The New York State Court of Appeals recently dismissed a lawsuit alleging that pulpit Rabbi Mordecai Tendler had abused his position to manipulate Adina Mermelstein, a former congregant into a sexual relationship.
Mermelstein alleged that she had gone to Tendler, who was then her rabbi, for counseling about her frustration at failing to find a husband. She claimed that Tendler had proposed a course of â€œsexual therapyâ€ to manipulate her into having a sexual relationship with him, thus abusing his position as a â€œcounselor, adviser and therapist.â€ Mermelstein was seeking damages from both Tendler and Kehillat New Hempstead… The court ruled that she had not established that Tendler’s position amounted to a fiduciary relationship.
A fiduciary relationship is a professional relationship that involves an imbalance of power such as one between a therapist and a patient, a lawyer and a client or a professor and a student.
Most professions forbid sexual relationships between professionals and their clients, particularly in situations where vulnerability is an issue. For example, divorce lawyers are forbidden to have sex with clients, and a sexual relationship between a therapist and a patient is automatically considered abusive by the law. This arises out of an assumption that in each case, the professional holds a position of power over the emotionally vulnerable client.
Some felt that such a relationship existed between a Rabbi and a Congregant but the latest ruling by NY State’s highest appellate court demonstrates that that is not necessarily the case. One thing is clear however, Mordecai Tendler is still a douchebag.
Speaking of douchebags, disgraced Renewal Movement Rabbi Mordechai Gafni seems to be relaunching his career as a spiritual mentor and is backtracking on his previous admissions of sexual impropriety with his female congregants. He has a new Web site which contains letters from numerous defenders, including Renewal Rabbi Gershon Winkler, a New Mexico rabbi who runs Walking Stick, an organization that combines Jewish teachings with Native American wisdom and who has fathered a child with one student, carried on several intimate relations with a number of his students and is currently involved with two women. Uhm, yeah…
Are these two stories related? Is it indeed open season on impressionable congregants? Will this decision embolden Rabbinical horn dogs to prey on the babes in their midst? I don’t know, but I need to take a shower right now.