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‘Sauna Rabbi’ Jonathan Rosenblatt Quits Post at Riverdale Jewish Center

The Riverdale Jewish Center’s Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, who has been under fire for having sauna chats with boys from the synagogue, reportedly has resigned from his position at the synagogue.

Rosenblatt told the Riverdale Jewish Center on Wednesday that he will step down from his position as Senior Rabbi of the congregation, the Times of Israel reported early Thursday.

The decision was announced in an e-mail letter sent to the synagogue membership on Wednesday evening, signed by the synagogue’s president, Samson Fine, the Israel-based news website reported.

“Rabbi Rosenblatt has today informed RJC’s leadership that he intends to step aside from the Senior Rabbinate of the RJC,” the email read, according to the Times of Israel. “The Shul’s Board of Trustees was informed at this evening Board meeting and we anticipate discussing transition details the Board in the next two weeks.”

Rosenblatt’s playing racquetball and visiting the showers and sauna with boys and young men from the congregation garnered headlines after an exposé in The New York Times in late May 2015.

The article reported that some congregants and former congregants of the modern Orthodox synagogue discussed the trips to the sauna during which the rabbi “engaged the boys in searching conversations about their lives, problems and faith|”

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 was told by rabbinic bodies or his congregation’s board to limit such activity.

The synagogue determined in early June 2015 that no misconduct took place during the sauna sessions, and that Rosenblatt adhered to established guidelines in engaging with the boys.

Rosenblatt denied any criminal wrongdoing but apologized in a letter to the congregation for inappropriate behavior.

After the Times published its story, the RJC’s board of directors voted 34-8 to seek a financial settlement to get Rosenblatt to resign his pulpit. But Rosenblatt vowed to stay on, saying that removing him from his position would be a “disproportionate” response. Hundreds of congregants signed a petition backing the rabbi, while far fewer signed a competing petition calling on Rosenblatt to resign.

Rosenblatt’s determination to stay was bolstered by the warm reception he received after rending a dramatic public apology in front of hundreds of congregants at a synagogue gathering in late June.

Rosenblatt has served as the synagogue’s senior rabbi since 1985. A native of Baltimore, he holds a BA and an MA from the Johns Hopkins University in Comparative Literature and a PhD from Columbia University in the field of Modern British Literature. Rosenblatt studied in Israel at Yeshivat Har Etzion and was ordained by the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University in 1982.

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