Rabbi Michael Broyde's Rapid Fall From Grace

Modern Orthodox Scholar Tarnished by 'Sockpuppet' Scheme

menachem wecker

By JTA

Published April 16, 2013.
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Until last week, Michael Broyde was considered one of the most respected Orthodox rabbis in America.

A professor of law at Emory University, the author of dozens of books and articles, and a leading authority on the intersection of religious and secular law, Broyde was sought after regularly to render opinions on matters of ritual practice and Jewish ethics.

He was among the handful of members of the Beth Din of America, the centrist Orthodox community’s religious court. He reportedly was shortlisted as a candidate to replace Jonathan Sacks as the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom. The chancellor of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Norman Lamm, said Broyde possessed “the finest mind of his generation.”

Now Broyde’s reputation may be irrevocably tarnished amid revelations that for 20 years he used a fake identity to publish scores of letters in scholarly journals and online correspondence. Broyde also admitted to using the false name “Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser” to gain membership for a time in the International Rabbinic Fellowship, an association of liberal Orthodox rabbis.

The revelations were first reported last Friday by The Jewish Channel’s website. After initially denying the charges to The Jewish Channel’s reporter, Broyde quickly owned up once the article was published, sending an apology about an hour afterward to the Rabbinic Fellowship.

However, as the story was picked up by Jewish media around the world, Broyde downplayed the importance of the deception and told Haaretz he didn’t understand why the issue was such a big deal.

Now the Beth Din of America has placed Broyde on indefinite leave and the Rabbinical Council of America, the court’s parent body, is considering further measures. The Emory Law School has launched an “inquiry.”

Meanwhile, Broyde’s reputation as a scholar and ethicist has taken a beating that could be irreparable.

“The allegations regarding the conduct of Professor Michael Broyde are concerning to the Law School,” Emory said in a statement Monday. “We are currently reviewing the matter and plan to issue a statement once our inquiry is complete.”

Broyde is the latest in a string of scholars and public figures to be undone by the conventions of the Internet age.


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