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URJ launches sexual misconduct investigation after Zimmerman revelations

The Union for Reform Judaism has hired a law firm to investigate claims of sexual misconduct and assault after news of a prominent movement leader’s abuse surfaced in the Forward this week, the URJ said in an emailed statement.

The law firm Debevoise & Plimpton will conduct the investigation, led by Mary Beth Hogan, the co-chair of the firm’s litigation department.

Sheldon Zimmerman, a former rabbi at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, was found this week by that temple to have engaged in “predatory sexual behavior,” including a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl during his tenure in the 1970s and 1980s. Central Synagogue investigated the decades-old incidents and found that they were more numerous and serious than was known at the time.

The revelations have prompted not only URJ but also Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Central Conference of American Rabbis to investigate their practices. Zimmerman was formerly suspended by CCAR for what many congregants thought was an extramarital affair and worked at Hebrew Union College before his suspension in 2000.

The firm will present its findings to URJ leadership and URJ “will act on the recommendations, no matter how painful,” according to the statement.

URJ also plans to help member congregations create or revise ethics codes and encourage synagogue employees to join the professional organizations that have their own codes of conduct, said the statement.

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