Skip To Content

Letter | Words Matter: Reading between the lines of an article about rabbinic misconduct

To the editor:

It was with deep concern that I read the article “For the Conservative movement, an audit of ethics policies might be overdue” (June 1, 2021). The article, which used Rabbi Daniel Victor as the primary example of problematic conduct and disciplinary procedures, did not adequately explain the substance of the situation and unfairly tarnished his reputation.

The most glaring omission was the absence of the voice of the woman involved. We have no idea if, in fact, she herself felt abused, rather than just emotionally upset by the outcome of her interactions with the rabbi, which is a risk of any personal relationship. We do not know if she herself reported the interaction to the Rabbinical Assembly, or whether another individual did so because s/he was upset by what they heard.

In addition, in the original version of the article, the claim that the woman received “rabbinic guidance” is not substantiated, nor do we have any idea of the nature of that guidance. [Editor’s Note: Upon receiving this letter, we updated the article to include the fact that Rabbi Victor had helped to plan and then performed a life-cycle event for the woman.] The article clearly implies that there was a power imbalance, which, if true, would raise ethical concerns. Absent clear understanding of the “guidance,” however, the statement is pure innuendo.

Other descriptors in the article also create the impression of serious misconduct but are not fully explained. Words such as “initiated sex” and ”pursued” imply to a general reader a level of abuse and aggression that may not be warranted. The fact that Rabbi Victor’s inappropriate relationship with the woman is discussed in the same article as ethical violations of other rabbis “including financial improprieties and sexual misconduct,” as well as a Reform congregation’s determination that a rabbi had engaged in “sexually predatory behavior” adds to the general impression that his misdeed was as ethically significant as theirs.

All of this is not to minimize the issues raised in the article about the importance of reevaluating the process to assess and adjudicate claims of misbehavior of rabbis or others in authority in congregations. It is to say, rather, that the words used to describe Rabbi Victor’s behavior and the sources of those descriptions may cause unjustifiable and irreparable harm to him and his family.

Could the journalist have made the same points without naming the rabbi or the name and location of the congregation?

Alan Lobovits

Newton, MA

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.