concluded, the email continued “and now the Board’s legal representation is in communication with Rabbi Bisno’s lawyer on the next steps. Right now, we are seeking to resolve this matter as amicably as possible as Rabbi Bisno remains on paid leave.”
There is about a year-and-a-half left on Bisno’s employment contract. Falcone said he could not comment on whether the rabbi’s contract would be renewed.
While the board declined in the Feb. 11 email to share details of the investigation for “legal reasons,” it confirmed that the investigation “did not identify any illegal actions.”
When Bisno was placed on leave, “he was informed that staff had raised complaints, but in order to protect the employees’ confidentiality, we were not able to share the exact details of these allegations,” the email stated. “Some congregants feel that the Senior Rabbi deserved more information, but that is not compatible with best personnel practices in a sensitive matter like this, and, under the circumstances, we shared as much as we believed we responsibly could.”
Bisno has been a cherished spiritual leader to many during his time on Rodef Shalom’s pulpit.
“We hold our rabbi in the highest regard,” Jim Rudolph, a longtime member of Rodef Shalom, told the Chronicle.
The board’s Feb. 11 email acknowledged that some congregants feel that “the Board has not been forthcoming with information,” and said that now that the investigation is closed, it would “communicate with more clarity.”
“Rabbi Bisno has been a stalwart spiritual advocate for so many of our congregants and families, so we understand that this letter may be troubling to read,” the email continued. “However, the Board believes that some of his actions with regard to employee treatment were inconsistent with the policies in our employee handbook and the standard for staff and organizational leadership that we expect of our Senior Rabbi.
“In the coming weeks and months, there will be more important decisions we need to make,” the email stated. “We promise you we will continue to make careful decisions that ultimately ensure the growth and vitality of Rodef Shalom.”
Falcone said he is not aware of any lawsuits filed about the matter.
Bisno told the Chronicle he had “no comment at this time.”
Rabbi Sharyn Henry, a rabbi at the congregation since 1999, will continue to serve Rodef Shalom. Rabbi Jessica Locketz, a local rabbi and educator, is assisting Rodef Shalom with life cycle events and Torah study and will be doing so “for the foreseeable future,” Falcone told the Chronicle.
Rodef Shalom has been without an executive director since August 2020. Members of the board’s executive committee are “collectively” filling the role of executive director, according to a Jan. 20 email to the congregation, and the board is searching for an interim executive director. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.