Temple Emanu-El has granted its cantor, who is awaiting trial on charges that he sexually abused his young nephew, a paid leave of absence, The Jewish Week has learned.
A letter sent to members last week from Robert Bernhard, the temple’s president, said Cantor Howard Nevison has been on leave since Feb. 20, the day of his arrest, when he was "relieved of all duties."
A source connected with the synagogue said it is a paid leave "because this is not punitive."
It is the first time since the arrest that leadership of the prestigious Reform temple has publicly addressed the employment status of Nevison, whose duties as cantor included meeting with students in advance of their bar and bat mitzvahs.
At a preliminary hearing in Montgomery County, Pa., where the criminal charges were filed, a judge ruled that a trial should take place. Following that, Nevison formally requested a leave of absence from Rabbi Ronald Sobel, the senior rabbi at Emanu-El.
Rabbi Sobel agreed and the board of trustees concurred unanimously, according to the letter, which was obtained by The Jewish Week.
"Cantor Nevison continues to assert his innocence with respect to the charges brought against him," Bernhard said in his letter. "While we await the conclusion of the legal process, we want to re-state that during the 24 years that Howard Nevison has served the temple, loyally and faithfully, there has never been a complaint, even a suggestion, from anyone within the congregation of improper behavior on his part."
Nevison, who is free on bail, has been spending most of his time in New York. He is scheduled to be arraigned June 13 on charges that he sexually abused his young nephew over a period of years.
The nephew, now 12 and living in the Philadelphia area, also was abused by Nevison’s brother, Lawrence, and the brother’s son, Stewart. Lawrence Nevison was convicted and is serving time in a Pennsylvania state prison. Stewart Nevison, who is a young adult, pleaded guilty and after serving a brief sentence is out on parole.
At Temple Emanu-El, it is not clear if an interim or replacement cantor will be hired.
That isn’t the only change taking place at Emanu-El.
Rabbi Sobel is stepping down, in a move he announced early this year, shortly before Nevison’s arrest. Longtime Associate Rabbi David Posner is expected to be ratified for the top job in an upcoming meeting of the temple’s board of trustees.