Case of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

Neo-Hassidic rabbi and singer

Call to Action: Accountability in the Portrayal of Shlomo Carlebach --

Tzadduk (saint)? Serial Sexual Predator?

Some of you may be aware of the fact that for the last 10 years there has been a movement to glorify the accomplishments of a man named Shlomo Carlebach. The Awareness Center firmly believes there is a problem in doing this. There have been numerous accusations that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach sexually harassed and assaulted many young women, and sexually assaulted/abused a few teenage girls.

  1. The Awareness Center is looking for survivors of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach who would want to be interviewed by a journalist and have their story published. If you are interested, please contact Vicki Polin for more information.

  2. The Awareness Center asks that when ever an article comes out regarding Shlomo Carlebach you it to us, including a link on the page it was found.

  3. The Awareness Center asks that you write letters to editors requesting accountability in the portrayl of Shlomo Carlebach. Please forward your letters to The Awareness Center and send a note giving us permission to publish your letter on our web page.

Shlomo Carlebach, the popular Neo-Hassidic rabbi and singer, is the son of Rabbi Nephtali Hartwig and Paula Cohn Carlebach. He is the descendent of a family of rabbis, most of whom had aligned themselves with Hassidism, the mystical form of Judaism which emerged in central and eastern Europe in the eighteenth century.

Allegations of sexual misconduct against Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach can be dated back to the 1960's. Among the many people Lilith Magazine spoke with, nearly all had heard stories of Rabbi Carlebach's sexual indiscretions during his more than four-decade rabbinic career. Spiritual leaders, psychotherapists, and others report numerous incidents, from playful propositions to actual sexual contact. Most of the allegations include middle-of-the-night, sexually charged phone calls and unwanted attention or propositions. Others, which have been slower to emerge, relate to sexual molestation.

Rabbi Carlebach was seen as "being bigger then life", "He touched many people on a level that they have rarely been touched in their lives." Such idealization was only the beginning of a process of canonizing Rabbi Carlebach, a process that has continued since his death. A number of his followers told Lilith Magazine that Rabbi Carlebach, when alive, "walked with the humblest of the humble" and "never said he was a holy man." But with his death came an outpouring of love, and a degree of idolization that did not easily allow followers to recognize what others gently call his "shadow side.

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Table of Contents:


  1. A Paradoxical Legacy:  Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's Shadow Side  (Spring/1998)

  2. Sex, the Spirit, Leadership and the Dangers of Abuse (1998)

  3. FEATHERMAN FILE  (03/201998)






  1. Can New Agers Channel the Old Rebbes' Spirit? - Our Scribe Visits a Neo-Chasidic Confab, Looking for 'Awakening' and 'Renewal' (04/13/2003)

  2. When Melodies, Torah Scholars, and Abuse Collide  (03/2003)

  3. The Carlebach phenomenon (November 13, 2003)


  1. Honoring Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach?  (07/15/2004)

  2. Discussion on Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach  (07/23/2004)

  3. Call to Action - Those who live in New York City  (09/02/2004)

  4. Urgent Call to Action (09/07/2004)

  5. First Carlebach conference to grapple with issue of abuse head on; opposition to street naming (09/08/2004)

  6. Letters to the Community #7 Board (New York City) regarding street naming  (09/010/2004)

  7. Location Change  (09/013/2004)
  8. Application Withdrawn - Hearing Canceled (09/014/2004)
  9. Call to Action: Honoring Carlebach? (10/04/2004)
  10. Call to Action: Accountability in the Portrayal of Shlomo Carlebach (11/03/2004)
  11. Rabbis Ordained by Shlomo Carlebach
  12. (Revised) Call to Action: Accountablility in the Portrayal of Shlomo Carlebach  (11/12/2004)
  13. Carlebach's Legacy Lives On (11/12/2004)



  1. Story About Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach  (03/06/2006)


  1. Ariela's Story: A Survivor of Shlomo Carlebach Speaks Out  (02/26/2007)

Alleged and Convicted Sex Offenders Connected to Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

  1. Case of Rabbi Mordechai Gafni (aka: Marc Gafni, Mark Gafni, Marc Winiarz, Mordechai Winiarz, Mordechai Winyarz)

  2. Case of Rabbi Michael Ozair (AKA: Rabbi Michael Ezra - Kabbalah Coach, Rabbi Michael Ezra Ozair, Rabbi Michael)

  3. Rabbi Mordecai Tendler

  4. Case of Rabbi Hershy Worch (AKA: Rabbi Jeremy Hershy Worch)


Also see:  

  1. The Awareness Center's Brochure  

  2. When Melodies, Torah Scholars, and Abuse Collide

  3. Rabbis, Cantors and Other Trusted Officials

  4. Offenders: Problems Our Parents Wouldn't Speak Of

  5. Recidivism of Sex Offenders  (U.S. Department of Justice: Center for Sex Offender Management)

Lashon Hara about the Dead

Let Them Talk: The Mitzvah to Speak Lashon Hara

By Rabbi Mark Dratch

Is it permissible for victims of a perpetrator who has since died to speak lashon hara about him?

The Talmud indicates that there is no prohibition of speaking lashon hara about the dead, either because the dead do not know what is being said about them or because they do not care what is being said about them.<91> However, because their legacies are at stake, as well as the reputations and well-being of their surviving families, and because they cannot defend themselves, Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 606:3 cites a takanat kadmonim (ancient enactment) that prohibits "speaking ill of the dead."<92> Hafetz Hayyim rules:

And know also that even to disparage and curse the dead is also forbidden. The decisors of Jewish law have written that there is an ancient enactment and herem (ban) against speaking ill of and defaming the dead. This applies even if the subject is an am ha-aretz (boor), and even more so if he is a Torah scholar. Certainly, one who disparages [a scholar] commits a criminal act and should be excommunicated for this, as is ruled in Yoreh De'ah 243:7. The prohibition of disparaging a Torah scholar applies even if he is disparaging him personally, and certainly if he is disparaging his teachings.

However, despite this enactment, there are times when one is permitted to speak ill of the dead. It is important to note that this prohibition is not derived from the Torah verse banning lashon hara; it stems from a rabbinic decree and is, thus, no more stringent than the laws of lashon hara themselves. Since lashon hara which is otherwise biblically prohibited is allowed if there is a to'elet, so too lashon hara about the deceased is permitted if there is a to'elet. While the nature of the to'elet may change—after all, the deceased is no longer a threat to anyone else's safety—there may be any number of beneficial purposes in sharing this information including: preventing others from learning inappropriate behavior, condemning such behavior, clearing one's own reputation, seeking advice, support, and help, one's own psychological benefit, and validating the abusive experience of others who may have felt that they, and no one else, was this man's victim.

Furthermore, the restriction on speaking ill of the dead may be based on the assumption that death was a kapparah, i.e., it was an atonement for sins. This atonement, however, is predicated on his having repented before his death,<93> and that repentance requires both restitution for the harm caused and reconciliation with the victim.<94> If the perpetrator had not reconciled with his victim, no atonement was achieved. And of such an unrepentant sinner the verse teaches, "The memory of the just is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot" (Proverbs 10:7).<95>

In addition, Jewish law does not recognize the concept of statute of limitations in these matters.<96>

<91> Berakhot 19a :

Rabbi Yizhak said: If one makes remarks about the dead, it is like making remarks about a stone. Some say [the reason is that] they do not know, others that they know but do not care. Can that be so? Has not R. Papa said: A certain man made derogatory remarks about Mar Samuel and a log fell from the roof and broke his skull? A Rabbinical student is different, because the Holy One, blessed be He, avenges his insult.

<92> See Mordekhai to Bava Kama, nos. 82 and 106.

<93> Yoma 85b; See Sha'arei Teshuvah 4:20.

<94> See Bava Mezi'a 62b.

<95> See Yoma 38b.

<96> See Sanhedrin 31a and Hoshen Mishpat 98:1.


Shlomo Carlebach

Birth: 1926 in Berlin, Germany

Death: October 20, 1994 in New York, New York

Source: Religious Leaders of America, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 1999.

Shlomo Carlebach, the popular Neo-Hassidic rabbi and singer, is the son of Rabbi Nephtali Hartwig and Paula Cohn Carlebach. He is the descendent of a family of rabbis, most of whom had aligned themselves with Hassidism, the mystical form of Judaism which emerged in central and eastern Europe in the eighteenth century. Carlebach was but 13 when in 1939 his family left Germany to escape the ever-increasing Nazi persecution of Jews. They emigrated to America, and on the West Side of Manhattan his father founded a synagogue, Kehillath Yaakov. Meanwhile Carlebach began his training at the Lakewood Yeshiva (academy) and Columbia University. As he pursued his rabbinical training, Carlebach began to assist his father with the services at Kehillath Yaakov.

Carlebach's real talent began to manifest itself in other directions, however, when he emerged as a talented singer and guitarist. His modernized Hassidic songs, which he performed accompanying himself on the guitar, struck a responsive cord among contemporary Jewish young people during the 1960s. He began to develop a unique combination of traditional Hassidic mysticism and orthodox Jewish practice that seemed to many to resonate with basic themes in the youthful, "hippie" counter-culture. His form of Judaism included a place for health foods, communalism, and the search for self-fulfillment.

Among the most committed of the respondents to his music and message, in 1969 Carlebach organized the House of Love and Prayer, a havurot or commune, in San Francisco. (Havurots had emerged among Jewish youth earlier in the 1960s. Possibly the most famous commune was the Havurot Shalom in Boston.) During the 1970s as many as 40 people lived with the group. Through them Carlebach was responsible for initiating two periodicals--Holy Beggers' Gazette and Tree Journal. A similar community, Or Chadash, emerged among his followers in Los Angeles.

Since the early 1970s Carlebach has spent a significant part of the years traveling both across America and to Jewish communities abroad. He developed a following in Israel and it was there that a third communal group, Mishav Meot Midin, a communal farm, was formed. Its founding occurred about the same time the House of Love and Prayer disbanded in San Francisco, and several former members of the house moved to Israel.

Through the 1980s, the synagogue, the community, and Israel gave organizational focus to Carlebach's roving ministry. He has adapted his message to the New Age Movement, and feels a new age is coming as humanity recognizes the limitations of scientific knowledge. As a new higher heavenly knowledge spreads among people, Carlebach believes Jews will have a special role to play, reminding the world that there is only one God. To further his work, he recorded approximately 25 albums and several songbooks.

Carlebach centered his activity on Israel and the Moshao or Modin congregation which he had founded in Tel Aviv. He lived in Israel and New York where he and his brother shared duties for Kehillath Yaakov.


American Jewish Biographies. New York: Facts on File, 1982. 493 pp.

Jacobs, Susan. "A New Age Jew Revisits Her Roots." Yoga Journal (March/April, 1985), 32-34, 59.

"Of God & Blintzes." The New Sun 1, 2 (January 1977), 18-22. Shir, Leo.

"Shlomo Carlebach and the House of Love and Prayer." Midstream (February 1970), 27-42. Weintraub, Michael, and Michele Weintraub. "Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Half a Story, Half a Prayer." New Directions 27 (1977), 9-15.


"Shlomo Carlebach." Religious Leaders of America, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 1999. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2003.



"Rebbitzen Neila is the most extraordinary teacher. Hashem has blessed her with an unusual ability to convey complex and deep hashkafah (concepts) and kabbalah in a way that makes them understandable and relevant to the general public."

Rabbi Mordecai Tendler,

Kehilath New Hempstead, NY

A Paradoxical Legacy:  Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's Shadow Side

Lilith Magazine Volume 23, No. 1/Spring 1998

By Sarah Blustain

An orthodox rabbi by training, Rabbi Carlebach took down the separation between women and men in his own synagogue, encouraged women to study and to teach Jewish texts, and gave private ordination to women before most mainstream Jewish institutions would. Described as a musical genius, Rabbi Carlebach's melodies, including Adir Hu, AmYisroel Chai, and Esa Ena, are sung throughout the world in Hasidic shteibels and Reform temples alike; have sunk so deeply into Jewish consciousness that many don't realize these are not age-old tunes. And Rabbi Carlebach encouraged women, tossing out loudly a challenge to the orthodox teaching that women's voices should not be heard publicly lest they arouse men.

Shlomo Carlebach also abandoned the Orthodox injunction that men and women not touch publicly. Indeed, he was known for his frequent hugs of men and women alike, and often said his hope was to hug every Jew, perhaps every person, on earth.  

It is an alarming paradox, then, that the man who did so much on behalf of women may also have done some of them harm. In the three years since Rabbi Carlebach's death, at age 69, ceremonies honoring his life and work have been interrupted by women who claim the Rabbi sexually harassed or abused them. In dozens of recent interviews, Lilith has attempted to untangle and to explain Rabbi Carlebach's legacy.

"He was the first person to ordain women, to take down the mechitza and I think he thought all boundaries were off," says Abigail Grafton, a psychotherapist whose Jewish Renewal congregation in Berkeley, California has spent the last six months trying to cope with the allegations.

While Rabbi Carlebach was never formally connected with the Jewish Renewal movement, which encourages spiritual and mystical expressions of Judaism, his teachings and music have had a deep impact on many Renewal congregations, and on institutions of other streams of Judaism as well. For this reason, he was a frequent guest at synagogues, youth conventions, Jewish summer camps and other gatherings.

Among the many people Lilith spoke with, nearly all had heard stories of Rabbi Carlebach's sexual indiscretions during his more than four-decade rabbinic career. Spiritual leaders, psychotherapists, and others report numerous incidents, from playful propositions to actual sexual contact. Most of the allegations include middle-of-the-night, sexually charged phone calls and unwanted attention or propositions. Others, which have been slower to emerge, relate to sexual molestation.

The story appears to date back to the 60's when Rabbi Carlebach had moved away from his Lubavitch Hasidic practice and was exploring ways to bring aspects of Judaism to a mixed-gender, secular Jewish community. But it begins for our purposes in the days after his death, in 1994, when a memorial service on Manhattan's Upper West Side was attended by a multitude, and the blocks in front of his synagogue, the Carlebach Shul, had to be closed off to accommodate the gathered crowds. In pouring rain, men and women wailed as their religious leaders articulated their grief. "The air around here is sanctified, "one passionate speaker told the crowd. "If I were you, I would breathe the air&It will fix something."

Such idealization was only the beginning of a process of canonizing Rabbi Carlebach, a process that has continued over the three years since his death. A number of his followers have reminded us that Rabbi Carlebach, when alive, "walked with the humblest of the humble" and "never said he was a holy man." But with his death came an outpouring of love, and a degree of idolization that did not easily allow followers to recognize what others gently call his "shadow side."

"I hear people say or imply it over and over again, 'He was bigger than life,'" remarks Patricia Cohn, a member of the Berkeley Jewish Renewal community and a women's rights activist who has been centrally involved in her community's effort to grapple with the allegations that women both in Berkeley and elsewhere were injured by Rabbi Carlebach. "He touched many people on a level that they have rarely been touched in their lives."

It was at one ceremony, at an ALEPH gathering in Colorado, that an assembly of more than 800 honored his life with songs and stories on the first anniversary of his death. ALEPH is the central institution for the Jewish Renewal movement; its preeminent rebbe, Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, had been a friend of Rabbi Carlebach since the 1950's when both were sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to do outreach to the secular world.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, a pioneer Jewish feminist who was at that ALEPH Kallah, says that she "first became aware of his glorification at the gathering, when it was announced that this [memorial] was going to happen." Right after the announcement, three or four people "jumped me", she says, and told their stories: "'Shlomo molested me, Shlomo was abusive to me,'" is how she summarizes their words.

It was going "overboard to not acknowledge the problematic side of the man when there members of the community there were hurt by him," says Rivkah Walton, an ALEPH program director, who reports that she walked out of the memorial.

In 1997, through the Internet and in public forums, the stories of inappropriate behavior began to be more widely discussed. The messenger was Rabbi Gottlieb, who since the ALEPH gathering had been distressed by the continued murmuring about Rabbi Carlebach. Understanding the pain and confusion here revelations might stir up, but concerned with what she saw as the "deification of Shlomo Carlebach"; Rabbi Gottlieb wrote a tell-all essay.

"These are difficult words to write," she began, in an essay sent to Lilith and presented by Rabbi Gottlieb at Chochmat HaLev, a Berkeley Jewish center for meditation and spirituality, in late 1997. "I have a responsibility to the women who have confided in me. They deserve a place on the page of the collective memories about Shlomo Carlebach."

She wrote of Rabbi Carlebach's molestation of one of her congregants, Rachel, as a young woman. As Rachel (name changed on her request to prevent further trauma) told Lilith in a subsequent telephone interview, she was in high school in the late '60's when she attended a Jewish camp where, for the first time in her life she felt 'safe and uncriticized&Every talent I had was encouraged." Music was everywhere, and it was to this "safe" environment that Rabbi Carlebach, who spent much of his life traveling to bring his music and prayer to communities, worldwide, was invited as a guest singer. "We had heard that someone fabulous was coming, a star," she recalls of the visit. 'The rabbis [at the camp] really seemed to honor him, like a god." Rabbi Carlebach, with his warmth and charisma, was like the Pied Piper, she remembers, and his singing was wonderful; Rachel recalls it as "the first time in a Jewish context that I could feel that I was having a spiritual experience."

When he asked her to show him around the camp, Rachel says she felt, "what an honor [it was] to be alone with this great man." They walked and talked of philosophy and Israel, of stars and poems, and she remembers being "just enchanted." He asked her for a hug, and when she agreed, "he wouldn't let go. I thought the hug was over and I tried to squirm out of it. He started to rub and rock against me." So unsuspecting was she, she says, "that at first I thought, 'was this some sort of davening?'" She says she tried to push him away while he was "dry humping me until he came." And although she doesn't remember the words he spoke, she remembers him communicating to her that it was something special in her that had caused this to happen. "It felt cheap, but he had said thank you." The next day he didn't even acknowledge her presence.

Rachel's responses, she reports, were varied in the days after this incident. At first she wondered, "Was I his special friend?" Then, when he ignored her, she wondered, "Did I displease him? Was he considering me a whore?" She also blamed herself for causing the event, was there something special in her that made this happen? And "for not having the chutzpah to kick him in the shins."

However, he was a special rabbi, and those she had looked up to, looked up to him. Rachel, today and artist and a martial arts teacher in New Mexico, told almost no one what had happened. Those she did tell said he was "just a dirty old man." Thirty-five years later she was jogging with Rabbi Gottlieb, both her friend and her congregational rabbi, when they were talking about Rabbi Carlebach. Hearing that others were claiming experiences similar to hers, Rachel broke down in tears. Only then, she recalls, did she get very angry. I felt acknowledged. It wasn't a dream, it really happened."

Other stories have begun to emerge, suggesting that Rachel's experience was not unique. Robin Goldberg, today a teacher of women's studies and a research psychoanalyst on women's issues in California, was 12 years old when Shlomo visited her Orthodox Harrisburg, Pennsylvania community to lead a singing and dancing concert. He invited all the young people for a pre-concert preparation. And it was during the dancing that he started touching her. He kept coming back to her, she reports, whispering in her ear, saying "holy maidele," and fondling her breast. Twelve years old and Orthodox, she says she didn't know what to think. Her mother, that afternoon, told her she must have been mistaken, and that she must not have understood what was going on. But when she was taken to a dance event led by Rabbi Carlebach years later, while she was in college, she reports that the same thing, dancing, whispering, fondling, happened to her again.

Another story comes from Rabbi Goldie Milgram, 43, today a teacher and an associate dean at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York City. Rabbi Milgrom was 14 when Rabbi Carlebach was a guest at her United Synagogue Youth convention in New Jersey, and was invited by her parents to stay at their home. Late that night they passed in the hallway. "He pulled me up against him, rubbed his hands up my body and under my cloths and pulled me up against him. He rubbed up against me; I presume he had an orgasm. He called me mammele.

Rabbi Milgram says she didn't tell her parents at the time and wasn't able to work through the incident until three years later, when she was 17 and on her first trip to Israel. Approaching the Kotel, she saw Rabbi Carlebach leading singing there and she fled. Her companion saw her distress and suggested that she "'pretend I'm him,'" recalls Rabbi Milgram. "All I remember is screaming 'Who are you? Why did you do that? I was so excited that you came to my house and then...'" (Today, Rabbi Milgram says, she has come to terms with this event and feels very connected to Rabbi Carlebach's positive work, though she had been alienated by her early experience with him.)

For the past 15 years, Marcia Cohn Spiegel of Los Angeles, has studied addiction and sexual abuse in the Jewish community and has spoken to some 60 groups through Brandeis University, the University of Judaism, the Havurah Institute, along with many Jewish women's organizations, synagogues and Jewish community centers. She doesn't mention Rabbi Carlebach at all in her talks, she told Lilith. Following such talks, women come up to her, even in the women's bathroom, to pour out their own stories, she says, "not seeking publicity or revenge, but coming from a place of shame and isolation." Consistently through the years women have come forward to share their stories explicitly about Rabbi Carlebach, Speigel says.

In a letter, which Spiegel made available to Lilith, she states that in the last few years, a number of women in their 40s have approached her "in private and often with deep-seated pain" about experiences they had when they were in their teens. "Shlomo came to their camp, their center, their synagogue," she wrote, "He singled them out with some excuse...[G]etting them alone, he fondled their breasts and vagina, sometimes thrusting himself against them muttering something, which they now believe was Yiddish."

The other typical story, she says, is recounted by women who had gone to Rabbi Carlebach, "for help with problems, or who met him when they studied with him. They were in their 20s or 30s when it happened. He would call them late at night (two or three o'clock in the morning) and tell them that he couldn't sleep. He had been thinking of them. He asked, Where were they? What were they wearing?"

A woman who attended services conducted by Rabbi Carlebach in California in the 1970's, and who asked not to be identified in this article, recalls precisely this second scenario. After meeting her once or twice, she says, Rabbi Carlebach called her in the middle of the night several times. "It was very creepy. I seem to remember him breathing heavily on the phone and panting." Though at first she was confused, once she realized that "something surreptitious" was going on, she told him not to call her in the middle of the night anymore. He did not.

Rabbi Carlebach's sexual advances to adult women were apparently well known. Rabbi Gottlieb herself recounts Rabbi Carlebach's request that she pick him up at his hotel when he was visiting her Albuquerque community. When she got there, "he refused to come down," asking instead that she come up to his room. Rabbi Gottlieb "went up and stood outside the threshold and said, "I am not coming into your room and you are not going to touch me.'" Another woman recalls, "His manner was 'God loves you, I love you,' and then he'd come on to you out of 'love.'"

If these allegations were so widely known, why were so many people, in so many communities in the United States, Canada, Israel and elsewhere, able to ignore or squelch such serious concerns to preserve the myth of a wholly holy man?

The ideal time to confront Rabbi Carlebach about these allegations would have been during his life. Though that opportunity has passed, there are a number of reasons why these allegations need to be acknowledged in public, even after his death.

First, silence. A silence protective of the man and damaging to the women has been maintained for years, sometimes decades since the alleged events. Perhaps these women were cowed by Rabbi Carlebach's living presence, but his posthumous increase in stature cannot have made the speaking easier. Those who have encouraged the women to come forward say they hope that breaking these silences will help other women to speak as well, and that such speaking will allow them all to begin to heal.

Second, power. It is important to understand just how powerful and intimate an impact any spiritual leader, but particularly a charismatic and revered Rabbi like Rabbi Carlebach, may have on followers. Unfortunately, according to experts on clergy abuse, it is not uncommon for extremely charismatic leaders to take advantage of this power in order to make sexual contact with congregants. It is the rabbi's responsibility, these women's stories suggest, to recognize his power, and to use it only to his congregant's benefit and not to their detriment.

Finally, communal responsibility. In cases where a rabbi's self-restraint fails, perhaps the Jewish community needs to look at its own responsibility for protecting its members, and for helping its rabbis as well. If Rabbi Carlebach's sexual advances indeed spanned decades and continents, as has been alleged, and were indeed as well known as it now appears, then we must ask: What might have been done on behalf of the women who may have been hurt by him? What can be done for them today? And why did the legions who revered him not do more to help him, since there appears to be some evidence that Rabbi Carlebach was himself troubled by aspects of his own behavior.

Rabbi Carlebach's approach to Jewish learning and spirituality developed in an era when social boundaries were being broken. Born in Germany the son of a rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach moved with his family to the United States in 1938 and began his schooling in strictly Orthodox institutions in New Jersey. In 1949, as an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he was sent out by the Rebbe to reach out to lapsed Jews, but he objected to Orthodoxy's strict separation of men and women, and he left the Lubavitch fold, according to a recent article in Moment magazine.

By the 1960's, Rabbi Carlebach was maintaining the musical style and spiritual fervency of Hasidism, but had rejected constraints and the gender segregation it demands. Among the ultra-Orthodox, wrote Robert Cohen in a recent, generally positive memoir in Moment, "embracing women was enough to make Shlomo a dubious, if not disreputable, figure in many Orthodox circles." Instead, he established his base of spiritual operations from the mid 60's to mid 70's at San Francisco's House of Love and Prayer, a commune-style synagogue that catered to a young hippie community.

"Shlomo joined the counter-culture," notes Reuven Goldfarb of a Berkeley Jewish Renewal congregation the Aquarian Minyan, defending "Shlomo" (as the rabbi asked people to call him) from opprobrium. "The norms in that sub-group were very different, and he was subject to all sorts of temptation."

In addition to an increasing sexual openness in American culture generally, Rabbi Carlebach had developed his own belief that the healing of the world would come through unconditional love. He was known for calling friends "holy brother," "holy sister," "holy cousin." "His life goal," Cohen writing in Moment, recalled his saying, "was to 'hug every Jew [sometimes it was every human being] in the world.'" One woman telephoning Lilith from Jerusalem in horror that any negative story about Rabbi Carlebach might appear, recalled, "he hugged many many people and he also saved so many people with those hugs." Another told us, "He hugged into each man, woman, child what each of us needed." Another man remembers a synagogue concert in the late 60's when Rabbi Carlebach kissed every person who greeted him there on the mouth.

Despite their support of some of Rabbi Carlebach's spirituality and egalitarianism, there were even those in the forefront of challenging Judaism's traditional hierarchies who viewed Rabbi Carlebach's alleged sexual behavior as wrong. In the early 80's, a group of women in the Berkeley area decided to express to him their concerns about his behavior toward women. Among them was Sara Shendelman, a cantor who holds a joint ordination from Rabbis Carlebach and Schachter-Shalomi and who sang with Rabbi Carlebach for 15 years before his death. Specifically, says Shendelman, her Rosh Hodesh group of 15 to 20 women was concerned that Shlomo Carlebach did not observe proper boundaries with woman that he called them in the middle of the night, and sometime invited them to his hotel.

"We were going to study Judith, supposedly, but what we were really going to do was confront him," she recalls of the planned meeting. The day came, and members of the group began to get cold feet. They felt he just had "too much light" to be confronted, Shendelman recalls. (Shendelman told Lilith she heard later that someone had told Rabbi Carlebach the purpose of the meeting in advance. He came nonetheless.) The group, along with Rabbi Carlebach, began to study. Rabbi Carlebach, according to Shendelman, sat wrapped in his tallit and spoke of teshuva.

Not one of the women spoke up, until Shendelman announced, "Shlomo, we came here because we need to talk to you about how you've been behaving toward the women in the community&And the whole room froze&Nobody was willing to back me up."

The dialogue between Shendelman and Rabbi Carlebach continued in a private room, where Rabbi Carlebach at first denied any problem, says Shendelman. Then she reports, he said over and over, "Oy, this needs such a fixing."

We cannot know what Rabbi Carlebach did toward "such a fixing." Certainly the reluctance of the women of the Berkeley community to approach him en masse, and the reluctance of others in the wider Jewish community, must have made it easier for him to avoid addressing the problem. Perhaps if he had received greater guidance in seeing that his behavior needed repair, Rabbi Carlebach might have welcomed an opportunity to do teshuva, repentance.

We do know that certain segments of the progressive Jewish world, until the day Rabbi Carlebach died, distanced themselves from him because they were aware of reports of his sexual behavior. Leaders at ALEPH, and its sister organization, a retreat center called Elat Chayyim, told Lilith that during Rabbi Carlebach's life they refused to invite him to teach under their auspices or sit on their boards.

"It was definitely and issue for me," said Rabbi Jeffrey Roth, director of Elat Chayyim, who says that he had hoped to invite Rabbi Carlebach to teach before his sudden death. "My intent was&that I was going to have a serious discussion about [the] innuendoes&In retrospect, when I heard of the [seriousness] of the stories, I think that even my thinking that maybe I would invite him and lay down the law would have been a cop out."

"He didn't have a relationship with ALEPH, and that [his sexual advances towards women] was a serious impediment," Susan Saxe, chief operating officer of ALEPH, told Lilith, emphasizing that Rabbi Carlebach was "one of several distinguished teachers with whom we might have wished to be closer, but could not, in keeping with our Code of Ethics." ALEPH's Code of Ethics proscribes the abuse of power in interpersonal relationships as well as discrimination in other forms.

Rabbi Daniel Siegel, executive director of ALEPH, was the first rabbi ordained by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He was introduced to Rabbi Carlebach by his wife, Hanna Tiferet Siegel, to whom Rabbi Carlebach "had been very kind during a difficult year in her life," Rabbi Siegel recalls. "She always loved him for his support and encouragement."

"Shlomo was never my rebbe," Rabbi Siegel says, "though I have a love both for his music and many of his teachings. In spite of the disagreements I had with his politics and his very ethnocentric view of reality, I brought or helped bring him for concerts several times. I was also aware of his reputation for indiscretions with women, though what I heard was vague and filtered through other people. However, it did happen that women I knew began to tell me of conversations they had with him, after concerts I organized, in which he said things which had disturbed or confused them. As a result, I stopped inviting Shlomo, though I never told him why."

Now, however, the dam of silence has begun to break. Some members of the Jewish Renewal community of Berkeley, California, particularly those active in the Aquarian Minyan and the Jewish learning center Chochmat HaLev, where Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb first presented her account of Rachel's abuse last Fall, have taken upon themselves the burden of giving voice to the allegations.

"He so deeply wounded many women," says Nan Fink, co-director of Chochmat HaLev and co-founder of Tikkun magazine. "Communities knew that this was happening, and women were hardly ever protected...I think it is really important for the community to make a gesture of apology to the women."

Rabbi Gottlieb's presentation came just eight weeks before a scheduled Shabbat program entitled, "Celebrating Shlomo." According to Reuven Goldfarb, a leader of the Aquarian Minyan, Rabbi Gottlieb's words so disturbed some members of his community that the event was postponed until after the community could begin a "healing process" and hold a series of events to that end.

A Healing Committee has now been formed by the Aquarian Minyan. On December 7, according to Goldfarb, a confidential meeting dubbed Mishkan Tikkun; "a sanctuary for fixing" took place "to provide a listening space for those who felt they had been injured by boundary violations that occurred within a spiritual context." According to a source who attended that meeting, three people came forward with claims against Rabbi Carlebach: one woman spoke about herself, two spoke about their daughters.

Committee member Patricia Cohn, an interim director of the now-closed Bay Area Sexual Harassment Clinic, told Lilith that the Jewish Renewal community is attempting to address the concerns raised by the allegations that have surfaced "by promoting opportunities for members to talk with one another, gain support for dealing with their feelings and reactions, re-establish, or establish, a deeper sense of safety, define appropriate boundary-setting, and educate themselves about the way sexual harassment functions and affects people." In addition, the committee hopes to offer forums to "explore ethical and moral guidelines for rabbis and people in positions of lay spiritual leadership to bring into focus the power imbalances between someone in a position of spiritual leadership and the person he or she is serving."

The Jewish world has not really dealt with rabbinic [sexual] abuse," says Fink. "The Christian world has, the Buddhist world has. The Jewish community needs to say, 'We don't sanction this.' The main thing is to have it really be known that every infraction of this kind will not be tolerated."

Nonetheless, for the many who knew Rabbi Carlebach as a holy guide, hearing allegations may raise a conundrum: "How it is possible that a person who can affect us so powerfully&can at the same time be imperfect and do things we find very, very hard to countenance," asks Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus and, most recently, of Stalking Elijah: Adventures with Today's Mystical Masters.

This cognitive dissonance echoes through Jewish tradition, which is filled with flawed leaders, Moses and David come to mind, who are appreciated for their greatness and forgiven for their human failings. "It is important for us to be reminded that even our spiritual teachers are flawed human beings," notes Rabbi Siegel of ALEPH. "I hope that somehow, as time goes on, we will learn how to honor Reb Shlomo's gifts and, at the same time, to acknowledge those for whom his presence was difficult and even painful. While I cannot predict how this will happen, I know that honest and open discussion of the totality of Reb Shlomo's life can only help."

Indeed, the holding of both parts of Shlomo Carlebach in mind have come into relief as these allegations against him have collided full force with the reverence many still feel for him. Some of his followers have jumped to his defense in the face of claims such as these. Lilith has received both the outrage and prayers of those trying to stop the publication of this article. Coming from as far as Israel, England, and Switzerland, comments have ranged from denial that such actions could have taken place to testimonials to his greatness. More than anything, these calls, emails, and faxes have demanded in various ways that we perpetuate the silence.

"Whatever negative there is to say there [are] a million positives you could choose," one protester wrote. Another told us, "He alone gave me the sense of beauty of being a Jewish woman." A third, even more adamant, suggested hat "there is no way you can even think of publishing a negative article about a man like Rabbi Carlebach, if you even begin to know the unending acts of kindness he devoted his life to performing." Finally, some protested against these allegations coming to light, "regardless of truth or right," "How dare you sully the memory of such a soul, such a tzaddik?" one correspondent asked.

Kamenetz suggests that this need to see only the positive sides of Rabbi Carlebach should be expected. "We want to be moved, we want to be touched, and we project that onto certain individuals," he said, explaining how such an idealized perspective develops.

Explains Rabbi Julie Spitzer, "It is not uncommon when women come forward with their stories of inappropriate sexual contact with a rabbi or clergy member hat the members of the congregation or community so much want to disbelieve those shocking allegations that they vilify the complainant and glorify the abuser." Rabbi Spitzer is director of the Greater New York Council of Reform Synagogues and for 14 years has served on the National Advisory Board for the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence.

In the cacophony of voices expressing doubt, fear, fury and grief, Rabbi Gottlieb asserts, "This is about our relationship to power, rabbinics, patriarchy. This is not about him. It is about the women he hurt."

The voice of Rachel, speaking of her summer camp experience more than 35 years ago rings clear for any who wonders why, in the end, her story had to be spoken aloud. "I think in the name of a higher good than one man's reputation, we must talk about this.  It's about truth, and if we keep saying that he was a great man and if we don't name the behavior and don't hold him and his spirit and memory accountable, we are colluding in perpetuating that behavior and violence in our most spiritual center."


Sex, the Spirit, Leadership and the Dangers of Abuse

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow - editor of New Menorah

Shalom Center

Two events in Jewish life raise serious questions about the relationships among sexuality,  spirituality, and religious leadership -- questions of what it means to sharply separate sex from the Spirit,  and of what it means to confuse them without any boundaries.

One of these events is a letter that went in October 1997 from the dean of the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary to its students, and the other is the uncovering and publication by Lilith magazine of some deeply disturbing reports describing abusive behavior of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, alav hashalom, z'l, toward some women.

The danger that religious and spiritual leadership may slop over into sexual harassment and abuse seems to cut across all the boundaries of different religions and different forms of religious expression within each tradition.  In Jewish life, for example, whether we look at the most halakhically bound or the most free-spirit leadership, we find some who draw on the deep energies of Spirit and the honor due teachers of Torah, but cannot distinguish those energies and honor from an invitation to become sexual harassers and abusers.

There are great dangers in totally sundering spirituality and spiritual leadership from sexual energy, and there are great dangers in treating the two as if they were simply and totally identical. The sacred dance is to treat the two as intimately related but not identical.


For many of us -- not only in our own era and society, but for example among the Rabbis of the Talmud too --  the energies of Spirit and of sexuality are in truth intertwined, and need to flow together for either to be rich and full.

Look at the Song of Songs, which is clearly erotic and has been seen by many generations, using many different frameworks,  as deeply spiritual. Look at the Rabbis who said that Torah study was like delicious love-making with a Partner whose sexual attractiveness never lessened. 

I would not want to lose this intertwining. Indeed, I think that even in the aspects I have just named, some vitality was drained from Judaism when the rabbis utterly separated the Song of Songs from its erotic roots — forbidding it to be sung in wine-halls at the same moment they approved its canonization as a voicing of the Holy Spirit and a book of the Bible. And I think the Rabbis also drained some life-juice from Judaism, as they themselves ruefully acknowledged, when they treated Torah-study as so  erotically fulfilling that they would forget to go home to make love to their wives.

Just recently,  the Dean of the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary has warned its unmarried rabbinical students: "Living together, which is the derech eretz of so many today, is unacceptable for one seeking the rabbinate. . . . I want to make it clear that it is my opinion that a rabbinical student 'living together' before marriage, even with a future spouse, should not continue in the Rabbinical School." This may or may not be a direct threat to dismiss any unmarried student who does live with someone -- i.e., is publicly known to be in a sexual relationship. Either way, I think it leads to deep spiritual and ethical problems.

For I worry that it is trying to treat Spirit as if it had no intertwine with sexuality — and thus is once again squeezing the life-juice out of Judaism. 

It was one thing to assume that sexual relationships came only with marriage when people married in their teens. It is another when our lives are so complex and our identities so fluid that many people who are in rabbinical school are wise not yet to marry -- but also ought not  be forced to be celibate. The notion of  forcing such students into either long and complex lies about their sexual lives or into an undesired celibacy means training future rabbis to be either liars or sexually warped, narrowed, dwellers in Mitzraiim -- the "Narrow Straits."

Some might argue that the Dean's letter is not aimed at the sexual ethics of Jews in general but at rabbinical students alone. This is not factually correct; the letter makes clear that the Dean is concerned about rabbinical students precisely because their behavior will affect the behavior of all Jews, and it is the behavior of all Jews he hopes to shape so that all sexual relationships are kept within marriage. For me the focus on those who will become role models does not ease the problem, but may make it worse. Who wants "role models" who have learned to choose between lying and drying up?

Indeed, some believe that one way of creating sexually uncontrollable people is to dam up their sexual energies when they are young and should be learning how to channel them in decent, loving ways. Do the demands of celibacy in some Christian denominations have any share in shaping priests who abuse children or parishioners? Do  Hassidic yeshivas that forbid the bochers to masturbate, on pain of long fasts and punishment have any responsibility when some of them never learn how to make loving love, and become abusers when they grow older?

Taking all these issues into account, we need to explore down-to-earth, practical steps toward shaping and celebrating sacred sexual relationships other than marriage.


 Is there any way to affirm and celebrate non-marital sexual relationships, and to establish  ethical and liturgical standards for them, without violating halakha -- and indeed by drawing on some positive strands of Jewish tradition?

From biblical tradition on, there has been a category for legitimate non-marital sexual relationships that could be initiated and ended by either party without elaborate legalities. It was frowned on by most but not all guardians of rabbinic tradition. It was called "pilegesh," usually translated "concubine," though it meant something more open, free, and egalitarian than "concubine" connotes in English.

 I refer people to the recently published volume by Rabbi Gershon Winkler, Sacred Secrets: The Sanctity of Sex in Jewish Law and Lore (Jason Aronson, Northvale NJ).  In it is an Appendix (pp. 101-142) with the complete text of an 18th-century Tshuvah (Responsum) of Rabbi Yaakov (Jacob) of Emden to a shylah (question) concerning the pilegesh relationship. In it Rabbi Yaakov writes:

"[A single woman living with a man] ought to feel no more ashamed of immersing herself in a communal mikveh at the proper times than her married sisters.

"Those who prefer the pilagshut relationship may certainly do so. . . . For perhaps the woman wishes to be able to leave immediately without any divorce proceedings in the event she is mistreated, or perhaps either party is unprepared for the burdensome responsibilities of marital obligations. . ."

Winkler shows that Ramban (Moshe ben Nachman, Nachmanides) in the 13th century and a host of other authorities also ruled that legitimate sexual relationships are not limited to marriage.

It is true that some authorities, including Rambam (Maimonides) did rule in favor of such limits, but many did not.

What are the uses of the pilegesh relationship? It can give equality and self-determination to those women and men who use it. Either person can end the relationship simply by leaving. It is true that it does not automatically include the "protections" for women that apply in Jewish marriages, but please note that the very notion of such "protections" assumes that women are not only economically and politically but also legally and spiritually disempowered, and need special protections.  These protections are an act of grace from the real ruler of a marriage -- the husband -- to a subordinate woman.

But in our society,  women are legally equal, and often and increasingly economically and politically equal --  and most of us want it that way. And our society is so complex that most people defer marriage for many years, even decades, after puberty  --  and most of us want it that way. So the value of the protective noblesse oblige that the old path offered women must be weighed against the limits on women's and men's freedom and emotional health and growth that are involved in prohibiting sexual relationships between unmarried people, on the one hand, and the limits on women's freedom and growth involved in traditional Jewish marriage (e.g. the agunah problem) on the other hand.

To put it sharply --- do we really wish to forbid all sexual relationships between unmarried people -- to insist on celibacy for an enormous proportion of Jews in their 20s and 30s, and for divorced Jews? If not, why not draw on the pilegesh relationship to establish a sacred grounding for sexual relationships that are not marriages, and create patterns of honesty, health, contraception, intimacy, and holiness for such relationships?

For us to draw on the pilegesh tradition in this way does not require us to take it exactly as those before us saw it, or as others might apply it today.  For example, some Orthodox rabbis seem to be using it today  to help men who have  become separated from their wives but are refusing to give their wives a gettt, or Jewish divorce. If there is no gett, neither spouse can marry again.  But the pilegesh practice lets the men find sexual partners and so reduce the pressure on themselves to finish the divorce process. The "women in chains" who result from this process cannot make a pilegesh relationship -- for under Jewish law they would become adulterers, although their estranged husbands do not. So in these cases pilegesh is used to disadvantage women even more.

But in communities that either do not require a gett or recognize that either spouse can initiate a gett, and that would also see pilegesh as a relationship that either women or men could initiate and either could end,  pilegesh could increase the free choices available to women and become a way of celebrating sexual relationships that the parties are not willing to describe as permanent -- especially relationships not aimed at birthing or rearing children.

And the initial pilegesh agreement could specify what to do in cases where a woman partner became pregnant, and how to establish as much equal responsibility  as possible between the pregnant and non-pregnant partner. 

If we both celebrate sexuality and do not believe that "anything goes" in sexual relationships, then we are obligated to create ethical, spiritual, and celebratory patterns for what does and doesn't go in several different forms of sexual relationship.  That is because most joyfulness is enhanced by communal celebration, and most ethical behavior requires not only individual intention but also communal commitment, embodied and crystallized in moments of intense communal ceremony. This would mean that we begin filling the pilegesh category with some ethical, ceremonial, and spiritual content -- all quite different from the traditional patterns for marriage, but also able to convey ethical and spiritual dimensions of a different kind of sexual relationship.

And if the word "pilegesh," or its conventional translation into "concubine," threatens to poison the idea, then let us honor the seichel of those of our forebears who held this pathway open, and let us simply name it something else. (For example, Israelis call the partners in an unmarried couple a "ben zug" or "bat zug.")

In my book Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life I draw on these alternative strands of traditional Rabbinic law about which Rabbi Winkler has reminded us, to develop some new approaches to a sacred Jewish sexual ethic for our generation.  I had access to Rabbi Winkler's research before his new book appeared, and want to urge people to read it. I think he has done deep and great service to the possibility of a Judaism that can speak to our generations.


We have been addressing the danger of severing sexuality from spirituality, and the possibility of celebrating this sacred intertwining when it is best manifested in relationships other than marriage.  On the other hand, we must also address the dangers of treating  spiritual and sexual energy as if they were simply and exactly the same, so that spiritual leadership might be taken as a warrant for sexual acting-out -- and in that light we may explore ways of celebrating this sacred intertwining while minimizing the chances of abuse.

The danger -- and the need for correctives -- became most poignantly clear to many of us when Lilith magazine published an investigative account of a series of molestations of adolescent girls by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.  Reb Shlomo has been for many Jews of a wide variety of backgrounds an extraordinary treasure. His songs, his stories, his generosity in money and spirit have opened up not only Judaism but a sense of spiritual growth to tens or hundreds of thousands of people.

For me, Reb Shlomo was an important door-opener into my own Jewish life. When I was profoundly discouraged by bitter attacks from some Jewish institutions on The Freedom Seder  and others of my early efforts toward an ethically and politically renewed and revivified Judaism, Reb Shlomo welcomed me as a chaver on his own journey into the wilderness. He leaped and danced and sang at a Freedom Seder  "against the Pharaohs of Wall Street." He came to sing at a Tu B'Shvat celebration of "Trees for Vietnam." He invited me to say one of the sheva brochas at his wedding when I still knew too little Hebrew to do that celebratory task. He sat with me for a television interview of "Hassidim Old and New" when the Lubavitcher Hassidim (his old comrades) refused to be televised sitting at the same table with either one of us -- him a "renegade," me a "revolutionary."   In a major break from the Hassidic past, he treated the women and men who came to learn from him as spiritual equals -- even ultimately ordaining as rabbis a few women, as well as men.

His love for Jews knew no bounds.  So much so that he could not believe that Jews could be oppressing Palestinians,  let alone criticize the oppression. As my own sense of an ethical and spiritual Judaism came to include the need for a profoundly different relationship between the two families of Abraham, and as his views crystallized into strong support for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, it became much harder for me to work with him.

And as my own sense of self-confidence grew in pursuing my own path toward the "new paradigm" of Judaism alongside the work of  Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and of a growing community of Jewish feminists, my need for Reb Shlomo's reassurances vanished.  My admiration of his loving neshama remained, but I more and more felt that he was no longer pursuing the deepest implications of Jewish renewal; that he was still too committed to the old Hassidism to go forward in creating a new one.

And then I, and my friends,  began to hear rumors, a story here and there, more and more of them, about unsettling behavior toward some of the women whom he was teaching.  An unexpected touch here, an inappropriate late-night phone call there. No stories that I would quite call "horrifying," but stories troubling enough to make ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal decide not to invite Reb Shlomo to teach at our gatherings, When we heard that he and his staff were upset at this absence, we decided to offer to meet with him face-to-face to say what was troubling us, and hear his response.

But before we could go forward with such a meeting, he died.

And then, after several years of grieving memory and even, among some people, growing adulation, stories surfaced that were indeed horrifying.  Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, herself a "rebbe" as well as a feminist and a creator of Jewish renewal, brought some of the stories from secret separate undergrounds into a public view: stories of physical molestation of young adolescent girls, though not of what would be legally defined as rape. An investigative reporter for Lilith  found corroboration. Although some people refused to believe the stories, and although it is a serious problem that Reb Shlomo cannot himself respond to them, nevertheless it seems to me that Lilith  did a responsible job of checking on them.

How to square these stories with the Shlomo whom I had loved and admired? With the Shlomo whose love of Jews had known no bounds?

Oh. "Whose love of Jews had known no bounds." No boundaries.

From this clue -- no bounds, no boundaries -- I began to try to think through what went wrong with Shlomo alongside what was so wonderful about him, and why some who had loved him refused to believe what by now seemed well-attested stories, and -- above all, since Shlomo-in-the-flesh could no longer change his behavior -- what all that meant we should be thinking and doing in the future.

For the "unbounded/ unboundaried" metaphor echoed for me some of the teachings of Kabbalah and Hassidism, especially the ways in which Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi had transformed those thought-patterns toward a new Judaism.  The ways in which he had reconfigured the Sphirot, long understood as emanations and manifestations of God, as a framework for human psychology as well. Truly the tzelem elohim -- the Image of God -- implanted in the human psyche.

What was the echo that I heard? It was the teaching of the sphirah Chesed  -- usually understood as "loving-kindness," but in Kabbalah also understood as overflowing, unbounded, unboundaried energy.

For me, then the question was and is, how to draw on this echo, this insight, this "click," to celebrate the sacred intertwining of sexuality and Spirit -- neither sundering one from the other nor confounding their truths into a boundaryless mess.

How can we encourage this artful dance? We might learn to shape and encourage a balanced embodiment of the Sphirot as the basic character pattern of a spiritual leader — since one character-pattern or another can prevent, or ease, or disguise a leaning toward sexual exploitation of spiritual strength.

Kabbalah warns that the different Sphirot can become distorted and destructive. We are most used to manipulation and abuse that can flow from an overbearing overdose of the sphirah of Gevurah, Power and Strictness,  Of course Gevurah can inspire and teach. It may communicate clarity and focus to those whose feelings, minds, and spirits are scattered and dispersed. Yet there is danger in a teacher overmastered by Gevurah run amok: one who teaches through raging fear and anger. 

And a teacher overmastered by Gevurah may turn students into submissive servants of his sexual will (far more rarely, hers).

We are less likely to notice the dangers of Gevurah's partner Chesed, precisely because we are warmed by loving-kindness. But --A spiritual leader may pour unceasing love into the world. May pour out unboundaried his money, his time, his attention, his love.  For many of the community around them, this feels wonderful. It releases new hope, energy, freedom.

But it may also threaten and endanger. Even Chesed can run amok. A Chesed-freak  may come late everywhere because he has promised  to attend too many people. He may  leave himself and his family penniless because he gave their money to everyone else. He may give to everyone the signals of a special love, and so make ordinary the special love he owes to some beloveds. And he may use Chesed to overwhelm the self-hood of those who love and follow him, and abuse them sexually.

Indeed, this misuse of Loving-kindness may lead to even deeper scars than naked Gevurah-dik coercion. For it leaves behind in its victims not only confusion between Spirit and Sexuality, but confusion between love and manipulation.  That may make the regrowth of a healthy sexuality, a healthy spirituality, and a healthy sense of self more difficult.

When we learn that a revered, creative, and beloved teacher has let Chesed run away with him, and so has hurt and damaged other people, what can we do?  First of all, what do we do about the fruits of Chesed that are indeed wonderful -- in Reb Shlomo's case, his music and his stories? Some, particularly those directly hurt, may find it emotionally impossible to keep drawing on them.  I hope, however, that most of us will keep growing and delighting in these gifts that did flow through Reb Shlomo from a ecstatic dancing God. We do not reject the gifts that flowed through an Abraham who was willing to kill or let die one wife and two sons; we do not reject the gifts that flowed through an earlier Shlomo who was a tyrannical king.

Certainly whoever among us have turned love and admiration  of Reb Shlomo into adulation and idolatry need to learn to make their own boundaries, their own Gevurah.  And we need to teach the teachers who might fall into this danger of Chesed-run-amok, challenging and guiding them, insisting and demanding that they  achieve a healthier balance.

 To name one version of sexual abuse an outgrowth of the perversion of Lovingkindness does not excuse the behavior. Like a diagnosis, it distinguishes this particular disease from others that may also become manifest as sexual abuse. Dealing with Chesed-run-amok is different from dealing with Gevurah-run-amok.

Chesed needs to be balanced by Gevurah's Rigorous Boundary-making, and the two must reach not just toward balance but toward the synthesis of Tipheret or Rachamim, the sphirah of focused compassion -- traditionally connected with the heart-space. 

Why there? The heart is a tough enclosing muscle that pours life-energy into the bloodstream. If the muscle were to go soft and sloppy, or be perforated by holes, it could no longer squeeze the blood into the arteries. If the blood were to harden and become Rigid, it could not flow where it is needed.  In the same way,  Rechem -- the womb -- is a tough enclosed space that pours a new life into the world.

Chesed alone, Gevurah alone, bear special dangers. Even so, each of them remains part of the truth, the need, and the value of  God and human beings. Perhaps the character orientation most likely to encourage a teacher's ability to pour out spiritual, intellectual, and emotional warmth without turning that into sexual manipulation is a character centered on Tipheret/ Rachamim.


Finally, we must deal with the danger that  a teacher's "shaping-power"  may turn into domination.  When either Chesed or Gevurah gets channeled into the notion that a teacher owns this power  -- is not, one might say, one of God's "temporary tenants" of this loving or awesome property but is its Owner -- then the submissiveness this invites, creates, and enforces becomes idolatry.  The teacher who invites this idolatry is an idol-maker -- far more responsible for it than the student who may thus be tricked into idol worship.

There are two ways to prevent this kind of idolatry, this transmutation of spiritual energy into abusive behavior. One way is to limit the power-holder's actions. The other way is to empower the one who feels weak. Both are necessary. 

One of the most powerful practices for both reminding the powerful of their limits and empowering those who begin by thinking they are powerless is one I have seen Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi carry out many times. 

On Erev Shabbat or Erev Yomtov, he might begin what looks at first like a classic Chassidic "Tisch" or "table":

The Rebbe sits in a special chair, and for hour after hour teaches Torah to the assembled multitude, who sing and sway and chant with great intensity.  Consumers, all of them, of his great wisdom. 

So Reb Zalman would sit in a special chair at the head of the dinner table, and teach Torah -- but only for 20 or 30 minutes. Then he would stand, say "Everyone move one seat to the left" -- and he would move. He would nod to the member of the chevra who now sat in the Rebbe's Chair, saying: "Now you are the Rebbe. Look deep inside yourself for the Rebbe-spark. When you have found it, teach us. And all us others -- we must create a field of Rebbetude, an opening and beckoning to affirm that you too can draw on Rebbehood."

It worked! Over and over, people would find the most unexpected wisdom inside them, and would teach it.

The real point of this powerful but momentary practice was to embody its teaching in all the other  moments of our lives.  To be a "rebbe" is to live in the vertical as well as horizontal dimension -- to draw not only on the strength of friends, community, but also on the strength that is both deep within and high above. No one is a rebbe all the time, and everyone should be a rebbe some of the time.

This is not at all the same as simply saying that all of us are Rebbes, stamm -- even just part of the time. All of us are potential "part-time" Rebbes -- if we choose to reflect on our highest, deepest selves. And that means we are less likely to surrender our souls and bodies to someone else. A true Rebbe, it seems to me, is one who encourages everyone to find this inner spark and nurse it into flame. But we have all bumped into people who act as if they are the flame, while others are but dead kindling-wood.

To say that any one of us is empty of the Spark is to deny God's presence in the world. To arrogate the Spark to one's own self alone is to make  an idol of one's ego.  Reb Zalman's practice teaches another path -- and I believe that if we were to develop a number of similar  ways to walk it, there would be far less danger of spiritual/ sexual abuse.

More institutionally, what this means is that we must explicitly say to teachers, davvening leaders, healers -- that they not use the power of their position to overawe their congregants or students into entering sexual relationships.  That they not -- like one congregational rabbi -- turn the spiritual and emotional comfort due the shattered mourner of a just-dead spouse into sexual seduction. That they not turn the excitement of profound Torah or deep davvening into the incitement of sexual need.

And that we also counsel congregants, students, clients to strengthen the aspect of their Self that is one flame of God; that they not try to gain confidence by subjugating their own sense of self to someone else; that they choose a sexual relationship out of strength, not weakness.

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal chose five years ago to make this clear through an ethical code that prohibits any teacher or other spiritual leader from using that position during a class or a Kallah or similar event to initiate a sexual relationship with a student or learner. Even more important, ALEPH made sure that this ethical code was publicly announced to and discussed by all teachers, leaders, and other participants -- so the discussion taught a deeper lesson, one that could last beyond the immediate situation into the longer future.

In this way we can embody the hope that  two people have in truth a deep connection with a holy root -- for if so, it will last long enough to be pursued when the two stand much more nearly on a firm and equal footing. And we can also embody the wisdom that true spiritual leaders and true spiritual learners can approach each other not bound in a knot of manipulation with obeisance, but with mutual respect.

Indeed, if we intend to require our teachers to refrain from sexual abuse, then we must also encourage the balanced expression of a sexuality that is ethically, spiritually rooted. We must seek new ways of making sure that our teachers find others of the same depth and intensity to become their partners.

This would be sexuality filled with Kavod: the kind of honor that radiates from each partner because it is God's radiance within.


To summarize:

Clarifying the dance of sexuality and Spirit without sundering them;

Giving content to old and little-used aspects of halakha and/ or shaping new aspects of halakha so as to give down-to-earth shape, ethics, liturgical focus, and spiritual meaning to more than one form of sacred sexual relationship;

Encouraging in spiritual leaders (and in us all) the balance between Chesed and Gevurah and even more their synthesis in Tipheret/ Rachamin;

Empowering students and congregants while limiting the power of leaders;

---- These are the four steps we need to take if our teachers and our students are to fulfill God's vision for us all in soul, mind, heart — and body.


Finally, I want to examine self-reflectively the method and the underlying theory with which I have approached these questions.

Clearly, my process began with a real-life question: How am I, how are other Jews, to respond to specific events like the Dean's letter to rabbinical students and Lilith's  article on Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach?  My own response was to draw on, renew, and transform aspects of Jewish tradition that I believe have been "minority voices" -- to some extent subversive voices -- in the tradition: the strands of pilegesh sexuality, the rebbe model of direct access to God, and the Kabbalistic pattern of the Sphirot.

I recognize that these strands, even though they challenged many aspects of "official" Judaism, had themselves been corrupted by the atmosphere of male domination in which they, like almost all recorded human thought before the last century, emerged. Corrupted -- but I believe not wholly ruined. So I understand that these strands cannot be woven unchanged into the fabric of a new Judaism, but need to be reworked in the light of new Torah values that I believe are unfoldings of the Will of God.

What are these new values?

To understand them and to understand how deeply they affect sexual ethics most intensely and the whole of Judaism as well, I want to make explicit what I think have been the underlying "rules" of Biblical and Rabbinic Jewish sexual ethics:

  1. Legitimate sexual relationships involve a dominant male and a subordinate female.

  2. Legitimate sexual relationships have the procreation and rearing of children as their very strong  (not absolutely total) intention and justification.

  3. Sexuality is also intended to be a joyful and pleasurable celebration of God.

I believe that the evolving God whose Name is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh ("I Will Be Who I Will be") has abrogated and replaced the first of these rules with a rule that --

Legitimate sexual relationships seek to be expressed through as much equality as possible in power, responsibility, and rights of the partners who are covenanting (who may be male, or female, or male and female).

And I believe that this evolving God has reversed the second and third "rules" so that the main purpose of sexuality is the joyful and pleasurable celebration of God, while procreation and rearing of children is an important but not overarching intention and goal of sexual relationships.  Though I have not focused on it here, I believe that the Song of Songs is our best guide from the ancient tradition to how sexuality could express the joyful and pleasurable celebration of God.

These profound changes have been mediated through the emergence of Modernity as a partial expression of the God Who unfolds through human history without abandoning the previous wisdom of the previous spiral of Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.  Our evolving God calls on us to join in this spiral of growth, never abandoning the past but never getting stuck in it: instead, doing midrash on the received wisdom of Torah in order to respond to the great life-cycles of the human race and of Planet Earth.

In particular, for reasons that I explore in much more detail in Down-to-Earth Judaism and Godwrestling -- Round 2, I believe that the evolving God calls us now not to continue multiplying humankind but -- because the earth is already "full"  -- to limit our procreation; and calls us to make sure that women and men contribute equally to the reshaping of Judaism, human civilization, and the community of all life.  I believe that God calls us to these new mitzvot because we have come to a new place in our collective life-cycle, as individuals enter into new mitzvot when they come to crucial turning-points in their own individual life-cycles.

In  that great life-cycle, ever spiraling toward greater self-awareness, greater self-reflectiveness,  we both live through the spiral turnings and reflect upon them. Out of that, for me, comes the effort to renew and transform the meaning of pilegesh, of rebbetude, and of the Sphirot in such a way as to reshape and renew the holiness of sexual relationships.




Foward - March 20, 1998

The Case Against Carlebach: Though the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was Orthodox, he was committed to the spiritual rights of women, abandoning the injunction that the sexes not touch publicly. "It is an alarming paradox then," Sarah Blustain writes in the spring Lilith, "that the man who did so much on behalf of women may have also done some of them harm."

In the three years since the rabbi's death at age 69, Ms. Blustain writes, "ceremonies honoring his life and work have been interrupted by women who claim the rabbi sexually harassed or abused them....Spiritual leaders, psychotherapists and others report numerous incidents, from playful propositions to actual sexual contact." Several of the women Ms. Blustain spoke with reported incidents at summer camps, youth conventions and other Jewish events; others reported late-night phone calls when the rabbi asked where they were and what they were wearing.

Several segments of the progressive Jewish world, Ms. Blustain writes, distanced themselves from the rabbi because they were aware of reports of his sexual behavior. Leaders at Aleph and its sister organization, a retreat center called Elat Chayyim, said that during Rabbi Carlebach's life they refused to invite him to teach or sit on their boards. "He so deeply wounded many women," said Nan Fink, co-director of the Berkeley learning center Chochmat HaLev and co-founder of Tikkun magazine. "Communities knew that this was happening, and women were hardly ever protected...I think it is really important for the community to make a gesture of apology to the women."

Reached by the Forward, Neila Carlebach, the rabbi's widow, described the Lilith article as "sensationalist." While Ms. Carlebach stresses that she has "total sympathy for women who have been abused and total sympathy for people who have a need for healing," she adds that "I have no sympathy under these circumstances" because the women who have accused the rabbi "are not interested in healing. They're interested in making statements that are hurtful."

The rabbi's accusers waited 30 years to make their case, she notes. "Shlomo was around for 27 of those 30 years," she says. "For them to come out with something against Shlomo when he's not around to defend himself, I think it's loshon hara. If somebody has a legitimate case against someone you take it to their face.

"Jewish law absolutely forbids negative talk about someone who's left the world, especially someone who was a rebbe," she adds. "Shlomo was most certainly a rebbe. So not only are they being sensationalist, they're also going against Jewish ethics."

* * *

Out of Africa: "As the American Jewish community continues on its journey of self-definition, away from the vale of tears of Holocaust identity and, equally, away from the triumphalism of identification with Israel, we must remember Africa," writes Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky in the winter issue of CommonQuest, a magazine published by the American Jewish Committee and Howard University. "Our years there formed us as a people. There were our beginnings as a nation.

"Throughout rabbinic literature the Song of Songs is taken as an allegory of God's love for Israel. If God is the male lover, then Israel, the Jews, are the female beloved. We Jews must remember, then, to say with pride the words of Song of Songs (1.5), 'I am black and beautiful.'"

* * *

Race Matters: Members of the Jewish community aren't the only ones opposed to intermarriage. According to a March 15 report from the Spanish wire service, EFE, 30.6% of Spanish youths questioned in a recent poll conducted by an anthropologist, Tomás Calvo Buezas, said they would not marry a Jew. In Latin America, the figure was 38.1%. Spanish youths were not interested in marrying into other groups either: 61% said they wouldn't marry a gypsy; 50%, a Moslem; 38.5%, a black African; and 13.1%, a Latin American.

Questioned on the expulsion of Jews from their lands, 27% of Latin American teens responded in the affirmative. In Portugal the figure was 23% and in Spain, 13%.

"According to Calvo Buezas, except regarding Moslems and gypsies, Spain seems a more tolerant country than Portugal," the article says. He believes that racism in Spain is equal or less than racism in Latin America.

When questioned as to what country discriminates the most, however, 52% of both Spanish and Latin American youths said the United States. But the United States also came in at the top of of the list of ideal countries to live in, chosen by 38% of Latin Americans and 28% of Spaniards.


Can New Agers Channel the Old Rebbes' Spirit? - Our Scribe Visits a Neo-Chasidic Confab, Looking for 'Awakening' and 'Renewal'

By Allan Nadler

Forward - April 13, 2003

'We are the heirs of the chasidism that would have been created by all the rebbes who were killed in the Holocaust," Daniel Siegel told the 200 Jewish spiritual seekers who gathered last month for the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan's "Awakening, Yearning and Renewal: A Conference on the Hasidic Roots of Contemporary Jewish Spiritual Expression and Neo-Hasidic Shabbat Festival."

A dizzying array of speakers and performers — from respected scholars of chasidism, Jewish mysticism and Jewish musicology to fringe practitioners of many varieties of "Jewish spirituality" — participated in this unprecedented event that combined features of an academic conference with concerts and a Shabbaton, complete with Sabbath services, meals and lots of hugging and communal singing.

Siegel is the rabbinic director of Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, an organization that offers a variety of spiritual services, ranging from weekend retreats to a program leading to smikha, or rabbinical ordination. Siegel described smikha in his presentation as the "world's only serious program of rabbinic study with no campus."

Siegel's claim to be an heir of pre-war chasidic masters notwithstanding, the New Age neo-chasidism that was the central topic of this conference should not be confused with classical, or Beshtian, chasidism, which originated in late-18th-century Poland and Ukraine and is still practiced today by hundreds of thousands of chasidim in thriving and rapidly growing communities around the world.

In fact, the handful of chasidic rebbes who did survive the Holocaust re-established postwar chasidic communities that continued, unchanged, the Orthodox traditions of their forebears and does not in any way resemble the amorphous hodge-podge of spirituality that was on display at this conference. Nor should the new neo-chasidism be confused with the romantic neo-chasidism of early 20th-century Jewish writers like I.L. Peretz, Micha Yosef Berdichevsky and Martin Buber, who found inspiration in chasidic sources but neither proposed them as the basis for a new mystical Judaism nor presented themselves as latter-day chasidic saints, unlike Aleph's faculty members, who actually call themselves rebbes.

The goal of the conference, co-sponsored by the Spirituality Institute, the JCC in Manhattan and Bard College, was — in the words of Nancy Flam, director of the Spirituality Institute — "to stimulate thinking about the ways in which the richness of chasidic texts, ideas and practices is finding expression in contemporary, non-Orthodox Jewish religious communities."

The Spirituality Institute, based in western Massachusetts, provides a two-year program of periodic weeklong retreats for rabbis and cantors from the non-Orthodox congregations intended to deepen the spiritual dimension of their professional work. The conference that it organized brought together a diverse group of other Jewish Renewal organizations, such as Aleph, all of which have turned in some way to the chasidic tradition for spiritual enlightenment. The Jewish Renewal phenomenon, inspired by such charismatic masters as the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (known as the "singing rabbi") and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, markets an eclectic blend of popularized kabbala and Buddhist practices directed at young Jews alienated from the more established forms of Judaism and who might otherwise be attracted to Eastern mystical religions.

One of the prominent leaders of the neo-chasidic movement and a major presence at the conference, Rabbi Mordechai Gafni, is the director of Bayit Chadash, which means New Home, an Israeli version of the Spirituality Institute, whose program of study centers on the Zohar, an esoteric 13th-century work that is widely considered the central text of medieval kabbala. Among Bayit Chadash's offerings is a two-year, four-retreat seminar called "Training To Become a Maggid, a Holy Teacher," led by Gafni.

Responding to my doubts about the pedagogic soundness of teaching Zohar to students who are not yet familiar with the Hebrew Bible, to say nothing of the rabbinic literature, Gafni (described on the jacket of his latest book as "a profound thinker, philosopher and spiritual guide [who] is the author of the national best-seller 'Soul-Prints' and... a premier voice in Israeli and international religion and spirituality") insisted that "devekut [mystical union with God] can be reached in a number of ways and only one of them is Halacha [Jewish law]."

This search for Jewish spirituality in all but the most basic, normative and important sources of Judaism is evident in Aleph's statement of principles, where we learn that "Among our guides to interpretation of Torah are the Prophetic, Kabbalistic and Hasidic traditions as they are now being transformed in light of contemporary feminist spirituality, process theology and our own direct experience of the Divine."

It is not at all clear to me how much of Judaism is left when one sidesteps its historically central texts like the Mishna, Talmud and Shulkhan Arukh — i.e. the entire rabbinic tradition — and goes directly to esoteric mystical sources that were never intended for popular consumption, especially not by their authors. This approach seems to me to be far closer to the heretical antinomism of Shabbetai Zevi, the notorious 17th-century false messiah of Izmir who ended his career as a Muslim. In fact, one of the participants at the conference, Shaul Magid, a professor Jewish mysticism and chasidism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, seemed to suggest in his presentation that the Jewish Renewal movement is, in many respects, closer to Shabbateanism than to chasidism.

An even more serious problem, to my misnagdic and Yiddishist lights, was made manifest by the linguistic and cultural illiteracy of many of the conference's participants that was so evident at every session I attended. These sincere, well-intended people come to such events to deepen their understanding of Judaism — a noble purpose, to be sure. Yet many of the "holy teachers" they find in the Jewish Renewal movement have little patience to teach the basics, i.e., the Jewish languages, the Bible and Mishna, to say nothing of serious and structured instruction in rabbinic and halachic texts. Being a "maggid" and a "rebbe" is after all a lot sexier than being a language instructor. The consequences of this impatience with imparting the very basic languages, texts and practices of Judaism was made painfully evident in the fascinating presentation on chasidic and neo-chasidic liturgical music by Mark Kligman, a professor of Jewish musicology at the Hebrew Union College in Manhattan. Citing a study of the Bnai Or worship community in Boston, Kligman quoted one of the women participants:

I'm a much more intuitive person than an intellectual person, so I find that music sound gets me to a spiritual plane more than words. I have a hard time with word prayers, and I don't speak or read Hebrew. And in English... when you put things into words sometimes it minimizes, whereas sound has a sort of infiniteness. I have to say, there are certain melodies that take me "out there."

Inspired by the early masters of 18th-century chasidism who did indeed subvert the hierarchy of traditional rabbinic values by placing prayer and mystical experience above Torah scholarship, the neo-chasidim are confident that their form of spirituality will spread and strike roots among contemporary American Jews the way chasidism did across Eastern Europe.

But the analogy is a false one: For unlike the chasidim of Poland who were immersed in a mimetic yidishkayt that filled the air of the European shtetls and saturated the pores of virtually every Jew, many of today's spiritual seekers who are attracted to neo-chasidism are Jewishly illiterate in every respect. Even the most ignorant, untutored chasid in Belz, Vizhnitz, Satmar or Lubavitch spoke Yiddish, davened in Hebrew and had an intuitive understanding of the norms of rabbinic Judaism. In a word, they were steeped in yidishkayt. That certainly cannot be said of most of the participants in the neo-chasidism conference.

This problem was evident to me even before the conference formally began. A pre-conference concert on Wednesday evening featured the wonderful trio the Singing Table, led by Michael Alpert, an erudite student of East European Jewish music and gifted musician. Although Alpert went to great lengths to explain what he was doing, he occasionally made Hebrew references and told some untranslatable Yiddish jokes. When I was one of the only people in the hall to respond, I began to suspect something was amiss with the neo-chasidim. Sadly, that suspicion was deepened and confirmed over the course of the next days.

To be fair, the spiritual founder of the neo-chasidic Jewish Renewal, Schachter — himself a deeply learned rabbi of chasidic origin — is acutely aware of these problems and addressed them directly in a video presentation to the conference. Schachter called upon participants to pay more attention to the study of rabbinical texts and insisted on the need for some form of halachic structure to guide the neo-chasidim on their spiritual path.

Another leading figure of the Jewish Renewal movement, the respected scholar of chasidism Rabbi Arthur Green, is also aware of the need for more study and structure. There is clearly a tension, if not a rift, within the neo-chasidic community on this very issue.

There were several other serious scholars, profound philosophers and seasoned rabbinic leaders among the ranks of the neo-chasidim at the conference — people like Nechemia Polen of Boston's Hebrew College, Magid, Elliot Ginsburg of the University of Michigan and Chava Weissler of Lehigh University. One can only hope that their learned voices will prevail and help provide many sincere Jewish spiritual seekers with a more structured entrée to Jewish learning and a more responsible Jewish spiritual home.

Allan Nadler is director of the Jewish studies program at Drew University and the senior adviser for academic affairs at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. He is writing a book on Baruch Spinoza and modern Jewish culture.


The Carlebach phenomenon

by Marion Fischel

The Jerusalem Post - November 13, 2003

Last Saturday night's Ninth Annual Shlomo Carlebach Yahrzeit Concert at Binyanei Ha'uma was packed to the rafters.

A large crowd of men danced at the right of the stage, spilling over into the adjacent aisles. Still others stood alongside their seats and danced. The crowds sang along with the performers; everybody knew the words; everybody was smiling.

The 2,500 Jews in attendance were from all walks of life and of all ages. They were gathered to celebrate the life and commemorate the passing of the "singing rabbi" who inspired so many.

"This year's concert was the best ever," said Aura Wolfe, 45. "The participants performed his music as opposed to their own versions of his songs and melodies."

In the previous eight years, says Michael Brand, 47, chairman of the Shlomo Foundation, the members of the foundation organized the concert, but this time they decided to hire professional producers Ariel Peli, 29, and Jonty Zwebner, 46, in order to reach the "essence" of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Feedback from the public indicated that more of a "yahrzeit" feeling was desired, and less of a rock-concert atmosphere.

Zwebner is co-producer of the annual Beit Shemesh Jewish Rock and Soul Festival that takes place during Succot. He also brings musical acts to Club Tzora (at Kibbutz Tzora) on Thursday and Saturday nights.

"We were asked to make the [Carlebach] concert unplugged, more acoustic, less electric, to give it a softer tone," says Zwebner. "We asked the artists to play only original Shlomo material and we concentrated on having a majority of artists who hadn't even known Shlomo but were undeniably connected with his essence."

One of those performers was 23-year-old Shlomo Katz. Katz also serves as hazan at dozens of Shlomo minyanim around the country.

Today there are nine Shlomo Carlebach synagogues in Israel, five of which are situated within the greater Jerusalem area: Efrat, Ma'aleh Adumim, Mitzpe Yericho, Har Nof, and Beit Shemesh.

Jerusalem also houses Shlomo minyanim in the new Shir Hadash synagogue in Baka, the old Shir Hadash in Nahlaot, at Yakar in the German Colony, and at the Western Wall.

So why is the Carlebach phenomenon even more powerful in the aftermath of Shlomo's passing?

Brand, who both founded and runs the Ma'aleh Adumim Shlomo minyan says it's because, "When Shlomo was around there were no minyanim because Shlomo was the vehicle, he was the one. The only places where his nusah was used were the places where he himself was, which were his synagogues on Manhattan's Upper West Side and on Moshav Mevo Modi'im."

However, The Happy Minyan in Efrat was started by Dovid Zeller, a close follower of Shlomo's, a year before his death. Zeller says he decided to establish the minyan because he became so steeped in Shlomo's melodies and songs, that that was his own preferred way of praying.

"These minyans appeal to people who may be intimidated or feel left out in larger, more traditional synagogues," explains Brand. "The atmosphere that is created and the way people are welcomed reflects the attitude of Carlebach himself. He never sat at the front of the synagogue but rather at the center or the rear and got up to welcome new arrivals personally."

When Shlomo was alive, Brand continues, he was not accepted by mainstream Orthodox, "because he believed that Jews who are lost to their roots are in a situation requiring intensive care, and that the measures that must be taken to ensure their survival cannot always be ordinary ones."

Carlebach was also well-known for going into discotheques and ashrams, and pulling Jews out.

"Of course his very presence in these places was frowned upon by the establishment, who questioned why he was there in the first place and whether he didn't have a personal agenda which pushed him to frequent these places," says Brand.

Carlebach was also generous in the dispensing of hugs - to men and women.

"If he felt someone needed a hug he would give it to them, and often they needed it very badly," says Brand.

Naturally, this was not acceptable halachic behavior and many rabbis would not allow their students to attend Carlebach's concerts or his learning sessions.

"Nevertheless," says Brand, "most religious people recognized that whether or not it was their approach, what he was doing was in fact beneficial to the Jewish people as a whole."

Brand also notes that many of those who were brought back to their roots by Carlebach ended up becoming very Orthodox and even criticizing [Shlomo] for his more liberal-seeming approach.

Yitzhak Attias, a frequent attendee at the Har Nof minyan, says back in the '80s, he used to host Carlebach along with up to 70 of his followers at seuda shlishit meals on the roof of his Old City apartment.



Letter to the Editor - Jerusalem Post

November 14, 2003

To whom it may concern,

I just read the Jerusalem Post's article "The Carlebach Phenomenon." It saddens me that you didn't mention the controversy surrounding this man when it comes to allegations of childhood sexual abuse (teenage girls), and sexual assault with young women (any female over the age of 18).

The closest you came was the following quote:

"Carlebach was also generous in the dispensing of hugs - to men and women.

"If he felt someone needed a hug he would give it to them, and often they needed it very badly," says Brand.

Naturally, this was not acceptable halachic behavior and many rabbis would not allow their students to attend Carlebach's concerts or his learning sessions.

"Nevertheless," says Brand, "most religious people recognized that whether or not it was their approach, what he was doing was in fact beneficial to the Jewish people as a whole."

Please go to The Awareness Centers web page on Rabbi Carlebach:

Do your homework, and help the "alleged" victims of this man heal. Don't keep this secret any longer. It appears that Rabbi Carlebach had some major boundary problems. If he was alive today he would have to face these charges. Don't make him into a "Tzaddik." It appears he was an "alleged" sex offender. His "alleged" Victims need to be heard.


Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC

Executive Director - The Awareness Center


Honoring Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach?

The Awareness Center Daily Newsletter - July 15, 2004

Dear Friends,

The following email was forward to me. Please note that The Awareness Center does NOT support a street being named after someone who has had so many allegations of sexual misconduct made over the years by both teenage and young adult women.

If you are thinking of signing your name to the following petition, please go to The Awareness Center's web page on Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Case of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach


Vicki Polin

Executive Director - The Awareness Center



Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Way

-----Original Message-----

From: Nedara Carlebach []

Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2004 10:13 AM

Subject: Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Way

Dear Friends:

With your help, we will be naming West 79th Street in New York City: "Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Way" after our father of blessed memory. Please click on the link below and sign your name. A future email will be sent with the date and time when this ceremony will take place.

Thank you With love,

Neshama and Dari

(Top) Discussion on Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter - July 23, 2004

The following links were sent to The Awareness Center and contain questions and answers regarding Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach:


Call to Action - Those who live in New York City

Posted: September 2, 2004

Members of the Carlebach shul are attempting to get the area of 79th and West End Ave. named after Shlomo Carlebach. A petition is being circulated in the neighborhood for approval. There will be a hearing but have no details on where or when.

For information about this contact the woman handling this for the city: Penny Ryan, Community Board #7, 1865 Broadway, 4th floor, New York 10023. phone 212-603-3080. If you or someone you know was a victim of Shlomo you might want to send a letter to Penny Ryan with details.



Posted: September 7, 2004

Members of the Carlebach shul are attempting to get the area of 79th and West End Ave. named after Shlomo Carlebach. A petition is being circulated in the neighborhood for approval.

There will be a hearing on:

Date: Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Time: 7:00 PM

Place: Community Board, 1865 Broadway, NY, NY

If you are a survivor of Shlomo Carlebach and feel comfortable speaking out publicly, please attend this hearing. We want your voice to be heard.

We need everyone to show support to all of the women who are "alleged" victims of this man. We need you to be there to speak for those who can't.

If you are unable to attend you can also send a letter for public record. Please cc a copy of your letters to The Awareness Center.

Letters for public record should be sent to:

Penny Ryan - Community Board #7

1865 Broadway, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10023

(212) 603-3080   email:


Facing A Mixed Legacy

First Carlebach conference to grapple with issue of abuse head on; opposition to street naming.

By Adam Dickter - Staff Writer

The Jewish Week - September 9, 2004

As the 10th anniversary of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's death nears, his family and followers are working on a tribute to the charismatic man whose guitar-strumming, story-telling and bear-hugging approach to Judaism inspired a worldwide spiritual outreach movement that continues to thrive.

But the first international conference on his legacy may be tempered by past allegations — some dating back decades — that the pioneering rabbi harassed or abused women, although no such accusation was brought publicly while he was alive.

The Awareness Center, a Baltimore-based advocacy group for Jewish victims of sexual abuse, has issued a "call to action" against efforts to rename an Upper West Side street Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Way.

And in planning the three-day international conference here in late October to commemorate the rabbi's teachings, Carlebach followers seem to be tackling the issue head-on by scheduling a session on boundaries between rabbis and their disciples.

Rabbi Naftali Citron, leader of the Carlebach Shul in Manhattan, which is organizing the conference, would not say if the session stemmed from the allegations, but cited increasing attention to the issue of relationships between clergy and their flocks.

"This is more the reality of what is going on in the last few years," Rabbi Citron said. "Sometimes people get very close to their spiritual leaders."

He said other sessions at the conference would include workshops on spiritual activism, how to start a Carlebach minyan, and new and old chasidic teachings.

Rabbi Citron said it was unfair to allege improper behavior after Rabbi Carlebach's death.

"Reb Shlomo was a great man, and it pains me that different things are being said about him when he is not here to defend himself," Rabbi Citron said. "People could have come forward when he was alive to talk about what he did or didn't do."

Amy Neustein, a sociologist who studies abuse in the Orthodox community, said until recently a perception of futility has kept such abuse victims from speaking out, as in the case of many religious communities.

"They tend to hide their victimization because the community has hitherto been unresponsive to their plight," said Neustein, who contacted The Jewish Week in response to an e-mail from the Awareness Center. "What they often do is sacrifice their victims on the altar of shame."

Allegations of impropriety by Rabbi Carlebach first became public four years after his death in a 1998 story in the feminist journal Lilith. The article claimed that he "sexually harassed or abused" women over the course of a Jewish outreach career spanning four decades.

In the article, several women spoke of encounters with Rabbi Carlebach involving inappropriate contact or behavior. Others said they heard from other women about such experiences.

According to Lilith, a group of Jewish women confronted the rabbi about his behavior in a private meeting in Berkeley, Calif., in the early 1980s and, after initially denying a problem, he declared, "Oy, this needs such a fixing," said participants.

Rabbi Carlebach split from the Lubavitch movement in the 1950s, rejecting the strict separation of the sexes, and forged a brand of celebratory Judaism that encouraged the participation of women. Across the country today, his presence is felt in rousing Carlebach Shabbat ceremonies rich in song and dance at Modern Orthodox and other congregations.

He was known for literally embracing his followers, male and female — an untraditional practice among Orthodox rabbis.

"It was a different time, a different way, a hippie kind of generation," said Rabbi Citron, a former student of Rabbi Carlebach. "It was no secret that he hugged and kissed women, and got plenty of flack from the religious community. From what I know of him he would never knowingly ever hurt somebody."

But Vicki Polin, director of the Awareness Center in Baltimore, which is dedicated to addressing childhood sexual abuse in Jewish communities around the world, believes that renaming a street in honor of Rabbi Carlebach would be insensitive to those who have made allegations against him.

"They also deserve to have a voice," Polin said. "It would be very difficult for them to walk down a street and see that it was named after him."

Polin's Web site features a page on Rabbi Carlebach's history, including the Lilith article.

Penny Ryan, district manager of Community Board 7 in Manhattan, which must approve the name change before it is submitted to the City Council, said Tuesday that she had received several calls on the matter.

"We asked them to come to the committee meeting when it will be discussed," Ryan said.

The meeting will be held Tuesday night at the community board's office.

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, whose district includes the Carlebach Shul on West 79th Street, where the street would be renamed, said she had been unaware of the allegations against the rabbi until Tuesday, when she heard from the community board about the calls.

"I will go to the hearing and listen," Brewer said. "There will be discussions. I'd like to hear what everybody has to say. I know the daughters and the rabbi and I know they are good people."

Carlebach's daughters, Neshama and Dari, have started an online petition to support the name change.

"We have been given the opportunity to rename West 79th Street from Broadway to Riverside Drive in his name, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Way," reads an introduction on the petition. "It is only too appropriate to honor him in this way, to forever remember how he changed lives as he walked up and down this street."

A call to Neshama Carlebach, who has followed in her father's footsteps as an inspirational singer, was returned by a family friend, Corey Baker.

"It's too early, on such a sensitive issue, to be giving a comment," Baker said.

Rabbi Goldie Milgram, one of the women who told Lilith she was molested by the rabbi — in her case at a summer camp when she was 14 — said she would not oppose the street renaming in his honor.

"There are many public figures who had significant shadow sides," said Rabbi Milgram, an author and teacher in Woodstock, N.Y. "It is not for us to remove the places they have earned with their work but to rejoice in the good they have done, to provide opportunities for healing those who were hurt and not denying their pain."

Naomi Mark, a Manhattan psychotherapist and longtime student of Rabbi Carlebach who will participate in the boundaries panel at the conference, said the rabbi "never wanted to be a flawless guru."

As the 10th anniversary of his passing approached, Mark said she hoped Rabbi Carlebach would be remembered for his ability to empathize and inspire.

"He really understood our lives and the sense of alienation people sometimes feel living in the modern world, trying to juggle spirituality and Judaism in the context of the many contradictions they feel," Mark said. "He understood what those struggles are like and that's what made him different from other traditional rebbes.


Letters to the Community Board #7 (New York City) regarding street naming

If you have written a letter protesting a street being named after Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach in New York City, sent it to Community Board #7, and would like it publicially posted here, please send the entire letter to  You also MUST include a note giving permission to The Awareness Center to post your letter on this web page.

From Victoria Polin, Executive Director - The Awareness Center

Community Board #7

1865 Broadway, 4th Floor

New York, NY 10023

(212) 603-3080


RE:  Official Statement - Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Street Naming Issue

Dear Ms. Ryan and members of Community Board #7,

I want to thank you for letting The Awareness Center have a voice in the matter of a street being named after Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

The Awareness Center is the Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse and Assault.  We are an international educational advocacy group that focuses on issues pertaining to sexual victimization in Jewish communities around the globe.  Due to the nature of our work we have no other option but to take a firm stand against a street being named after Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

Over the last 2 years The Awareness Center has received numerous phone calls from women stating they were sexually victimized by Rabbi Carlebach in their childhood or as young adults.  One woman stated that she was 13 years old when she was raped by Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach.  The oldest woman who called the Awareness Center is now in her 60's. This brave woman is reminded every anniversary of her "alleged" assault with flashbacks of that night. Two other women made claims they had become pregnant as a result of his alleged assaults.  We cannot prove or disprove any of these claims but the sheer number should speak for themselves.

On average The Awareness Center receives at least one call a month from another woman making allegations of sexual assault by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.  There are periods of time, usually around the anniversary of his death, that we average about one or two calls a week.     

To honor an "alleged" serial rapist/child molester, by having a street named after him would be a dishonor to all of the women and teenaged girls he "allegedly" victimized. I would hate to think that New York would be known as the city that names streets after "alleged" sexual predators.


Victoria Polin, MA, ATR, LCPC

Executive Director - The Awareness Center

For more information regarding the Case of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, please go to:



Letter from: Rabbi David J. Zucker

Penny Ryan, Community Board #7

1865 Broadway, 4th Floor

New York, NY 10023

(212) 603-3080


8 September 2004

Dear Ms. Ryan,

While I cannot speak to direct issues with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, I can report that as a congregational rabbi in the later 1980s I heard from a woman congregant who had come under Rabbi Carlebach's influence that on several occasions he phoned both her and her teenage daughter in the middle of the night with sexually charged calls.

This information was not solicited on my part and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of her statements.

Rabbi Carlebach did a lot of good, but he also had a serious "shadow side" for which as I understand it, he never repented, at least in any kind of formal or public way.

I urge the City of New York NOT to honor this man with the change of street name.


Rabbi David J. Zucker



September 13, 2004

Members of the Carlebach shul are attempting to get the area of 79th and West End Ave. named after Shlomo Carlebach. A petition is being circulated in the neighborhood for approval.

There will be a hearing on:

Date: Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Time: 7:00 PM (it's suggest you arrive an hour early to insure you can get in)


1865 Broadway (and 61st Street)

New York City.

If you are a survivor of Shlomo Carlebach and feel comfortable speaking out publicly, please attend this hearing. We want your voice to be heard.

We need everyone to show support to all of the women who are "alleged" victims of this man. We need you to be there to speak for those who can't.

If you are unable to attend you can also send a letter for public record. Please cc a copy of your letters to The Awareness Center.

Letters for public record should be sent to:

Penny Ryan - Community Board #7

1865 Broadway, 4th Floor

New York, NY 10023

(212) 603-3080



Application Withdrawn - Hearing Canceled

September 14, 2004

I spoke to Ms. Penny Ryan this afternoon who works at Community Board #7. She told me that the Members of the Carlebach shul withdrew their application to have a street named after Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Needless to say there will be no hearing on the topic tonight. It is possible that a new application could be submitted, and if that occurs we will notify you at once.

I wanted to personally thank everyone who sent e-mails, snail mail letters and/or made telephone calls on behalf of the of the women who made allegations of sexual misconduct by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.  You helped them have a voice.

If you have any questions regarding this matter contact:

Penny Ryan - Community Board #7

(212) 603-3080


Vicki Polin

Executive Director - The Awareness Center


Call To Action: Honoring Carlebach?

JCC of Manhattan's Contact information:


Phone: (646)505.5708

As many of you may remember last month Adam Dickter wrote an article for the Jewish Week regarding the issue of a street in New York potentially being named after Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. In the article it mentioned that in honor of Shlomo's 10th anniversary of his death, the Carlebach Shul was organizing a conference to honor his memory. It has just come to my attention that the Carlebach conference is being cosponsored by the JCC of Manhattan, and will be held in a few weeks (October 28-31, 2004).

As the executive director of The Awareness Center (which is the international organization that addresses sexual violence in Jewish communities around the world), I feel the need to speak out on behalf of all of Shlomo's "alleged" victim/survivors.

We have a huge problem on our hands. How can we sit back and ignore the fact that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach had a "reputation with women"? There have been allegations that this great outreach worker, who was a master at Kiruv work -- was also an "alleged" serial child molester/rapist.

During the years of Carlebach's reign of "alleged" terror on teenage girls and young adult women, some of his victims attempted to speak out. They were met with the standard statements of the times: "Boys will be boys"; "Shlomo, he's a genius, this is what comes with his over zealousness"; "He can't help himself with his own sexuality, he gets excited".

The Awareness Center feel's it is important to point out that the youngest survivor we are aware of, was only 13-years-old when her "alleged" sexual assault occurred. When an adult has sexual relations with a thirteen-year-old, it can never be considered consensual. It is called statutory rape.

The Awareness Center desperately needs your help! Please contact the JCC of Manhattan and let them know how you feel about them cosponsoring the Carlebach Conference. You may also want to suggest that all proceeds from the Carlebach conference be used to reimburse/fund all of the alleged survivors of Carlebach for the pain and suffering they were forced to endure, pay for therapy to help them heal.


Call to Action: Accountability in the Portrayal of Shlomo Carlebach -- Tzadduk (saint)? Serial Sexual Predator?

Who to write to:

    Gary Rosenblatt, Editor - The Jewish Week


     cc to: info@theawarenesscenter. org

  1. The Awareness Center is looking for survivors of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach who would want to be interviewed by a journalist and have their story published. If you are interested, please contact Vicki Polin for more information.

  2. The Awareness Center asks each and everyone one of you to send a letter to Gary Rosenblatt, editor of the New York Jewish Week. Please let him know how you feel about the following article. Please cc the letter to The Awareness Center. Also send us a note allowing us to publish your letter on our web page.

Some of you may be aware of the fact that for the last 10 years there has been a movement to glorify the accomplishments of a man named Shlomo Carlebach. The Awareness Center firmly believes there is a problem in doing this. There have been numerous accusations that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach sexually harassed and assaulted many young women, and sexually assaulted/abused a few teenage girls.

This week the Jewish week published an article that barely mentioned these facts. In the article that was written by Jonathan Mark he quoted his sister Naomi Mark and her colleague Michelle Friedman, with the following:

"Dr. Michelle Friedman, who teaches pastoral counseling at the rabbinical seminary Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and with Naomi Mark, a psychotherapist in the Orthodox community, led a workshop at the conference on rabbinical boundaries, said: "Where there is smoke there may not be fire, but there's an issue. Shlomo was known to be very charismatic and seductive. To the degree that these stories come up, I have to respect that something happened to somebody. It's sad. But I think it's great that this next generation of Carlebach people included this issue in the conference."

Mark said in the workshop that it wasn't fair to view the allegations of events in the 1960s with the moral perspective of 2004. "

Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi states:

"Zalman advised the participants, "I beg of you, in the name of [Shlomo] ... that you should keep your heart open" and be as inviting and as generous as Shlomo was."

Rabbi Avi Weiss added, "I believe no Jew has met more Jews in his or her lifetime than Shlomo Carlebach. And yes, I remember the way he was shunned, the way he was maligned. Many people promised they would pay him and didn't pay him."

Please note that Marks, Weiss and Shachter area also very strong supporters of Rabbi Mordechai Gafni who confessed publically that he had sexual relations with a 13 year old girl.



Memories Of Shlomo

Conference participants revel in Carlebach on his 10th yahrtzeit.

Jonathan Mark - Associate Editor

`Really," Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach used to wonder aloud, "what does anyone know?"

He'd be referring to God's mysteries, or to those conventional Jews who didn't understand the mysteries that were all his own.

Last week, on the 10th yahrtzeit of Reb Shlomo, a four-day conference on and commemoration of the most towering Jewish composer, singer and storyteller of modern rabbinic times reminded most of the participants that they wished they could have known him better and longer, hoping that even now he could know how much he is still loved.

If emotion was more in the fore than academic analysis, well, this was a Carlebach event, after all, held at Manhattan's Jewish Community Center and organized by the West 79th Street shul that bears his name.

The First International Carlebach Conference, as it was billed, attracted hundreds from what have become known as "Carlebach minyans" around the world, services that rely solely on his music and spirit — perhaps the greatest phenomenon in the Jewish prayer service over the decade of his absence.

Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, the spiritual leader of the Jewish Renewal movement, said in his taped message from Colorado, "Heilege Reb Shloimoleh, I miss you. With whom can I talk? ... You and I felt the pain of our people who were separated from the Rabbano Shel Olam [the Master of the Universe]. So we did what we could. You and I went with first names, people called you Shlomo, they called me Zalman, never mind Rabbi Carlebach, because we wanted to lower the threshold so that people could have easy access to us, so they could come close."

"Everywhere I go, wherever people are davening, they're using your niggunim [spiritual melodies]. They don't even know where they came from," he said.

Zalman spoke of an ad he saw for a rabbi in a traditional Orthodox shul.

"One of the requirements was that he should have to do a Carlebach service from time to time," he said. "I think that should give you nachas."

Jacob Birnbaum, the founder of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, recalled asking Shlomo to compose what became the great anthem of Jewish activism, "Am Yisrael Chai."

Rabbi Avi Weiss added, "I believe no Jew has met more Jews in his or her lifetime than Shlomo Carlebach. And yes, I remember the way he was shunned, the way he was maligned. Many people promised they would pay him and didn't pay him."

Rabbi Weiss recalled that Shlomo was the musical voice of the Soviet Jewry movement, "but when the movement reached its crescendo in December of 1987, and 200,000 Jews came to Washington ... he wasn't invited."

But a new generation only knows the joy.

Fran Kritz, a writer in Washington, came with her 9-year-old son, Matthew, a Carlebach fan. She wanted him to know that a davening, a weekday davening in particular, could be as ethereal beyond what he had ever been exposed to, a morning service performed with musical instruments and Shlomo's touch.

It was "even a little disorganized," Kritz said, "which was also good for him to see, but once the davening got started it was with everyone's heart."

Zalman spoke of Shlomo's gift for teaching "chasidus," the teachings of the chasidic masters.

"When I think about the sea of books that are coming out about chasidus and Izhbitz [19th century Rebbe Mordechai Yosef Leiner]; Izhbitz was unknown to many people," Zalman said in speaking to Shlomo. "I didn't know about Izhbitz until you told me."

Referring to Shlomo's retelling of chasidic stories and teachings, Zalman said that when he looked up the stories in their original chasidic texts, they were so short, "as if in a telegram. But you, you looked at them, you opened them up, you told them as if you could see all the details, a movie unfolding. That's the reason I called you a genius in `virtuous reality,' when you told of [such self-sacrifice and virtue], the longing you implanted in our heart, that we could become like your heroes, like the poor shleppers, you made us at least temporary citizens in a world of such goodness."

Itzik Aisenstadt, a friend of Shlomo's since the 1950s, remembered in an introduction to his singing a Carlebach rarity a snowy February night when the two of them took a subway, trudging to a small Canarsie shul for an early performance.

Itzik — it was a conference of first names — recalled Shlomo singing his nascent classics "Esa Eini" and "Hashmi'eni." And in that Brooklyn shul, in an upstairs apartment, Shlomo sat down and composed a melody.

In those days before tape recorders, Itzik and Shlomo took a subway in the middle of the night to the recording engineer at Vanguard Records, for whom Shlomo recorded "Live At The Village Gate" (1963) and "In the Palace of The King" (1965). There Shlomo hooked up a tape recorder and started singing. Then Itzik began to sing that same lilting, wordless melody as free floating and as lonely as the snowflakes must have been on that long ago night.

Rabbi Nechemia Polen, professor of Jewish thought and director of the Hasidic Text Institute at Hebrew College in Boston, offered a session on Shlomo's philosophy of giving a rebbe's blessing, or bracha, "drawing on the beauty of the past, and giving permission to project that into the future so that you can be even more beautiful, more powerful and more radiant."

"Before any specificity of request or a grant," Polen said, "a bracha means the acknowledgement of the humanity of the other, and that was the essence of Shlomo."

The opposite of a bracha, Polen said, is to walk into a place of Torah and no one is aware of your presence. He recalled that one of his relatives moved to the Upper West Side about 15 years ago knowing no one. He heard about a Torah study on Friday night in a particular home. He goes to the apartment, and they look at him with puzzlement. They tell him it was by invitation only.

"You can imagine how he felt," Polen said. "They didn't curse him, but they did. So he goes walking on West End Avenue. It's a Friday night, but now he doesn't feel Shabbosdik. And who is coming his way but Shlomo."

Shlomo, said Polen, went "Ssssss," as if the moment was sizzling, "saying, `Holy brother! How are you?' "

Shlomo acted like he'd been waiting for this man all his life.

"My relative, who was really feeling down, had met Shlomo only once, years before, and said, `Shlomo, would you cut out that `holy brother' shtick? You don't even know who I am,' " Polen said. "And Shlomo says, completely without anger, `What do you mean? I just met your sister Laurie in Boston two weeks ago.'

"That was Shlomo," said Polen. "He might have had a difficult time remembering when he had to be somewhere, but he never seemed to forget a single person he had sung, danced or davened with."

But Shlomo's legacy has been posthumously tainted with accusations by several women — none of whom were congregants — of unwanted groping and sexual overtures.

Dr. Michelle Friedman, who teaches pastoral counseling at the rabbinical seminary Yeshiva Chovevei Torah and with Naomi Mark, a psychotherapist in the Orthodox community, led a workshop at the conference on rabbinical boundaries, said: "Where there is smoke there may not be fire, but there's an issue. Shlomo was known to be very charismatic and seductive. To the degree that these stories come up, I have to respect that something happened to somebody. It's sad. But I think it's great that this next generation of Carlebach people included this issue in the conference."

Mark said in the workshop that it wasn't fair to view the allegations of events in the 1960s with the moral perspective of 2004.

Zalman advised the participants, "I beg of you, in the name of [Shlomo] ... that you should keep your heart open" and be as inviting and as generous as Shlomo was.

He reminded the conference participants, "You are the ones who make it possible for Reb Shlomo that [he] should shine all over the world."


Letter to the Editor of the New York Jewish Week

By Israel David Fishman  (unpublished at this time)

Novemeber 3, 2004

Dear Editor,

I was distressed to read Jonathan Mark's report of the recent Carlebach conference which barely mentioned the many accusations that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, over a period of many, many years, sexually harassed and assaulted many teenage girls and young women. The article was not at all balanced but seemed instead to perpetuate the glorification of this man's accomplishments.

I am very much concerned about the honoring of such a man - - without doubt, a great man -- a man who has had such a major role in influencing people from all walks of life, Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and secular - a man who was a truly revolutionary spirit, a path breaker, a unique soul. Yet this very man also had a very dark shadow side, whom many women claimed conducted sexual misconduct and sexual molestation over a period of many decades including child molestation and rape.

If Rabbi Shlomo was alive today he would have to face these charges. He should not be made into a "Tzaddik." It appears he was an sex offender. His victims need to be heard.

I am very distressed that such a highly regarded paper such as The Jewish Week would write an article glorifying Rabbi Shlomo to the extent that it did. What kind of a message does this send out to the community? That victims should continue to remain silent and not tarnish the memory of a saintly figure? That it is okay for a rabbi, a trusted leader, a great and revered man to get away with sexual assault and abuse?

It is to say the least, unfortunate that Naomi Mark, who participated in this conference, is quoted as having said that "that it wasn't fair to view the allegations of events in the 1960s with the moral perspective of 2004" The actions of Rabbi Shlomo in the 1960's is continuing to cause suffering in his victims to this very day.

Israel David Fishman

Brooklyn, New York


Rabbis Ordained by Shlomo Carlebach

Reb Shlomo Organization - November 9, 2004

* Authorized to determine Halakha -- yoreh yoreh uyadin yadin b'issur uv'heter

Rabbeinu's Ordained Disciples

  1. * Rabbi Yehoshua Witt, Moshav Meor Modiim in the Holy Land
  2. Avraham Aryeh Trugman, Director, Ohr Chadash!!
  3. Yaakov Jake Rachmana, Zusya Frumin, House of Love and Prayer

Elsewhere in the Holy Land

  1. Elana Schachter, High Priestess of the House of Love and Prayer
  2. Joe Schoenwald, High Priest of the "Leader Minyan"
  3. Dovidl Zeller, House of Love and Prayer and Yakar Center.
  4. * Elya Succot, House of Love and Prayer and Breslov
  5. *   Mikha Odenheimer
  6. Moshe Rothkopf, MD
  7. * Joel Glick, Yeshivat Hachmat haLev.
  8. * Shalom Brodt, Kolel Simchat Shlomo.
  9. Simcha Hochbaum, Hevron and Beit Shemesh.
  10. Yankele Shammes, House of Love and Prayer, the Moshav and Kadita
  11. Professor Yehoshua Haym Ritchie, MD. House of Love and Prayer, Spiritual Director of Milev Center for Crisis Counseling
  12. *   Yitzhak Muller


Northeast -- New York City

  1. * Rabbi Shmuel Chaym (Brother Sam) Intrator, Kavana Life Foundation
  2. * Rabbi Naftali Citron, Cong Kehilat Jacob
  3. Dovidl Staloff, high priest of cyberspace
  4. * Rabbi Haym Wahrman, Millenery Synagogue
  5. Mindy Ribner, Bet Miriam, the Jewish Meditation Center
  6. * Joel Dinnerstein of the House of Love and Prayer and Rav of Ohr Ki Tov Carlebach Chassidim of Flatbush, NY
  7. * Eliezer Garner, Rocking Rabbi, House of Love and Prayer and Or Pnimi
  8. * Steve Blumberg, Congregation Shalom Rav
  9. * Yisroel Finman, House of Love and Prayer, NISHMAT KOL CHAI and Rav of Long Island Chassidic Center, Rosedale, NY
  10. Yitzhak Buxbaum, Maggid
  11. * Yitzhak Fried, Rav of Cong Bnei Moses Joseph
  12. Zwe Padeh, Rosh Yeshiva of Bayit Chadash of New York City

Northeast -- Outside NYC

  1. * Barukh HaKohen Melman
  2. * Nossan and Chana Schafer of the House of Love and Prayer, Sharon MA
  3. * Shmuel Stauber of the House of Love and Prayer, Achdut Group.
  4. * Yaakov Kelman, Member Vaad HaRabbanim of Albany, NY

Los Angeles

  1. David Montag of the House of Love and Prayer
  2. * Hillel Borera-Bensalem, Rav of Sephardic Congregation of LA
  3. *   Shlomo "Schwartzy" Schwartz, House of Love and Prayer and Chabad-Lubavitch Shaliach to UCLA
  4. Mimi Feigelson
  5. Dr. Simcha Sheldon, Phd, Member of Vaad HaRabbanim of LA, DIRECTOR - Loving Heart Fellowship Commited to Creating Unity in the Jewish Community, Venice, CA

Eugene, Oregon

  1. Aryea Hirschfield, Shivti Shalom
  2. Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin, Shivti Shalom


North America -- elsewhere

Itzchak Marmorstein, Director of Mercaz HaRayah - Vancouver BC, CA

*   Eliyahu J. Klein, DIRECTOR - TiKRI-Traditional Kabbalah Research Institute, Berkeley, Ca 94702

*   Hershy Worch, Chicago IL

Yaakov Moshe Skulnick, Miami FL


Call to Action: Accountability in the Portrayal of Shlomo Carlebach --

Tzadduk (saint)? Serial Sexual Predator?

November 12, 2004

Some of you may be aware of the fact that for the last 10 years there has been a movement to glorify the accomplishments of a man named Shlomo Carlebach. The Awareness Center firmly believes there is a problem in doing this. There have been numerous accusations that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach sexually harassed and assaulted many young women, and sexually assaulted/abused a few teenage girls.

  1. The Awareness Center is looking for survivors of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach who would want to be interviewed by a journalist and have their story published. If you are interested, please contact Vicki Polin for more information.

  2. The Awareness Center asks that when ever an article comes out regarding Shlomo Carlebach you it to us, including a link on the page it was found.

  3. The Awareness Center asks that you write letters to editors requesting accountability in the portrayl of Shlomo Carlebach. Please forward your letters to The Awareness Center and send a note giving us permission to publish your letter on our web page.


Carlebach's Legacy Lives On

By E. B. Solomont - Special to the Jewish Times

NOVEMBER 12, 2004

New York

Yaacov Weintraub was a teenager in the 1980s when he met Shlomo Carlebach at a weekend retreat.

Like many others, Weintraub was drawn to the singing, guitar-playing rabbi who called himself just "Shlomo." He became a devotee.

"He said, 'Take my card,' " Weintraub recalls. Weintraub took the slip of paper, and a decade and a half later he's still holding onto it.

He's hanging onto some of Carlebach's spiritual fervor as well.

With a foot-long ponytail hanging down his back and a Rastafarian-inspired kipah on his head, Weintraub sang, clapped his hands and thumped on the tables with some 85 attendees at the First International Carlebach Conference, which took place in New York City on Oct. 28-31.

The forum was held in honor of Carlebach's 10th yarzheit, or anniversary of his death, which was Sunday.

True to Carlebach's most significant legacy — his music — attendees danced to joyful niggunim, or tunes, and shook tambourines and maracas.

But while Carlebach is most known for his music, in the decade since his death a legion of healers, meditators, activists and artists have relied on Carlebach's philosophy of open-minded, inclusive spirituality to continue their leader's legacy.

"In broad words, it's an ode to Shlomo," said Hadassah Carlebach, the late rabbi's sister-in-law.

"Everybody feels they own a piece of Shlomo, yet we have to give it back to him somehow."

Carlebach's greatest legacy, his followers say, was that he taught Chasidic lessons to a broad spectrum of Jews in an inclusive and open-minded way through concerts and retreats.

Their activism is also a matter of making sure Carlebach's legacy continues, since no spiritual leader has taken his place since his death.

"For me the question is, now that he is no longer alive, there are only so many times you can tell his stories without saying, 'Well, how do we go forward in this new situation?' " said Naftali Citron, Carlebach's great- nephew and the rabbi of the Carlebach Shul in New York City.

"We love Shlomo, but his name is best served by not just stopping at what he did but continuing with his inspiration and doing more," Citron said.

Carlebach was born in 1925 in Berlin. His family later fled Nazi Germany, eventually landing in New York. There his father became rabbi of the Upper West Side's Congregation Kehilath Jacob, now the Carlebach Shul.

Carlebach was educated in the Chasidic tradition. As one of the first emissaries of the Lubavitch movement on college campuses — along with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, leader of the Jewish Renewal movement — Carlebach turned many Jews on to Chasidic spirituality.

Breaking away in the 1950s over his more progressive attitudes toward women's role in spiritual life and over Judaism's laws that prevent men and women from touching each other outside of marriage, Carlebach founded the House of Love and Prayer in the San Francisco area and a moshav in Israel called Me'or Modi'im. He then returned to his father's synagogue in New York, which he made into the headquarters for his unique approach to Judaism.

Accusations of impropriety with female followers decades ago have cast a shadow on Carlebach's name in recent years, but for loyal followers, the rabbi who insisted on being called by his first name, who stood in the back of the synagogue and who called congregants brother and sister, remains a heroic figure.

In the decade since Carlebach's death, the movement has adapted to not having a leader who connected the dots among his disparate followers by sheer force of charisma, Citron said

But to survive, Citron said, the movement will have to organize Carlebach's followers.

"It's by and large a grass-roots movement, but, yeah, we are trying to create" a more formal organization "for people in this kind of movement to come together and have organizational support if they need it," Citron said.

Rabbi Sholom Brodt, for example, came to New York from Israel carrying news of Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo, a new school inspired by Carlebach's teaching.

"He emphasized in teaching how to relate to people, how to live your Judaism not with your head but also with your heart," Brodt said. It's about "joy in the service of Hashem; to celebrate Judaism, not see it as a yoke."

Ten years after his death, his headquarters and his name are the ties that bind followers of his philosophy around the country. His daughter, Neshama, has continued his musical legacy, and Citron is now head of the Carlebach Shul.

Carlebach minyans, or prayer groups, use his tunes during services, weddings and other celebrations. In fact, his tunes have become so prevalent even in mainstream American Jewish life that many Jews sing them in synagogue without being aware that Carlebach wrote them.

His teachings endure, propagated by those who were inspired by Carlebach during his life. For example, hospital chaplain Rabbi Nossen Schafer and his wife, Channah, a psychotherapist, use Carlebach's approach to healing in their work.

Channah Schafer told a story about a young leukemia patient who was unconscious until a group of friends danced and sang in prayer at her sickbed.

"You need to heal the soul to heal a sick body," she said.

"Shlomo taught a way of feeling God's presence and helping others find God's presence in their lives. That's what healing is all about," Nossen Schafer said.

Appropriating Carlebach's method of helping others resonates for leaders of the movement today.

"I am not Shlomo and I know that and I am not trying to be him, but he did awesome stuff, so what can I do to make awesome stuff happen in this day?" Citron said.

The world has changed since Carlebach's passing, Citron said, ticking off changes to the economy, the threat of terrorism and growing anti-Semitism.

"How do I be in this new time with what Reb Shlomo taught?" he asked.

For Melinda Ribner, a Carlebach disciple who teaches Jewish meditation, it means being able to "connect upwards and bring down an influx of light and healing" through meditation.

"Shlomo lived in this consciousness of meditation, being aware of God's presence continually," she said. "I help people to be able to have that experience more directly."

According to Citron, Carlebach's legacy is being strengthened by new efforts. Under Citron's leadership, for example, the Carlebach Shul has added a music program for children and teens and will launch an anti-drug program.

"This derech," or path, "is not in the past. It wasn't canonized as halachah," or Jewish law, said Citron. "Shlomo created a spiritual trail."

This story reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Letter to the Editor regarding Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (Baltimore Jewish Times)

November 12, 2004

To: Phil Jacobs, Editor

Baltimore Jewish Times

Dear Phil,

I need to admit that I am extremely disappointed with the Baltimore Jewish Times decision in reprinting the current JTA article on Shlomo Carlebach. It would NOT have been difficult to rewrite this article or to have made additions in being more accurate in describing the allegations that have surrounded Shlomo Carlebach since the beginning of his kiruv (outreach) work.

I want to point out that article briefly mentions that Carlebach was forced to leave the orthodox world after allegations of sexual misconduct were made over and over again. I am also appauled at the choice of words "progressive attitudes" used to describe his harassment, abuse and assault of women.

Breaking away in the 1950s over his more progressive attitudes toward women's role in spiritual life and over Judaism's laws that prevent men and women from touching each other outside of marriage, Carlebach founded the House of Love and Prayer in the San Francisco area and a moshav in Israel called Me'or Modi'im. He then returned to his father's synagogue in New York, which he made into the headquarters for his unique approach to Judaism.

I wonder what most of Shlomo's survivors would have to say about the quote of Hadassah Carlebach:

"Everybody feels they own a piece of Shlomo, yet we have to give it back to him somehow."

Shlomo Carlebach took more from his alleged survivors then he gave them. Many of them either no longer have a connection to Judaism or a Jewish community, or left Judaism for other religions all together. Where is this mentioned in the story?

I wonder what psychotherapist Channah Schafer and her husband Nossen have to say about Shlomo Carlebach after spending a day with a few dozen of Carlebach's alleged victims? Would they still feel "you could feel God's presence" when singing his songs? Would they still say his songs would have the "healing touch"?

Rabbi Naftali Citron, Carlebach's great- nephew and the rabbi of the Carlebach Shul in New York City is quoted in saying:

"I am not Shlomo and I know that and I am not trying to be him, but he did awesome stuff, so what can I do to make awesome stuff happen in this day?".

"Carlebach's legacy is being strengthened by new efforts. Under Citron's leadership, for example, the Carlebach Shul has added a music program for children and teens and will launch an anti-drug program".

The Awareness Center feels it would be wiser for those connected to the Carlebach Shul and the foundation to be starting an anti-rape campaign to raise funds to do what ever they can to help heal the women who were allegedly sexually harassed, abused and assaulted by Shlomo Carlebach. I believe that is exactly what they would need to do if they really want to promote healing for the generations to come.


Vicki Polin, MA, ATR, LCPC

Executive Director - The Awareness Center


Story About Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

© (2006) Name withheld upon request

Jewish Survivors of Sexual Violence Speak Out - March 15, 2006

The next time you think about going to a "Carlebach Minyon", or anything named after him, please remember this story. Please forward it to every rabbi you know. Let's stop making this man into a tzaddik (saint).

My ex was a Carlebach groupie. She had come from Boston to New York in order to study Judaism, and especially to be near Carlebach. I met her at a class, we dated and were married on May 31, 1976. Carlebach co-officiated at the wedding with my rabbi. Having myself worked in "kiruv" I had a very high opinion of the man, and chalked up his hugging and kissing of women to his self sacrificing for the sake of others.

About a week and a half after our wedding, my wife told me that Shlomo Carlebach was running a retreat before his departure for Israel for the summer. She told me that she "must be there" and I accompanied her. I was surprised to see violations of Halachah not connected to kiruv. When I mentioned this to my wife, I was shocked to hear her say "I know all about Shlomo's sins, and I pray every day that I may be a Kappara (atonement, a surrogate receiver of punishment) for his sins! Please don't talk about it, because words have power."

I asked her if there was anything romantic between them, at which she replied with longing "We both know I'm not what he needs."

Shlomo Carlebach went off to Israel, and the summer passed happily. September came, Shlomo Carlebach returned, and she began disappearing one night a week to attend his lecture-concerts which he held at the B'nai Jeshurun synagogue in Manhattan (at the time, I was serving as rabbi in "location removed").

In October, we learned that my wife was expecting. She told Carlebach of my disapproval of his actions. He told her "Get out fast." My wife left me a few days later. This was 5 days after finding out that she was carrying our child.

I sought out Shlomo Carlebach and confronted him about telling a married woman, and expectant mother, to "get out fast." His wife, Ne'ila, began to berate me indignantly, saying "How dare you? My husband is such a tzaddik, when he dies the angels will carry him to heaven!

Carlebach then smiled, and said to me "who are you? You're a rabbi in a Conservative Synagogue!"

When my wife asked me for money, I asked her why she didn't go to Carlebach for it. She said "He's never there when you need him."

She often said "I'm 95% Shlomo, and when he looks into my eyes I'm 100% Shlomo." This quote had the judge and court stenographer in stitches at the divorce proceedings, but to me it was no joke: it spelled out cult.

After the divorce she moved in with another Carlebach groupie who was married with 4 children. He soon divorced his wife and married my ex.

These events were well known in New York frum circles, I began to get numerous calls of support from sympathetic strangers. Among them, were many calls from people, both men and women, who had had similar experiences.

A noteworthy point, among his groupies "holy" was synonymous with "feels good." Unlike many others, my story has a happy ending. I remarried about a year later. My second wife and I are very happy, and have been blessed with seven wonderful children.

My daughter from my first marriage grew up being told that her mother had to run away, since I "Hate kids, and wanted her to have an abortion." Two and a half years ago she found my website, contacted me to find out the truth (her step father was also taken in by the abortion story).

We are now, thank G-d, very close. As a child, her mother took her to see Shlomo Carlebach, where she was very turned off by the things she saw. It pains me greatly that I was denied by this ego maniac the basic right to live my life with my chosen wife and my firstborn child. My children all grew up in the shadow of these events. Carlebach songs were never allowed in our home.

Whenever I go to a wedding or other Simcha where his songs are played, I am saddened. I am sad for my daughter who grew up without her father, I am sad for my ex who was so used and abused by this man's mile high ego, I am sad for all the unhappiness he left in his wake for so many people. I am sad that this evil man is now considered a tzaddik by so many.

P.S. Some of the people who called me at the time told me that there were actually warrants out for Shlomo Carlebach's arrest in several states for alienation of affection (not a crime in New York, but a felony in many states). I never checked this out, but you may want to.


Ariela's Story: A Survivor of Shlomo Carlebach Speaks Out

© (2007) by Ariela

It was a warm summer afternoon in 1974 and I was out in the back yard playing baseball with my brother when my mom called out, "Phone call, Ariela Hurry! It's a rabbi in New York!"

I raced inside, my heart pounding. A long distance call for me? A rabbi? Wow! Maybe it's a response to my letter! When I heard a voice say, "Hello, Ariela; this is Shlomo Carlebach," I was filled with immense joy. My letter had not only reached him - a great rabbi, teacher, and musician - but he had read it, and been motivated to pick up the phone and call me, a lonely sixteen-year old searching for spiritual sustenance.

I had felt alone with my religious thoughts and feelings until the day a few weeks before when I had read a full-page interview with Rabbi Carlebach in our local Jewish weekly. I was thrilled to read what Shlomo said about the spiritual hunger of young people. Deeply moved, I felt compelled to write to Rabbi Carlebach and thank him for all he had said in his interview. I told him that I was seeking, and that I had many questions. In my letter I said that I imagined Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and other great spiritual teachers sharing a round-table in Heaven, discussing how best to help humanity. I had felt a little nervous writing that, but since he seemed to have such an open, loving heart I felt encouraged to be completely honest. And now he was telling me how special and wise I was! He asked me to introduce myself to him in person the next time he visited Vancouver. I looked forward to that. Maybe he could be my teacher, and I could come to know the Jewish faith deeply, and live it the way he did.

At this time, although I had been brought up in a Conservative Synagogue, I was going by myself to the Orthodox synagogue because I hoped there I would find people living Judaism with more `kevanah'. I told my peers at this synagogue about Shlomo's  call. The Orthodox shul was planning a concert with Shlomo in the near future. "But be careful," my friends warned. "Shlomo is renowned for having many special female `friends'."

When he came to Vancouver I felt torn. I wanted to go up to him after the concert and tell him I was the `special and wise' person who had sent him the letter; but I didn't want to be duped by a man who was actually looking to satisfy his lust. So I stayed well back and observed him from afar. Yes, he clearly was hugging and kissing a lot of young women, and it made me uncomfortable. Disappointed, I chose not to say hello.

And so we didn't meet in person until 1991. After high school I attended a Yeshiva for six months, and then married a non-Jew after my first year of college. I continued my spiritual search but to please my father I tried to raise my three children as Jews. My marriage was very unhappy, and at twenty-five I became a single mother. The week after my oldest child celebrated her Bat Mitzvah, Rabbi Carlebach gave a concert in the very same room in which her Bat Mitzvah had taken place. Invited to attend, I went expecting to enjoy his melodies, sing along, and share in the holy atmosphere he was so gifted in creating. During Shlomo's concerts it seemed to me as if he broke down the walls between Heaven and earth, and made me feel as if we were singing at God's throne, together with other beloved souls who loved God too.

Throughout the concert Rabbi Carlebach's eyes often looked over at me and I knew he had noticed me. After the concert, as people filed past him on their way home, and he hugged them good-bye, he stopped me and asked me if we had met before. I explained that although we had never met, he had phoned me after receiving a letter from me when I was sixteen. "And how is it that we have not stayed in touch all these years?" he asked me

He told me that we must keep in touch this time, that we needed to talk, and he asked for my phone number. I had not heard any rumors about Shlomo in the years since the last concert I attended. I was still hoping to feel at home in the Jewish community, and still filled with questions. So, hopeful that maybe now I had found my teacher, I gave him my number.

Very late that night, I was awakened by a call. I was stunned to hear Shlomo's voice, "Could you meet me for breakfast at my hotel in the morning?" he asked. I told him that I had heard rumors about him and women. I told him that I was seeking a place for myself in Judaism, and that I would love to learn from him. I asked him if he understood that I only wanted to meet with him for those reasons, and he said he did.

I felt a lot like I had after my phone call from him seventeen years earlier, and in many ways I was still the same person: lonely, hopeful, yearning for God, eager to learn how best to serve Him, excited to have others to share the journey Home with, and excited to have a spiritual community. So excited I couldn't sleep

I remember the beautiful sunny morning and the long bus ride to his hotel. When I got there he wasn't in the lobby, and upon calling his room to let him know I was there, he asked me to come up to his room. Somewhat frightened, but ever hopeful, I went up and he immediately took me in his arms and french-kissed me. I felt disgusted and disappointed, but rather than simply leaving, I begged him to go back down to the lobby restaurant so we could talk over breakfast.

It is very hard in retrospect to admit to my foolish and incredibly naïve behaviour. It seems that my capacity for hope overrode my ability to believe what was happening. From my own past experiences I have learned to blot out parts of the picture that are too painful, and focus on that which is good. Life is so filled with pain that this is a common coping mechanism. I wanted someone to help me feel close to God. I wanted this very badly. And Shlomo was clearly close to God. His sexual impulses were, to my way of thinking, immoral, but that didn't mean he didn't have his gifts. He had incredible gifts: to make melodies, to sing, to touch hearts. But Shlomo needed help to overcome his addictions. The real tragedy to my mind is that his world-wide Jewish community didn't hold him accountable for his sex addictions.

Shlomo went down to the restaurant with me but all his sparkle was gone. He had no words of encouragement or wisdom for me. He seemed tired and lonely; remote. I left disappointed once again.

And then the phone calls started. They were about every few weeks, sometimes more frequent and sometimes less. He called from all over the U.S.A, Israel, and South America. The calls were always past midnight, and roused me from deep sleep. He spoke about his sexual attraction to me, and asked me intimate questions about what I was wearing. He spoke about the exotic places he visited and how he'd like to be there with me. His breathing was heavy and labored. The scenario he described which disturbed me the most was when he talked about taking me naked into the mikvah in his community in Israel.

Why didn't I get angry or hang up? It was the middle of the night and I was fuzzy-headed. I felt uncertain of my own clarity of mind. He kept telling me how special and incredibly spiritual I was and I wanted to believe him. He said he loved me, and he talked often about our getting married. I was lonely and wanted to believe that it was true: that I was special and wise and therefore able to help him mend his ways. Maybe we could be a wonderful, spiritual couple, I thought. I sent him many long loving letters to New York and to his Moshav in Israel. I always expected him to write back, but he never did. I told him over and over again that I needed him to teach me about Judaism. I told him that I needed to be in love with Judaism the way he was. I told him that after years of searching I still felt that I didn't belong, and I was on the verge of giving up. I told him I was getting attracted to Christianity and that I was even considering being baptized. He said nothing to dissuade me nor did he ever offer me a teaching about Judaism. In fact, since he often spoke of marriage, we laughed about the idea of a rabbi marrying a Christian woman.

I invited Shlomo to stay with me in my home when he next came to Vancouver to give a concert. I told my children that we might have a rabbi staying with us. But when he came to Vancouver he never called or tried to see me. He avoided me, and didn't even catch my eye at his concert. Finally I knew his love wasn't sincere, and something was very wrong. I met another Jewish woman who had received similar calls to mine. I spoke to him about it the next time he called. "You need to make amends before you die. It's not too late to own up to your problems and get help," I told him. He said he agreed with me; that I was right, he did need to do something before it was too late.

I don't know if Shlomo made any amends to any of the people he hurt. I don't know how it stands between him and God today. But I do know that the Jewish community let him down, and let down all those whom he hurt. They enabled his sickness to perpetuate itself because he was never called to account. And because of the blind eye that the Jewish community chooses to cast on Shlomo's sins they choose to ignore those who were hurt, undermine their pain, and isolate them on the fringes.

I said earlier that because of my own suffering I had learned to blot out the truth and focus only on the good. It is a coping mechanism, but it is not living in the real world. The Jewish family has known tremendous suffering, and maybe they have collectively learned to blot out a truth which hurts, which is that Shlomo sexually exploited women. After much therapy I have learned not to blot out the truth, but to see it and let it guide me to good, healthy choices. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have given Shlomo my phone number, or gone to his hotel room, or taken his calls in the night. I wouldn't have written him letters or believed him when he spoke of marriage. I would have been safe from harm.

I made appointments to see two rabbis about what Shlomo did: one through my sister because she wanted me to get some healing, and one through a friend for the same reason. One rabbi thought it wasn't very significant. The other was more sympathetic and told me he wouldn't attend a Carlebach concert anymore. I wrote about what had happened to me and sent an article to the same local Jewish paper in which I had first read his interview. They didn't want to publicize my experience. Even a woman I shared with at the synagogue I sometimes attended told me to let it go and concentrate on all the good Shlomo had done.

To this day I am very sad that Shlomo wasn't compelled to offer me any encouragement in my spiritual quest to find my niche within Judaism. It is often said that he would do anything to save one Jewish soul, but he did nothing to save mine. I have been a practising Christian for the past ten years and one thing that comforts me in my church is that when a minister or priest is caught being abusive, the abuse is brought to light and the abuser is held responsible for what he has done.

Reconciliation is only available to those hurt by Shlomo if Shlomo's community: the Jewish community, opens their ears to hear the truth. They must find the courage to remove their blinders, and apologize for having needed to believe in Shlomo more than they needed to stand in truth before God.  



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Last Updated:  02/26/2007

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