10/10/2012 1:55:00 PM
by David Holzel
Senior WriterWhen a Jew who had served time for a sex offense approached Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia to pray there, Rabbi Susan Grossman considered three issues before making her decision.
“What was this person’s level of teshuvah [repentance]? The safety of our children. And we don’t want to put up a stumbling block” ‑ a reference to a biblical injunction that has come to mean to not exacerbate a person's vulnerabilities.
In the end, Beth Shalom allowed the Jew to worship there. It was the opposite outcome of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation's deliberations.
Before the High Holidays it notified its membership that David Kaye, a former rabbi who served time for a sex offense, would not be allowed to attend services there. Such decisions, Grossman and others say, must be taken on a case-by-case basis.
“We even allowed that person to be a member,” she says. But the individual wasn’t given any synagogue honors and wasn’t allowed to have any public positions within the synagogue.
As part of the arrangement, the person had to be in therapy and in counseling with the rabbi. Grossman said she was satisfied that the person regretted past actions. “This person really expressed teshuvah.”
To assure security, the member could not travel around the building unescorted or have access to children. “Somebody was always watching,” Grossman says. “We were diligent in protecting our children.”
The arrangement worked successfully, until the individual’s death.
Rabbi Jack Moline, of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, is a longtime friend of David Kaye. He says has no concern about having him at a congregation, including around children.
“But not everyone knows David, and people have visceral reactions to sex offenders. I don't think it would be possible for me to sit down and explain to every family in the congregation about my friend David.”
But Agudas Achim did have to grapple with the request of a sex offender who wanted to pray at the daily minyan.
“This person had done things that were absolutely heinous,” Moline said. “The presence of preschool children made it legally impossible. No escort came with this individual, and no one came forth who was willing to escort this individual.
So the synagogue turned the person away.
“Situations like this are context driven,” says Rabbi Michael Broyde, professor of law at Emory University and member of the Beth Din of America, a Jewish law court. “The goal is to maximize the person's ability to pray and do teshuvah, and minimize the danger to the congregation.
“There is a right of the congregants not to be victims,” he said.
Posted by Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg at 10/18/2012
אם ראית ת"ח שעבר עבירה - ודאי עשה תשובה
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg