Storybook Boston Suburb of Sharon Shaken by Rabbi Barry Starr Hush Money Sex Scandal

Disgraced Cleric Quits Post at Conservative Temple Israel

getty images

By Paul Berger

Published May 28, 2014, issue of June 06, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Rabbi Miriam Spitzer did not have to mention him by name.

The class of sixth graders at Temple Israel, in Sharon, Massachusetts, knew exactly whom Spitzer was thinking of when she dedicated that day’s lesson to Elisha ben Abuyah, a revered rabbi who became a heretic.

“The lesson was that the Torah taught [by Abuyah] was still Torah,” Spitzer said. “What we learned from somebody who left the fold or was flawed is still good Torah.”

Spitzer taught the class days after the shock resignation of Rabbi Barry Starr, a hugely popular Conservative spiritual leader in this verdant suburb of pastel-colored clapboard houses.

Starr, a former president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, sent an email to congregants on May 6 explaining that he was stepping down immediately after 28 years, “with great remorse and deep regret,” after engaging in “marital infidelity and other serious personal conduct.”

“Human frailty is a part of life, and I leave bearing the guilt and shame of that frailty for the rest of my life,” Starr wrote. “I am sorry for what I have done and for what I have inflicted upon my family and upon my community.”

That same week, Benjamin Maron, executive director of Temple Israel, sent an email to congregants, urging them to put a stop on any uncleared checks made out to the rabbi’s discretionary fund.

At that time, the precise reasons for Starr’s resignation were vague. Congregants were understandably confused by how their rabbi, a former member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the body that sets halachic policy for the Conservative movement, could have strayed so far.

That sense of confusion and disbelief only increased in the weeks that followed as allegations surfaced that Starr had paid between $200,000 and $480,000, over a period of two years, to an extortionist who threatened to expose Starr’s sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy.

Starr, a 64-year-old father of two, borrowed $50,000 from a congregant of Temple Israel, a Holocaust survivor, to pay part of the extortion money. Several small checks from the rabbi’s discretionary fund also appeared to have been paid into a bank account linked to the extortionist.

Several officers of Temple Israel, as well as members of the congregation, declined to speak to the Forward. One congregant who spoke on condition of anonymity described Starr as a pillar of the community. “He was extremely smart, and people did revere him, and it’s a total shock,” the congregant said.

Arnie Freedman, president of Temple Israel, did not respond to several requests from the Forward for comment. Earlier in May, Freedman told the Boston Globe that Starr’s departure was “the most tragic thing that has happened in the life of this community.”

But the sense of shock in Sharon, a town of about 18,000 people, rippled way beyond Temple Israel.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv?
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • The Cossacks were a feature in every European Jewish kid's worst nightmare. Tuvia Tenenbom went looking for the real-life variety in Ukraine — but you won't believe what he found.
  • French Jews were stunned when an anti-Israel mob besieged a synagogue outside Paris. What happened next could be a historic turning point.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.