Leading Modern Orthodox legal expert Rabbi Michael Broyde has apologized for infiltrating a rival Modern Orthodox rabbinic organization under a fake name, just an hour after The Jewish Channel posted an exposé revealing Broyde’s extensive use of the false identity.
Broyde is a judge on the Beth Din of America, the leading Modern Orthodox rabbinical court in the United States. He is also a professor of law at Emory University and was reportedly among the finalists under consideration to serve as Chief Rabbi of Britain.
Since the mid-1990s, Broyde has written widely under the name Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser, according to The Jewish Channel’s story. Using the Goldwasser pseudonym, Broyde joined the International Rabbinical Fellowship, an upstart Modern Orthodox rabbinical association founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabbi Marc Angel as a liberal alternative to the Rabbinical Council of America. That gave Broyde access to an internal listserv accessible only to IRF members.
According to The Jewish Channel, Broyde took strongly critical positions against the IRF, often using information that he appears to have gleaned from the private e-mail list. Broyde is a member of the RCA, and the rabbinical court on which he sits has strong ties to the historic Modern Orthodox rabbinical organization.
Fights between the IRF and RCA have been contentious and controversial. The two groups differ over key issues like conversion and the role of women in religious leadership.
Broyde initially denied infiltrating the IRF. When confronted by The Jewish Channel, he insisted that Goldwasser was a real person he knew from childhood. Yet an hour after The Jewish Channel posted his story, Broyde contacted a past president of the IRF to apologize for using a fake name to listen in on the group’s internal e-mails.
“I realize that being an IRF member through a pseudonym was inappropriate,” Broyde wrote, according to a copy of the email posted by The Jewish Channel. “I am sorry. Please understand that no malice was intended and my participation was not intended to interfere with the growth or success of the IRF.”
The IRF was not the only target of Broyde’s ruse. According to The Jewish Channel, the legal expert wrote widely as Goldwasser — often using the character to praise himself.
“He was diligent and smart and he tried harder than anyone I have ever met,” The Jewish Channel reported that Broyde wrote of himself while posing as Goldwasser.
In his email to the president of the IRF, Broyde wrote that he would also issue a public apology. That statement has not yet appeared.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.