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44 Synagogue Members Sign Petition Against Sauna Rabbi

At least 44 members of a New York synagogue are calling for the resignation of their rabbi, whose custom of inviting young men to meet with him naked in a sauna has brought extensive media attention.

In an email petition sent Sunday, members of the Riverdale Jewish Center, an Orthodox congregation in the Bronx, urged Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt to resign, the Riverdale Press reported.

“We in Riverdale have had a grueling week, trying to manage the crisis that has engulfed our community. It is now clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that our rabbi of almost thirty years, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, is unfortunately but irrevocably unable to lead our community,” the email says, according to the Press.

The petition comes in the aftermath of a recent New York Times article about Rosenblatt’s longtime custom of inviting male congregants, some as young as 12, to play squash or racquetball, then join him in the public shower and sauna or steam room, often naked. No one cited in the story accused Rosenblatt of sexual touching, but several expressed their discomfort with the practice and described the behavior as deeply inappropriate for a rabbi and mentor.

At various times Rosenblatt, 58, was told by rabbinic bodies or his congregation’s board to limit such activity. The Bronx District Attorney’s office said it was looking into whether Rosenblatt broke the law.

On Thursday, Rosenblatt sent a letter to congregants saying he never did anything unlawful, does not agree with the accusations and attacks against him, and regrets if his conduct inadvertently offended anyone. He did not acknowledge any inappropriate behavior.

“If any of you feel that my behavior, even if innocent, was inappropriate, I apologize to those affected,” he wrote. Earlier in the week, the board of the Riverdale Jewish Center sent a letter to congregants saying that Rosenblatt was not involved in any “misconduct.”

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