Reports of sexual abuse at Reform rabbinical schools

i24NEWS

3 min read
A Reform rabbi takes a picture of other American and Israeli Reform rabbis praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Israel, on February 25, 2016.
AP Photo/Sebastian ScheinerA Reform rabbi takes a picture of other American and Israeli Reform rabbis praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, Israel, on February 25, 2016.

Students and faculty recounted instances of discrimination against queer students

The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC) allegedly employed sexual harassers and fostered a culture of sexism, racism, and homophobia for over three decades, according to a report commissioned by the school.

Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, the president and then-chancellor of HUC from 1971-1996, along with his successor Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman who served until 2000, both assaulted women at the seminary, The Jerusalem Post (The Post) reported.

While Gottschalk has never before been named in public accusations, Zimmerman was suspended in 2000 due to allegations of such behavior.

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According to The Post, the men led the institution, taught students, and were responsible for ordaining generations of Reform rabbis.

The two rabbis are among six prominent former male employees of the religious school to be named from the independent investigation into the institution’s past handling of sexual abuse allegations.

“The pain that many witnesses have harbored based on their experience at HUC — some for decades — was palpable,” the report said. 

Years into the #MeToo societal movement, the investigation is one of three launched simultaneously into the Reform movement’s institutions, The Post reported.

Investigators spoke to 170 present and former faculty, staff, and students from the school over the course of the inquiry.

Conversations revealed that while conditions at the seminary improved in recent years, a “good old boys’ mindset” existed for decades across the school’s campuses in the United States and Israel.

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According to The Post, students and faculty recounted instances of discrimination against queer students, as other interviewees claimed that nothing would be done about official harassment complaints.

“Many witnesses broke down in tears, while others commented on the years they have spent in therapy,” the report stated.