A Durham rabbi was forced to resign recently after the community he served for nearly three years received a complaint that was sexual in nature, according to interviews and documents.
On Saturday, Steve Simon, president of the Judea Reform Congregation on Cornwallis Road, sent out an email saying the board had accepted Rabbi Larry Bach's resignation.
The resignation followed the temple leadership's learning that Bach had been censured for an ethics violation in March by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. It was the second time Bach had been in trouble.
“Our inquiries into this situation revealed that Rabbi Bach previously had received a reprimand from the CCAR for a similar transgression and that he had failed to follow the terms of that adjudication,” Simon wrote. “Together with the Rabbi, the Board concluded that the breach of trust was so significant that Rabbi Bach could not serve as a rabbi to our community.”
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The rabbinical leadership organization has 2,100 member rabbis serving more than 1.5 million Reform Jews throughout North America, Israel and the world, according to its website.
Efforts to reach Bach were unsuccessful Monday.
Judea Reform officials referred all questions to attorney Valerie Johnson, who said the congregation leadership received a complaint April 6, and “really did everything in its power to act on it."
Johnson said the complaint was made by someone who wasn't a member of the congregation.
Johnson confirmed the sexual nature of the allegations, and that they were the allegations that were made to the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
Leaders learned that Bach had been censured by the conference in March and had been previously reprimanded while serving another congregation in El Paso, Texas. After learning about the two previous issues, Bach was asked to resign, Johnson said.
Censure not shared
If the complaint hadn't been brought to Judea Reform, the community probably wouldn’t have known about the censure, Johnson said.
Johnson said there is a concern whenever “information isn’t forthcoming.”
“That information would certainly have been something the congregation or the board would have liked to known,” she said. “I would certainly hope that this is an opportunity for CCAR to look at their processes.”
The Central Conference of American Rabbis’ process is confidential, and the group referred requests for information to a public relations firm BerlinRosen.
"This matter is the subject of an ongoing CCAR ethics investigation," wrote Elliot Levy of the firm. "It is CCAR policy not to comment on ongoing investigations."
Levy also provided a statement by Rabbi Steven A. Fox, chief executive officer of the conference.
"The CCAR remains committed to ensuring sacred and safe communities and rabbis who live up to the highest moral values," it said.
Bach has informed his congregation about a reprimand that occurred in early 2014, the statement said. Reprimands are issued by the conference for minor infractions and are not publicly disclosed, it said.
"With regard to the pending complaint, which Rabbi Bach has also publicly disclosed to the congregation, the investigation is ongoing and there has not yet been a final adjudication," the statement said. "The outcome of the final adjudication will determine the extent of public disclosure. As part of the investigation, we are committed to engaging with the leadership of Judea Reform Congregation."
Simon’s email to the congregation included a letter from Bach.
Bach wrote that a complaint was made to the Ethics Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in February by “a non-member” of the congregation.
“The complaint followed a prior inquiry into my conduct,” Bach wrote. “I did not follow the terms of my prior reprimand. I instead engaged in a course of conduct that showed both poor judgment and bad decision making. I did not share my prior reprimand, my failure to follow the terms, nor the censure, with the congregation. I now understand that my deceit broke the trust of my Congregation.”
Bach started serving as Judea Reform’s senior rabbi in July 2015, after having been senior rabbi for 17 years at Temple Mt. Sinai in El Paso.
An editorial in the El Paso Times described Bach, who is married and has three children, as “a strong moral force in El Paso for 17 years.”
"Part of the role of rabbi is to be an ambassador for Judaism," the paper quoted Bach as saying.
Jack Heydemann, president of the El Paso temple, said Bach told the board that he self-reported to the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Around that same time, Bach also told the board that he didn’t want to renew his contract.
“We are not aware of any of the circumstances,” Heydemann said, and “we don’t know what he reported,” or the outcome of the process.
Heydemann said he wasn’t aware of any allegations in El Paso similar to what was reported in Durham.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis' ethics code includes guidelines concerning sexual boundaries.
“As rabbis vested with real and symbolic religious authority, we have the responsibility to recognize the vulnerability of those whom we teach, counsel, and serve,” the ethics guidelines state. “It is our obligation to maintain appropriate boundaries in all situations and settings. Unacceptable behavior includes all forms of sexual harassment and intimidation, requests for sexual favors, and any unwelcome verbal, physical or visual conduct of a sexual nature. Any such act or behavior, even if it appears to be consensual, which exploits the vulnerability of another, compromises the moral integrity of the rabbi and is an ethical violation.”
The guidelines also state that “any personal relationship which the rabbi feels the need to keep totally clandestine (beyond the bounds of normal privacy), or which raises doubts for the rabbi regarding its ethical propriety ought to give the rabbi serious pause and propel him/her, at the very least, to seek moral counsel,” it states. “Among other considerations, rabbis are expected to honor the sanctity and fidelity of committed relationships, their own and those of others. Any sexual activity that betrays those relationships or leads others to betray like relationships constitutes an ethical violation.”