LONDON — A series of email messages promoting Rabbi Michael Broyde’s candidacy for the British chief rabbinate were sent to The Times of Israel last fall from an email address linked to one of his alleged aliases.
Broyde, a professor of law at Emory University in Atlanta, is currently on a leave of absence from the Beth Din of America, where he was a religious judge, after he this month admitted publishing letters in scholarly journals and gaining access to a rabbinic organization’s email list using a fake persona which he said he shared with an anonymous writing partner.
According to the Jewish Channel, which first published the allegations, Broyde (or the alleged writing partner) may also have posted comments online praising his own writing, using the name David Weissman. Atlanta’s Broyde and “Weissman” reportedly shared a Comcast IP address.
Between August 2 and November 25, 2012, The Times of Israel received 15 emails from firstname.lastname@example.org, all pertaining to the race for the next British chief rabbi, a position for which Broyde was at one time considered. The author of the emails claimed to be a member of staff at the United Synagogue, the organization which employs the chief rabbi, using a fake name. For proof of his bona fides, he quoted from Broyde’s application.
In the first email, the author declared that his agenda was anti-Broyde, because he considered his plans too radical for the United Synagogue. However, he consistently lauded Broyde’s intellect and talked up his chances of getting the job, while downplaying the credentials of some of the other candidates.
The Times of Israel had independent confirmation that Broyde, who refused to comment on the “Weissman” emails when directly questioned last week, was considered and interviewed for the position, although it is not clear he got past the first interview stage. The information offered by “Weissman” was used when backed by other sources, and the “Weissman” emails were directly quoted in two pieces. In early August, “Weissman” claimed, among other things, that the search was becoming increasingly focused on Broyde; warned that his plans could “destabilize” the United Synagogue; and spoke of the positive impression created by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik. In late September, “Weissman” was quoted as saying that Broyde had led an informal vote within the committee, but that there were still concerns about his plans. “No one is happy with the candidates in total and all wish for a better choice,” he added. “Perhaps one can still be found.”
Shortly thereafter, The Times of Israel became suspicious about the veracity of the emails and ceased referring to them in its coverage, although correspondence was maintained.
“Weissman” appears to have used a proxy server and there was no link between his IP address and that used by Broyde.
In the emails, “Weissman” was dismissive of Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who eventually got the job, writing: “His application material was without substance.”
Like all the quotes that follow, this was not used by The Times of Israel.
In early August, “Weissman” claimed that Rabbi Harvey Belovski of Golders Green United Synagogue was “not under active consideration,” although by July, Belovski had already had a second interview scheduled for September.
Meanwhile Rabbi Alan Kimche of the Ner Yisrael synagogue in Hendon was described by “Weissman” as “not a bad candidate, but he is older and not US [United Synagogue].” Kimche was approached by one of Broyde’s opponents on the search committee, “Weissman” alleged, “under the anyone but Rabbi Broyde approach… I do not think he has any platform and his application material was very sparse.”
According to Broyde’s CV, Broyde was an external examiner for the PhDs of both Belovski and Kimche, in 2011 and 2006 respectively.
There was one rabbi about whom “Weissman” was effusive: Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan. “Weissman” claimed that an interview went very well, declared that Soloveichik “is a better candidate that Rabbi Broyde and can do an excellent job,” and that, like [outgoing Chief] Rabbi Sacks, he had a certain “projected majesty” which Rabbi Broyde “just lacks.”
However, “Weissman” also spent a fair bit of time in his emails promoting Broyde, claiming that he “writes and speaks excellently” and that his “application material was exceptionally well written and very polished.”
In August, “Weissman” claimed to have overheard two members of the search committee “chatting about how ‘very very smart’ Broyde sounds when he speaks and how others say this too,” while in October he wrote, “the sad truth is that no [sic] other than Rabbi Broyde has submitted excellent written material or… video material, even. Just last week, I saw a small group watching on the big screen some video, and Broyde [sic] ELI talk was the most professional video.”
In his emails, “Weissman” openly declared that Broyde would have difficulty functioning as chief rabbi as his agenda of taking control of the London Beth Din would destabilize the United Synagogue organization — a claim made by several sources. However, he spun this as a positive for some of the members of the committee, who, he said, “seemed really taken by [Broyde’s] vision, material and presentation.” He maintained that several members were holding out for Broyde until the end, attracted by the prospect of radical change.
While in October, “Weissman” conceded that Mirvis and Kimche were probably the only candidates left, he said, “It is so ironic that [Broyde’s] submission haunts the committee and yet they dare not make him an offer he will take as his goals will undermine the status quo.”
Early the next month, “Weissman” wrote that a senior member was pushing to revisit Broyde’s candidacy “as he is still the only one with a real vision for the job.” On November 23, Weissman said that he had “heard… second-hand” that “Rabbi Broyde was called last night by four committee members to verify that he was still interested in the job” and that half the committee still supported his agenda.
The appointment of Rabbi Mirvis was announced on December 17.