A senior leader of the Reform movement whose rabbinic privileges were briefly suspended two decades ago for “personal relationships” that violated ethical codes in fact sexually harassed or assaulted at least three women, including one who was a minor when the misconduct began, an independent investigation by Manhattan’s Central Synagogue has found.
Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, who was senior rabbi at Central from 1972 to 1985, resigned his position as president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2000 after the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis ruled that his relationships had broken its rules. But neither CCAR or HUC provided details of the misconduct at the time, leaving the impression that Zimmerman had simply had consensual affairs, and he went on to serve as vice president of the Birthright Israel program and rabbi of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons.
Now, lawyers hired by Central have found credible evidence that Zimmerman engaged in “sexually predatory” behavior and used the philosopher Martin Buber’s I/Thou theology, which describes the relationship between man and the divine, as a way to justify his sexual behavior, according to a letter sent to congregants Tuesday afternoon.
Reform rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman writes to me 8/5/04: “Dear Mr. Ford: I do not wish to be included in your book. If there is anything negative about me or my family in your book you will hear from my attorney.”