UPDATED, 11:30 a.m., June 28, 2017: More information about CCAR process.
**UPDATED, 8:30 p.m., June 30, 2017: Corrections and Editor’s Note **
A New Jersey rabbi who was expelled last year from the Reform movement’s rabbinical association in the wake of charges of sexual improprieties and other misconduct has been working as a “tutor” at another synagogue led by his wife, the Forward has learned.
Since his 2016 ouster from the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Ron Kaplan, the former rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Parsippany, has been employed at Temple Har Shalom in the nearby suburb of Warren, where his wife, Rabbi Randi Musnitsky, serves as spiritual leader.
According to Rabbi Steve Fox, the chief executive of CCAR, Kaplan was suspended for violations of “sexual boundaries,” “financial misconduct” and inappropriate behavior toward other movement congregations. Kaplan subsequently resigned from the CCAR, which according to the group’s policy, triggered his immediate expulsion.
Kaplan’s associates, including his wife, told the Forward that his resignation came in response to a process that he saw as unfair.
Fox declined to give more details about the circumstances leading to the ouster, but he noted that only eight rabbis have been expelled in the past 12 years nationwide. He also reiterated new guidelines from the CCAR that prohibit members from employing expelled rabbis.
“We take ethical misconduct of any kind extremely seriously and we are pained to see any misconduct by a rabbi in the Jewish community,” Fox said.
Musnitsky brushed off her husband’s expulsion from the rabbinic group and confirmed to the Forward that he has been working at her synagogue, which is also affiliated with the Reform movement.
“We have the autonomy to hire whoever we want,” she said.
She dismissed the allegations leading to his expulsion as “baseless” and “mean-spirited.”
“You’d think the worst, but if you saw the accusations, you’d laugh,” she said. “I’ve learned that anyone can say anything about anybody.”
A statement from Har Shalom’s board presidents, Karen Ehrenberg and Stephanie Green, also confirmed that Kaplan is working at the synagogue in what they called a “non-rabbinic” capacity. They said the entire board was aware of his expulsion from CCAR.
The presidents said Har Shalom investigated the charges against Kaplan and determined they were “meritless.“ They also asserted that the rabbinic board’s expulsion process lacked “basic due process.”
Musnitsky declined to answer more specific questions about Kaplan’s involvement at Har Shalom. Located in two ranch-style buildings in the upscale suburb of Warren, the congregation touts itself as “open and progressive” and committed to diversity. It operates a slate of children’s programming, including pre-K instruction, a religious school and teen groups.
Kaplan, who is in his mid-60s, has clearly become an integral part of his new synagogue since joining the staff. Photos on the synagogue’s website show him in Washington, D.C., chaperoning a youth trip to the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. Another image depicts him on Har Shalom’s pulpit, blowing a shofar.
Musnitsky vowed to share documents about the charges leveled at Kaplan with the Forward, but so far she has failed to do so.
Kaplan, who advertises himself on LinkedIn as a “pastoral counselor” and a “psychotherapist,” did not return requests for comment.
Musnitsky and Kaplan have two adult sons, Jonah, 31, and Rafael, 28; the younger son served in the Israel Defense Forces. The couple lives a 10-minute drive from Temple Har Shalom, in a home purchased in 2011.
Kaplan was until 2013 the rabbi at Temple Beth Am, which is located 30 miles to the north in Parsippany and is also affiliated with the Reform movement.
During that time, he and Musnitsky led both their congregations on a trip to Israel. Rabbi David Mills, the current leader at Beth Am, declined to comment on Kaplan’s departure.
Before coming to northern New Jersey, the coupled lived and worked in the Philadelphia area. Musnitsky served as the rabbi at Temple Emanuel, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Kaplan worked in the same capacity at Congregation Or Shalom, in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
CCAR’s ethics code outlines a range of offenses that fall under violations of “sexual boundaries,” proscribing cheating in committed relationships, in addition to assault and harassment. CCAR did not specify whether any of these behaviors applied in Kaplan’s case.
Expulsions from the 2,000-member body are usually sparked by serious offenses, as demonstrated by the tiny number of people who have been ousted. According to Fox, the sequence in Kaplan’s case began when the CCAR Ethics Committee investigated the charges against Kaplan. Kaplan was subsequently suspended by the Ethics Committee, which meant that he was prohibited from working as a rabbi and required to undergo a process of repentance, counseling and rehabilitation.
Kaplan appealed the decision to a separate appeal board and lost the appeal. “Rather than comply with the terms of the suspension,” Fox wrote in an email to the Forward, “Kaplan chose to submit a letter of resignation. When he resigned, as per CCAR Ethics Code, CCAR automatically expelled him.”
Questions about how to handle cases of misconduct, and how much information to provide the wider community, have dogged the organization in the past decade.
In 2015, the organization came in for criticism after a Forward investigation revealed that another expelled rabbi, Eric Siroka, had been successfully offering his rabbinical services to Jews in Seattle who were unaware of his ouster. Siroka had been accused of making unwanted advances and of sexual harassment in a previous stint as the rabbi at Temple Beth-El, in South Bend, Indiana.
Since then, the CCAR has agreed to notify its entire membership of such expulsions, effectively raising a huge red flag to any group considering hiring the expelled rabbi or otherwise involving him or her in its communities.
According to new standards adopted at a March convention, in July the CCAR will start publishing the names and alleged offenses of ousted rabbis to the wider public.
It has also toughened its stance on those who help expelled rabbis obtain work as clergy, which could prove troublesome for Musnitsky. Fox told the Forward that CCAR members are forbidden from giving work to an expelled rabbi, and that another rabbi who does so can face suspension or expulsion in his or her own right.
Though Fox did not say whether Musnitsky is under investigation, he did say that he was “deeply disturbed” by Kaplan’s continued work at the synagogue.
“We are fully committed to the sanctity, safety and security of our communities and the people our rabbis serve, as well as the importance of rabbinic integrity,” he said.
Editor’s note and correction. This story was revised to make corrections and provide clarifications: The headline and opening paragraph were changed to more precisely describe the circumstances of Rabbi Ron Kaplan’s expulsion from the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The story now more precisely explains the sequence of Kaplan’s case as it moved through the CCAR process, noting that he was expelled because he had resigned. The opening paragraph was corrected to say that the expulsion was from the Reform movement’s rabbinical association, not the movement itself. The Forward apologizes for these errors. In addition, when the article referenced examples of offenses under the CCAR ethics code and other instances of expulsion, the Forward did not mean those references to characterize the allegations against Rabbi Kaplan.
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.