Mordecai Tendler Lawsuit Rejected

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s top court on Wednesday rejected a woman’s claim that her rabbi seduced her and so breached their special fiduciary, or trust, relationship.

The Court of Appeals concluded Adina Marmelstein failed to establish the "essential elements" of a fiduciary relationship – meaning "de facto control and dominance" – by Orthodox Rabbi Mordechai Tendler.

The New York City woman claimed Tendler talked her into having sex for more than three years while advising her on personal, legal and financial problems at the Kehillat New Hempstead, the synagogue she attended in Rockland County.

Judge Victoria Graffeo, who wrote the unanimous decision, said Marmelstein showed only that she was deceived by Tendler, not that she was so vulnerable that she lost her capacity to make her own decisions. She wrote that the case was premised on a sexual relationship "between consenting adults."

"Allegations that give rise to only a general clergy-congregant relationship that includes aspects of counseling do not generally impose a fiduciary obligation upon a cleric," Graffeo wrote. "A congregant must set forth facts and circumstances in the complaint demonstrating that the congregant became uniquely vulnerable and incapable of self-protection regarding the matter at issue."

But the court noted that a cleric who is also a licensed professional – such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or attorney – could be bound by such fiduciary obligations under existing law and the secular standards of those professions. The judges also noted there is "a critical difference" between Marmelstein’s case and the viability of lawsuits against clerics for having sex with children or others incapable of consent.

According to Marmelstein, she began attending services at Tendler’s synagogue in 1996, two years after she began to call him to discuss personal issues. He advised her on matters including her quest to find a husband, and said her "only hope" was to have sex with him to "open her up to the world" and become more attractive to men. The affair ended in 2005. She sued.

GADI PICKHOLZ WRITES: "Luke–you owe an apology as does most of the Jewish media nationally.  In the end there was no clerical seduction at all; it was simply another case of consensual adultery. Big deal; particularly when orthodox rabbis are concerned, there seems to be a decades long history in America. For everyone who made money putting these accusations on their headlines a few years ago, where are the retractions and apologies?"

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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