'I did something wrong. I take responsibility for that'

Prominent scholar barred from Hebrew College following sexual misconduct allegation

Founding dean of rabbinical school Rabbi Arthur Green retired in 2022 due to ‘private matter’ concerning ex-student, but is newly banned from grounds as fresh issue arises in Israel

Rabbi Arthur Green, right, and Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport speak, May 17 2013. (Wikimedia commons/Flickr/CC-A-2.0/Festival of Faiths)
Rabbi Arthur Green, right, and Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport speak, May 17 2013. (Wikimedia commons/Flickr/CC-A-2.0/Festival of Faiths)

JTA — The founding dean of Hebrew College’s rabbinical school has been barred from its campus over the fallout from an allegation of sexual misconduct toward a faculty member who was previously his student.

Rabbi Arthur Green, a prominent scholar of Jewish mysticism, retired in May 2022 after two decades at the non-denominational Boston-area seminary. In separate email announcements on the same day, both Green and the college said a private matter concerning another member of the college’s community contributed to the timing.

Last week, however, Hebrew College’s leadership informed the community that the matter cited in 2022 involved “a report by a community member of an unwanted and distressing sexual advance” by Green, and that Green is no longer allowed to set foot on campus at all.

In an email to Green informing him of the ban last week, Hebrew College’s leadership mentioned “conduct by you in a recent interaction with an individual in Israel” that it called “concerningly similar” to the previous report of sexual misconduct. It also accuses Green of breaking a confidentiality agreement he made with the college.

In an interview with JTA, Green said he inappropriately kissed the faculty member but rejected the school’s claims that a second inappropriate incident had occurred or that he had violated his agreement with the school. Green also said that following the initial incident, he carried out several steps required by the school, but stopped short of taking part in a public “ceremony” that he said had been requested.

The ban, which was announced last week in an email to the Hebrew College community hours after Green was informed about it, marks an ignominious coda to a storied career for a rabbi who is widely considered a leader in neo-Hasidism or Renewal Judaism. The author of more than a dozen books, Green served as president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College before founding Hebrew College’s pioneering rabbinical seminary near Boston in 2003. As a teacher and administrator there, Green oversaw the seminary as it grew and contributed to a widespread disruption of the denominational rabbinical school model.

“Rabbi Art Green is no longer employed at Hebrew College nor welcome in the Hebrew College community because he engaged in sexual misconduct that caused significant emotional harm to a member of our community and was a serious violation of our institutional policies and our communal values,” the college’s president, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Hebrew College campus. (Courtesy of Hebrew College via JTA)

She added, “Rabbi Green’s conduct and communication since the reported incident have not reflected a genuine understanding of the harm he has caused, nor has he undertaken a good faith process of teshuva,” Hebrew for repentance.

Green insists that he has not crossed a line since striking a retirement agreement with Hebrew College. Anisfeld did not describe the incident in Israel, or when it occurred. A source affiliated with Hebrew College said the college did not take steps to verify the incident.

Green does acknowledge acting inappropriately with a male faculty member who was previously his student, and expressed regret about it.

“I did something wrong,” he told JTA. “So I’m aware of that. I take responsibility for that.”

He also said he believed the incidents did not merit his ouster and questioned whether the allegations were used as a pretense to eject him from the school he shaped.

Green detailed the allegations against him and the events leading to his being barred from campus in a draft email he shared with JTA on Friday and said he intended to send to his contacts. He sent an abbreviated version of the same email on Sunday afternoon.

In the email he sent, he wrote, “I am, and have always been, a bisexual man” and had “made the difficult decision to keep this private while still a rabbinical student nearly sixty years ago” in order to build a career in the Jewish world.

In the draft email, he had written that he had been looking for companionship after the 2017 death of his wife of 49 years.

“My admittedly inappropriate loss of control was an expression of affection by a lonely old guy, not an assertion of power to demand or force sex,” Green wrote in the draft.

My admittedly inappropriate loss of control was an expression of affection by a lonely old guy, not an assertion of power to demand or force sex

He also said that he believed he had been wronged by Hebrew College’s handling of the incident.

“I consider myself a victim of the extreme ‘Me-tooism’ that has come to plague our society,” he wrote in the draft, referring to the movement to hold perpetrators accountable for sexual misconduct. He added that the faculty member “reported to Sharon he had ‘felt some sexual tension’ between us on prior occasions. I would just call it closeness.”

In the sent email, he acknowledged “another unwanted kiss by me” more than 30 years ago with a different person who he said was not a student.

“I take full responsibility for these encounters, my misjudgment of the situations, and the unintentional harm I caused to people for whom I cared,” he wrote. “I have communicated with them and sought to repair the harm. I am committed to ongoing awareness about this matter and exercising extreme caution in the future.”

Through representatives, the junior faculty member declined to speak about his experience. (JTA has spoken to two people with whom he had shared his account but whom he had not asked to speak on his behalf.) He has retained attorneys, including Debra S. Katz, who is known for representing alleged victims of sexual assault such as Christine Blasey Ford, who accused now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

The attorneys said in a statement that the faculty member had “participated in a restorative justice process with Rabbi Art Green. As part of that process, our client and Rabbi Green agreed they would alert the other party before making any public statements. We are disappointed that Rabbi Green has failed to adhere to that commitment, forcing our client to hear through the grapevine of the narrative Rabbi Green is advancing.”

The first public sign of allegations against Green came in May 2022, when he and Anisfeld sent separate messages to the Hebrew College community announcing his retirement.

In Green’s email, sent first, he mentioned “a private matter concerning an incident that occurred some time ago, which involved an act on my part that deeply impacted a colleague in our community.” He added, “I feel badly about that situation, and that too has contributed to my decision to retire this year.”

Anisfeld’s email, arriving a little less than an hour afterwards, also referenced “a private personnel matter that deeply impacted another valued member of our Hebrew College community” as part of a “combination of factors” influencing the timing of Green’s retirement. But the email also lauded Green and his contributions to Hebrew College. “I know we will continue to be blessed by Art’s lasting influence as a teacher, mentor, scholar, and friend,” she wrote.

Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld (YouTube screenshot. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Neither email provided any details about the “personnel matter”; both emails said Green and another party were involved in a “restorative process” with the community member and had requested privacy.

The emails were referring to the faculty member who had previously been Green’s student. Green wrote in his email draft that he and the faculty member were “quite close” from the faculty member’s student days. He said he chose the student to be a research assistant on a large project and characterized his relationship with the then-student as a “growing friendship.”

In the fall of 2019, some time after the student had been ordained as a rabbi and joined Hebrew College’s faculty, Green allegedly made the first unwanted sexual advance, according to the two people with whom the faculty member shared his account. Green and the faculty member were among a group that had traveled to Uman, a city in Ukraine that is the burial place of the turn-of-the-19th century Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and is a major pilgrimage site for his followers. Green’s “Tormented Master,” published in 1979, is considered a definitive biography of Rabbi Nachman.

According to the friends with whom he shared his account, the faculty member — once the group had arrived at their hotel — found himself in a room alone with Green, who proceeded to make an unwanted sexual advance on him. One of the friends, a former classmate, told JTA, “They were there, and Art made a sexual advance toward my friend physically.”

The classmate added, “My friend stopped him and then has spent the next many years of his life trying to put it back together again.”

Green denies that he crossed any boundaries in Uman and said any accusation that he committed sexual misconduct on that trip is “absolute nonsense.” He said people in the group were pairing off to share hotel rooms, and that he had offered to split a room with the faculty member. Once it became clear that there was no need for the two to share a room, he claimed, they slept in separate places. He did not reference the Uman incident in either version of his Sunday email.

“Since this person … is an out gay man, I thought other people might be uncomfortable sharing a room with him,” Green told JTA. “So I said that I would. It then turned out there was an extra room and we did not share a room. That’s the end of the story. Nothing happened.”

The second incident occurred that December and, according to Green’s email draft, is the allegation that prompted Hebrew College to initiate disciplinary action against him.

Green acknowledged, in his email draft and to JTA, that he kissed the faculty member “in a way I shouldn’t have” while the two were in Green’s Boston-area home.

Green attributed his behavior to having smoked marijuana with the faculty member. He said the faculty member had given him the drug, which felt particularly strong.

He wrote in his email, “What began as an expression of genuine affection was completely inappropriate and out-of-bounds to our relationship.  I accept responsibility for my behavior and regret it deeply.”

But he added in the draft that had the faculty member felt any discomfort, Green expected him to resolve the situation privately. “I figured that if he was upset, he would let me know, but he didn’t,” Green wrote in the email draft.

Subsequently, Hebrew College administrators informed Green that he had been accused of misconduct.

According to Green, the college and the faculty member’s attorneys, the college attempted to resolve the issue through a private mediation and reconciliation process between Green and the faculty member. In the email she sent to the Hebrew College community this month, Anisfeld described the allegation as an “unwanted and distressing sexual advance, which was viewed as a breach of personal and professional boundaries.”

After learning of the alleged misconduct, Green said Anisfeld imposed several penalties, including suspending him from faculty meetings, asking him to engage in a guided conversation with the faculty member, and requiring that he sign a statement saying he would not be alone in a room with a student with the door closed. Green said he acceded to all of the penalties.

Then, at the end of 2021, Green says Anisfeld called him into her office and informed him that he was to retire in the coming year.

“I was, of course, close to retirement anyway, but I did not like this feeling of being pushed out of a program that I had created,” Green wrote in the draft. “Eventually, however, I agreed, frankly because dealing with this matter had become so painful and distressing.”

To JTA, Green said he had questions about the motivations behind his ouster. He said he had been distressed when a demand that he not attend faculty meetings in December 2021 was extended to the winter term in January 2022, when the Hebrew College community convened for a series of conversations about whether to change a policy that barred students with non-Jewish partners from attending the rabbinical school.

“I said to myself, ‘How far does this ‘He’s uncomfortable with my presence’ go?’” Green told JTA. “But then I thought, well, Sharon and I have different views on this intermarriage issue. She was very much for the change in policy, and she knew I was quite strongly against it. So, she might have found this was a convenient way to exclude me from that conversation.”

He added, “I can’t prove that. But she told me no, I could not participate in that Zoom conversation because [the faculty member] would be unhappy with my presence. And I think that was bullshit, shall we say.”

Anisfeld flatly rejected the allegation. “The intermarriage policy process is completely irrelevant and unrelated to this matter,” she told JTA by email. The school removed the ban on interfaith relationships in January 2023.

Green said Anisfeld and Hebrew College officials had escalated penalties against him over time. He said he had been barred from the two most recent Hebrew College graduations and had been kicked off a school listserv.

He also said Anisfeld had asked him to participate in a “public ceremony of confession,” but he declined.

“My generation doesn’t play that game and doesn’t do that kind of thing,” he told JTA. “I just found it distasteful.”

In recent years, a reckoning over sexual misconduct allegations has changed the norms and expectations for how institutions should respond to them, with a broad move toward greater transparency and increased understanding that misconduct can harm people beyond the direct victims. In a 2018 eJewishPhilanthropy essay, two advocates for “restorative justice” — a process for institutions to address sexual harassment allegations — described a “conference or circle with survivors, offenders, and their support people” as one possible avenue.

“Ideally, the person who has been harmed asks for restorative justice but, at times, offenders or people from the community inquire about convening a process,” Alissa Ackerman and Guila Benchimol wrote in the essay. “Inclusivity and collaboration are central because restorative justice recognizes that people belong to communities and that the harm they have caused or endured impacts wide networks.”

Anisfeld did not respond to a question about a public ceremony. In their email announcing Green’s campus ban, Anisfeld and the current and former chairs of Hebrew College’s Board of Trustees blamed his unwillingness to complete all that was asked of him.

“As an institution committed to the value — and the possibility — of teshuva, we have repeatedly asked Rabbi Green to engage in a communal process regarding this matter,” they wrote. “Rabbi Green has declined, and he therefore has been prohibited from visiting campus, or attending Hebrew College programs and communal activities.”

Last week’s email from the college leadership raised questions among some of those who received it. “One of the things that was curious to me is: Why do we need to know this?” said Shaul Magid, a Jewish studies professor at Dartmouth College who counts Green as a friend and teacher and also said he holds Anisfeld in high regard. “All the letter can do is really tarnish Art’s reputation at this point. He’s already retired.”

Green said in his email that relations between him and Hebrew College had become strained in the years since the initial allegation against him. “Although I agreed to all conditions as stipulated by Hebrew College I was surprised to find additional demands and restrictions that felt, and continue to feel, vindictive and unnecessary,” he wrote in the Sunday email.

In the email, he also said Anisfeld sent the letter announcing his ban following “an alleged additional incident that occurred recently in Israel, thus supposedly justifying publicity on Hebrew College’s part.”

In the letter from the Hebrew College leadership to Green last week, they wrote, “The College has also become aware of a report of conduct by you in a recent interaction with an individual in Israel that, as described to us, is concerningly similar to your admitted conduct during the Incident.”

Anisfeld did not offer details about that incident. Green and the two other men involved in what Green believes is the incident say it took place on Purim last year and involved an encounter at Green’s home following a party celebrating the holiday. Green said he was “very drunk” when he and another man began “touching each other, holding each other, not sexually, not genitally.” Both he and that man told JTA that their encounter was consensual.

A third man in the room, who was then an acolyte of Green’s, became alarmed. Through a representative, he told JTA that he felt violated when Green “revealed his physical desire for me and my friend’s bodies.” Previously, he had seen earlier requests for him to stay at Green’s home “as service to a holy rabbi, a kabbalist and theologian.” He said he soon left but experienced the night as “a soul-shattering crisis” because of the nature of his relationship to Green.

“I served him as one would serve Rabbi Nachman or the Baal Shem Tov,” two 18th-century Hasidic sages, the man said. He added, “Not once did warning bells ring in my head.”

Green has written about rabbis who have been accused of abuse. In 2004, when Marc Gafni, a prominent rabbi in the Jewish Renewal movement, was accused of a wide range of sexual offenses, including having sex with underage girls, Green vociferously defended him in a letter to the editor of the New York Jewish Week.

Praising Gafni as “a creative teacher of Torah,” he said that Gafni’s misdeeds were long in the past and that Gafni had been “been relentlessly persecuted for those deeds by a small band of fanatically committed rodfim,” a term that in traditional Jewish texts refers to a would-be murderer who himself must be murdered.

Two years later, multiple women in Israel said Gafni had lured them into sexual relationships using his power as a spiritual leader. Green, like other U.S. rabbis who had initially stood by Gafni, dropped his defense.

“The stories were from long ago, and he had rejected and outgrown that side of himself,” Green told the Forward at the time. “These are now new cases and new investigations.”

Green had also warned about the dangers inherent in relationships between spiritual teachers and students. In a 2010 book outlining neo-Hasidic theology by reinterpreting traditional Jewish edicts, including the Seventh Commandment prohibiting adultery, Green wrote that spiritual teachers “always need to be aware of human weakness, their own before that of all others.”

The book included a reminder for teachers: “Sexual energies are always there when we flesh-and-blood humans interact with one another, anywhere this side of Eden,” he wrote.  “Check yourself always. Be aware; know your boundaries. Precisely because good teaching is an act of love, the teacher is always in danger.”

He concluded, “Make sure that all your giving is for the sake of those who seek to receive it, not just fulfilling your own unspoken needs, sexual and other.”

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