Defrocked rabbi's Jerusalem lecture cancelled after threats

Haaretz, Israel/July 6, 2006
By Daphna Berman

A lecture by an American rabbi accused of sexual improprieties by several of his New York congregants, scheduled to be held in Jerusalem on Thursday night, was cancelled, following threats of protests and a flood of complaints, activists said.

Mordechai Tendler, a scion of a prominent rabbinic family, was expelled unanimously last year by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) after the organization decided that he had "engaged in conduct inappropriate for an Orthodox rabbi." In March, he was also suspended by the board of Kehillat New Hempstead, the New York synagogue that he founded. Tendler, who is currently in Israel, was scheduled to speak Thursday in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Har Nof. A protest was scheduled to take place outside the event.

"This is definitely a victory," said Leah Marinelli, a former congregant from New York, Wednesday. Marinelli was one of the first community members to speak out against the rabbi and convinced some of his alleged victims to come forward publicly to the RCA.

"We put out a call for action on Tuesday morning and the next day it was cancelled and so I am pretty convinced that there is a connection," said Vicki Polin, founder of the U.S.-based Awareness Center, the Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse and Assault."We didn't want him to recreate in Israel what he had done in Monsey [in New York]."

Both, however, expressed concern that Tendler would proceed with the lecture in a smaller and non-publicized location with a core group of supporters.

Moshe Siegel, a former congregant who immigrated to Israel some 10 years ago, was coordinating the lecture and had publicized the event on various English-language list servers around the country. He was subsequently flooded with e-mails and phone calls, urging him to cancel the event. Wednesday afternoon, Siegel posted a message on the list serves, informing the public that the event was cancelled. He did not provide a reason and did not respond by press time to Haaretz requests for further clarification.

Other community leaders in the U.S. have welcomed the cancellation. Rabbi Mark Dratch, chair of the RCA's Task Force on Rabbinic Improprieties said that the move had proven that "there is no place a person can hide. We're one community and though we are distanced by an ocean, that doesn't mean that what happens in one place gets ignored by another." He said that members of Tendler's former community felt "that he compromised the rabbinate and should not be given the opportunity to teach Torah publicly," Dratch said.

At least nine women have come forward against Tendler with claims that he used his rabbinic authority to solicit sexual favors. According to allegations, women who approached him with marital problems and sought spiritual counseling were sexually harassed. Last year, a former congregant filed a civil lawsuit in Manhattan against Tendler in which she accused him of giving her "sex therapy" when she went to him for help. Their affair allegedly took place in his rabbinical study from 2001 to 2005.

Following the RCA ruling last year, Rabbi Benzion Wosner, head of the Shevet Levi rabbinical court in Monsey, New York, issued a ruling that Tendler "can no longer officiate at divorces, weddings ... One should never allow their wives or daughters to go to him at all including [for] counseling ... and all his rulings are null and void."

The allegations against the rabbi, who is married and is the father of eight children, surfaced three years ago. Tendler's grandfather is the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the leading religious arbiters of the twentieth century.

Tendler's attorney, Glen Feinberg, did not have information about the reasons for the cancellation. "I represent Rabbi Tendler in the lawsuit brought against him. My representation does not extend to other matters. Thus, the rabbi does not discuss his travel or lecture plans with me and I have no information about this." He added, however, that "Rabbi Tendler completely denies the allegations of sexual misconduct and expects to be vindicated through the judicial process."

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