After an often-contentious four-and-a-half-hour congregational meeting last Wednesday evening, the membership of the Riverdale Jewish Center voted overwhelmingly in favor of a board-recommended retirement agreement for Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt. He ended his 31-year-tenure as spiritual leader of the Modern Orthodox synagogue on Tuesday.
The vote was 352-75 in favor of the rabbi stepping down from the pulpit. He will be compensated with a retirement package spread out until 2032 and valued at about $2.1 million. The agreement calls for the rabbi to be given the $800,000 house where he and his family have been living for many years, which is owned by the synagogue. As a private citizen he will have no title at the shul, where he will be given a life membership.
It is believed that it will be at least a year before a new rabbi is hired.
Rabbi Rosenblatt has been the center of controversy for his unusual practice over the years of inviting teenage boys, and later young men, to engage in close conversation with him unclothed in the sauna after playing racquetball.
Some members of the congregation opposed the deal because they supported the rabbi and wanted him to remain in his post until his contract ends in August 2018. Others wanted the rabbi out but felt he was being overly compensated, especially since the synagogue’s membership and reputation have been adversely affected when the controversy came to light.
Concern was expressed at the meeting that the combination of paying out Rabbi Rosenblatt and hiring a new rabbi at a time when membership is down would create a serious financial burden on RJC. The board leadership asserted that in the long run the synagogue would benefit from the agreement financially, since the new rabbi was bound to be paid less than the departing rabbi.
In the end, the overwhelming majority of voting members approved of the package, which was initiated by Rabbi Rosenblatt in recent weeks. Many apparently agreed with the sentiment expressed by Meyer Koplow, the rabbi’s attorney and spokesman, who told The Jewish Week: “I hope this is the first step toward the community coming back together.”