How Many Plooks Before You’re Out?

I know this rabbi who was caught with child pornography on his computer and he lost his job. And whenever we’re together, he gives me divrei Torah.

In fact, every rabbi I know who has been convicted of a sex crime or has lost his job for sexual misbehavior feels perfectly entitled to lecture me (and anyone who will listen) about Torah.

I need to know how many sexual scandals an Orthodox rabbi can have before he can no longer deliver divrei Torah from the pulpit of Aish HaTorah or any other Orthodox shul? I need to have this information before I become an Orthodox rabbi (the dues are low and the spiritual benefits unbounded). I want to be clear about how much plooking outside of the bounds of propriety and Jewish law I can do before I can no longer lecture people about right and wrong.

I realize this is not a particularly spiritual inquiry, but I am not a particularly spiritual guy. I’m just your average convert to Orthodox Judaism who has heard all the Torah and read all the Artscroll books about holiness but still wants to know the facts on the ground.

I’m thinking about one rabbi connected to Aish HaTorah (but not an employee) who seems to come into Pico-Robertson annually and delivers Torah lectures at Aish and Bnai David-Judea and other holy places. He’s a famous rabbi. He speaks eloquently about holy subjects. And he got fired from his prominent position at a holy Jewish job a few years back for getting caught en flagrante delicto with his secretary.

Exactly how many secretaries can he plook before he can no longer stand up at Aish HaTorah on Shuvuot and lecture people about Torah?

Please understand that I do not have a position here. I don’t want this guy exiled from the pulpit. I don’t want him exiled from anywhere. I believe in compassion and forgiveness as much as Barack Obama does.

Perhaps you should know a little about my history so you know where I’m coming from. I marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama, so African-Americans could have the right to vote. As a kipa-wearing Orthodox Jew, I participated in the Stonewall riots in New York for the glory of God and the dignity of all of His children. I marched with Harvey Milk so that gays could no longer be denied housing simply because of their different way of expressing love. Nobody did more than I did to try to prevent the passing of Proposition 8 in California. I was standing on stage with Barack Obama when he accepted the Democratic nomination and he thanked me in his acceptance speech.

I don’t have any agenda here except to understand how much plooking out of bounds a rabbi can do and still deliver Torah lectures.

I am not a man lacking in bonhomie. I can appreciate how a powerful rabbi can see his secretary as a perquisite of his position. I have found numerous secretaries quite attractive over the years and there but for the grace of God go I, but I don’t get up in shul and lecture people about God and His moral demands. Instead I lead a quiet life. I bother nobody and nobody bothers me.

I am a simple Jew with simple needs. All I want is clarity.

I don’t judge a rabbi for porking his secretary, but I do get the giggles when he stands up in shul to preach about Torah. There he goes tying together obscure rabbinic commentaries and all I think about is him shuckeling with his secretary. Perhaps other Jews are more elevated than me. Perhaps they are on a higher madrega.

PS. How many marriages do you get before you’re out as a moral leader? To lose one wife may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

Lou emails:

A true classic. One of your best. “I�m just your average convert to Orthodox Judaism who . . . wants to know about the facts on the ground.” What a great line.

About the rabbi who was caught plooking his secretary — I heard it was a divorcee who attended his illustrious house of worship and sought rabbinic counsel, but maybe she worked there as a secretary too.

Gary emails:


If you want to be a real cowboy you need speak like a cowboy not
simply go out and purchase a cowboy suit

The proper term is to shtup. Yiddish really is such a marvelous
language. You can often hear the sin as you say the word, as in how
many members wives did the rabbi shtup this year?

Didn’t your parents always speak yiddish at home when the children
weren’t supposed to understand?it is marvelous incentive to master a
language quickly in youth.

“Plook” is just as Jewish a term as “shtup.” “Plook” is Ladino.

P.P.S. You can make a compelling case that sexual misconduct in the rabbinate should be one-strike-and-you’re-out. I find it hard to listen to the Torah lectures of a rabbi who’s fallen in this way. Perhaps such rabbis should find another line of work. Perhaps sell insurance?

One rabbi in this category told me that there is no precedence in the Jewish tradition for such a harsh penalty. Well, there’s no precedence in the Jewish tradition for removing someone from the rabbinate for having sex with his mother or with his dog.

How much congregational sex can an Orthodox rabbi have before he’s no longer invited to speak in Orthodox shuls? An increasing number of Orthodox rabbis I talk to about this say one-strike-and-you’re-out.

Let’s say you run a Jewish school and you have girls complaining that a teacher makes sexual come-ons and lets his hands brush against them.

Do you take action and let the teacher go? Or do you wait until he sexually penetrates a student?

I see significant degrees of distinction between a rabbi having sex with someone who he wields power over (he’s converting her, she wants a divorce, she’s come for counseling, she’s a congregant, she’s not a congregant but she attends many of his lectures) and someone he has no power over.

Yet, a rabbi is a rabbi to anybody. If you present yourself to the world as a rabbi, then you have to take responsibility if you fall into forbidden sex (I don’t include masturbation in this).

Are sexual sins different? Well, people are much more interested in sexual sins. They talk about it more. I think this represents a reality that every community has sexual mores and when you violate them, people talk about it more than violation of most other mores.

Most males’ attachment to monogamy is fragile. Men by nature do not sexually seclude themselves to one woman and stand by her and help support their offspring. Men by nature screw around.

When there are threats to family security through adultery, it is a big deal and the community has every reason to be alarmed.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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