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With fake name revealed, top rabbi faces heat
Rabbi Michael Broyde, a high-profile Jewish and legal scholar based at Emory Unversity, has apologized for deception.
April 16th, 2013
12:12 PM ET

With fake name revealed, top rabbi faces heat

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) - A top-tier rabbi and expert in Jewish law and ethics is now under the microscope for what many see as his own ethical transgressions.

Rabbi Michael Broyde was outed last week for having created a fake identity that he reportedly used for about two decades.

Broyde has long served on America’s highest Modern Orthodox rabbinical court and was said to be a finalist to become the next chief rabbi of the United Kingdom.

Just last month, he was named one of America's top 50 rabbis by Newsweek magazine. Broyde is a professor of law and religion at Atlanta’s Emory University.

Under the pseudonym Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser, Broyde cited and promoted his own work, wrote and weighed in on articles, gained membership to a rival, left-leaning rabbinic organization and engaged in otherwise privileged online conversations by way of its Listserv.

The story came to light Friday when The Jewish Channel, a cable network, released online an in-depth investigation. The lengthy piece revealed, among other things, how a search to find Goldwasser, who allegedly lived in Israel, led to IP addresses matching Broyde’s.

Broyde initially denied involvement when contacted by The Jewish Channel last week - a move he’d later call “silly and a mistake.” But he fessed up soon after the story’s publication.

In a blog post titled “My Nom De Plume Exposed,” he explained that he and a friend created and used the pen name up until a few years ago, after which he said it was used by others.

He later told a reporter with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he wouldn’t name the friend who was also involved because “he has more at stake to lose than I do.”

In his blog post, a written apology spoke for both of them.

“No malice was ever intended and our participation was always intended to foster vigorous conversation about ideas and approaches to halacha (Jewish law) that we thought needed to be addressed,” he wrote. But he also added that there’s an “old practice” of using pseudonyms when discussing these sorts of matters.

"There were many fine reasons for creating this pseudonym, and this one was suggested to us many years ago. Basically we were told that given the level of unpleasant discourse in our Orthodox Jewish community, some things just need to be said pseudonymously.

"But, yet, it does strike me as somewhat inappropriate for me, and I particularly regret joining any professional organization pseudonymously.

"I publicly express here my apologies to those who were deceived by my pseudonymous writing."

By Sunday night, it was clear that, at least in his corner of the Jewish world, Broyde’s standing was shaken.

The Beth Din of America, the top rabbinical court affiliated with the Rabbinical Council of America, issued a statement that Broyde had “requested an indefinite leave of absence from his role” as a member and judge, a request the court accepted.

By Monday, the council said he’d also asked for leave from its membership. In a written statement, the council called his behavior “deeply troubling” and said, “We will continue to investigate this matter in order to determine further appropriate action.”

Meantime, the International Rabbinic Fellowship, the more liberal group Broyde once joined as Goldwasser, also weighed in, dubbing his actions “shocking and saddening.” The fellowship suggested in an online statement that given Broyde’s infiltration into “a sacred and safe space in which our members can share ideas and thoughts,” he should issue apologies directly to those with whom he’d corresponded.

CNN reached out to Broyde on Monday, but he said he could make no comment.

The question remains as to whether any of these developments will affect Broyde in the secular academic world.

Officially, Emory University said in a written statement: “The allegations regarding the conduct of Professor Michael Broyde are concerning to the Law School. We are currently reviewing the matter and plan to issue a statement once our inquiry is complete.”

But unofficially, Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University, said he suspects Broyde will feel less of a blow on campus.

Joining a rabbinical organization's Listserv under a false name is wrong, but it may not be "an academically sanctionable offense," he said.

In the academic community, what Broyde has done may be seen as "bad, but not fatal,” Wolpe said. “People should recognize this is clearly a breach of academic ethics. … But there are far worse things he could have done.”

Yes, he submitted work to a journal under a pseudonym - which on its own isn’t unheard of, but he did so without disclosing that fact to an editor. And, yes, in a world where citing someone else’s work is a form of “academic currency,” he cited his own, Wolpe said. But he didn’t plagiarize, nor did he steal someone else’s research. Those sorts of actions are tenure-breaking.

“The guy is still a genius when it comes to Jewish law. He’s got an expertise that is valuable. I think this is something he will recover from,” Wolpe said. “But his heart is in the Orthodox community, and to be sanctioned by them would be the real blow.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Ethics • Judaism

soundoff (320 Responses)
  1. fooloof

    Rabbye bye.

    April 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Joe

      Fascinating to see comments written by people using pseudonyms on the internet to condemn someone for using a pseudonym on the internet. I'm just curious, does the stark irony of what you are writing when you condemn him while using another name yourself even cross your minds? In the most basic of questions... So what? No really, what exactly did he do wrong? He engaged in list serve conversations under a pseudonym? Isn't that the general case for posters on any internet forum? So what?

      April 16, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  2. iceload9

    "Broyde cited and promoted his own work," This is the guy in charge of ethics?
    Great comment iceload9.
    You nailed it iceload9.
    Write some more iceload9.
    Aaahhh never hurts to try new things.

    April 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • iceload10

      Excellent point, but what you really want to do is go in with another name and make those comments. Then add a very small criticism, suggestion or writing style change to make it more convincing that you are someone else.

      April 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Chadman

      Way to go iceload9 your best blogger ever... now let the ethics committee try to figure this one. Am I iceload9 or someone else.. Dude see what you started...LOL

      April 16, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • Joe

      Even public figures get to use pen names. Consider many of the best authors out there. But it is more sensible than that on the net.

      The net almost demands it, perhaps particularly for a public figure. Consider just for a moment how many people out there respond in the most churlish ways to any post they disagree with. Crazy takes many forms, left and right. Suppose for instance, you pointed out the craziness of (to name a few) teapartiers or racists or religious fanatics or far left neo-communist anarchist types. Would you really want those sorts of people or flooding your professional e-mails or workplace with profanity? Would you like them coming to your home?

      Of course it is fine to use a pen name on the net – for the exact same reason that you did not use your full name of write in a way that would easily identify you.

      April 16, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  3. Penelope

    This is only the tip of the iceberg! How many priests/rabbi's have been lying to everyone throughout the centuries?
    Think about it....the fools devote their entire to a sky god, only to realize in their late age it's all the imagination/plagiarization of old jewish men wandering the desert, depserately trying to keep their population alive.

    What a bunch of fools we all are. Science keeps getting closer and closer to answering everything, and it doesn't involve some white wash jesus with blue eyes ascending from space to annihilate the anti-christ.
    History is going look back at us as a disgrace to the name of intelligence because we have all the resources for the answers, and we prefer to keep the wool over our eyes.

    April 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • Joe

      So Penelope, had you posted this with your full name and contact information, your complaint that the rabbi somehow lied would have more weight. Does the irony of your actions, writing under a pen name on the net, to complain about someone writing under a pen name on the net, even penetrate?

      April 16, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Penelope

      @Joe
      Joe, did you really just comment about me using a pen name, while you yourself are using a pen name?
      I did use my real first name.

      The rabbi dude made himself a public figure so he deserves to be pubically ridiculed for lying. You're foolish Joe, and make no sense!

      April 16, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Joe

      The thing is I don't think it is wrong to use a pen name.

      April 16, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Joe

      IEven public figures get to use pen names. Consider many of the best authors out there. But it is more sensible than that on the net.

      The net almost demands it, perhaps particularly for a public figure. Consider just for a moment how many people out there respond in the most churlish ways to any post they disagree with. Crazy takes many forms, left and right. Suppose for instance, you pointed out the craziness of (to name a few) teapartiers or racists or religious fanatics or far left neo-communist anarchist types. Would you really want those sorts of people or flooding your professional e-mails or workplace with profanity? Would you like them coming to your home?

      Of course it is fine to use a pen name on the net – for the exact same reason Penelope, that you did not use your full name of write in a way that would easily identify you.

      April 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
  4. Chadman

    One other point I see a lot of people posting negative things about Jews and Obama. As for Jew's if you are Christian you really shouldn't have a problem with Jews. 1) Jesus was a Jew. 2) for those who believe in the trinity (why I don't know your over complicating things) that means your God is a Jew or at least one of the three or however you want to put it. Most first century Christians were Jews. Really easy up on the Jews for a second and crack open a bible and read it. As for Obama, why really and WASP you relax with the right wing stuff. You are on the wrong Blog this was a about a Rabbi the Bombing is the other story. Get it together man.

    April 16, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Chadman

      IFofAC, for a lack of a better way of saying it that was about the most prejudice thing you could say. I feel very hurt that someone hurt you so bad. really you need to get some prospective on life.

      April 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  5. Justin

    On the internet, nobody knows if you're kosher.

    April 16, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • Rabbi Barry Goldwasser

      Oink?

      April 17, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  6. Chadman

    Ok, really who cares and so what. He made a mistake in judgement he said he was sorry and after 30 seconds of reading the article he is a head case. Let it go and no body cares.

    April 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  7. Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

    Wow I cant believe how much I really dont care about this.....this si the best article they could come up with. Come on string that rotten Jesus back up... bring back the zombie articles.

    April 16, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
    • Chadman

      So why are you blogging? what made you read the article in the first place? Its not like CNN had one article that forced you to read and then comment on something that you are totally not interested in. Really?

      April 16, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  8. snomannn

    Oh, I think the rabbi will survive any blow to his heart that may potentially given him by his beloved Orthodox community. It seems pretty clear to me that "Goldwasser/Broyde" feels himself above the laws and rules meant for the others. The logic and reasons given for his deceptions are really those of a common, ordinary, everyday, garden variety con man and nothing more. Just one more criminal with the usual justifications and non acceptance of responsibility for his own actions. I would find it very sad indeed for the university to overlook what they may believe to be a minor transgression. The rabbi has destroyed the ability for anyone else to ever trust him again. This man is not smart, his actions are those of someone, sly, cunning, selfish and greedy....a person very much in love with himself. How can a school decry the epidemic of cheating that goes on if they turn a blind eye to this?

    April 16, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • sam

      How's it going, Judgy McJudgerson?

      April 16, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  9. Mike Broyde

    What's all the fuss? It's probably just a coincidence of names. Oh, wait . . .

    April 16, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • THE Mike Broyde

      I know, right?

      April 16, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
  10. Elspeth

    Since when is anonymity a "crime." Even the Founding Fathers used pseudonyms, aliases, and fake personas for their writings. This is much a do about NOTHING. He did NOT, and I repeat NOT, violate attorney client privilege by pretending to be someone's attorney and on their team of counsel to get secret information and then take it back to the other side. No, what he did was pretend that he held liberal religious viewpoints instead of the conservative religious viewpoints that the espouses. For all the world knows he might ACTUALLY believe the liberal viewpoint and be pretending the conservative one. NO ONE can know what is truly in another man's heart save his Creator. And since none of us are his Creator, we can never know that "truth."

    He didn't do any thing wrong and any one who thinks he did need their medications adjusted. This is the Internet Age. Take a lesson from Dr. House, EVERYONE lies. Even your mummy and daddy.

    April 16, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • katie corey

      Good reply! I feel the same way.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Elspeth

      Now that I think about it, it was actually a pretty terrible thing to do. I guess you never really know who's talking at any given moment on the internet.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • Mike Broyde

      I never lie. Listen, hoofbeats! It's zebras for sure.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • ed dugan

      My only comment as an athiest is that he should have also used a first name of Barry. Barry Goldwasser? Sound right to me.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • DB

      Did any of the Founders and Framers PROMOTE THEIR OWN WORK using pseudonyms?

      It's like creating a sockpuppet to "up-vote" your own online comments, only it's much much worse because he was promoting his writings that he sells for money. Imagine a famous movie director creating a fake film critic persona to give his own movies good reviews, and you'll start to understand why this is so unethical.

      April 16, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • E Hart

      In academic circles, this is fundamental dishonest; it is disqualification from decent conversation. Self-aggrandizement by posturing as another is cheap, and so beneath someone with such gifts.

      April 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  11. ToldUSo

    I'm shocked, SHOCKED that a man of the cloth would willfully mislead his people.

    April 16, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  12. lionlylamb

    Nationalized ethics are fractured copious social ethnicities made audaciously sanctified via mental augmentations within systemically accrued hierarchical socialisms vetted around rather mundane ideological placements reeling upon retrograded societal accolades ever rallying towards vesper abilities remedial sequential surroundings visualized apparitions of fluted servile mindedness.

    April 16, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @lionly

      Still can't say anything worthwhile I see. So sad to see that you need to post the same kind of pseudo-intellectual bullshit because you have nothing useful to say.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • psych ward staff

      Uh oh, he threw up the word salad again. Clean-up on page 1 – stat.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      hawaiiguest,

      Hg, your rationalizing innuendoes are temporally mesmerizing to the commonalities' debauchery. I am so glad your verbalized agendas are in the least; attenuating toward, thru and of chicken scratching memories to be lost amid the quandaries of statement logged sobrieties.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @lionly

      Do you have any point here other than to attempt to feel intellectually superior to others? Are you that much of a pathetic person?

      April 16, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • squidburns

      Damn hipsters with their hipster speak... go back to where you came from! (Wisconsin)

      April 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  13. Hugh Jass

    It's sad when people use multiple names on the internet.

    April 16, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Joe Stalin

      Hypocrite. You are actually me, aren't you? Admit it.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Hamburger Jones

      You are both me.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Melissa Bumbleby

      Wait, I thought you were both him?

      April 16, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • Siegfried Spittoon

      I thought I was you?

      April 16, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      Who are all you zombies? I know who I am.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • Elspeth

      When is your next show and where can I get tickets

      April 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  14. meifumado

    This is newsworthy? Why?

    April 16, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Saraswati

      That was more or less my response. "Author publishes under pseudonym"? Really? Sure, there’s a bit more to it when someone cites or promotes themselves, but it’s kind of hard to avoid if you publish under another name. I guess I’d have to see how the self-promotion was done, but the story doesn’t even bother to clarify that.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Irrational Exuberance

      Because this is a person with an imaginary friend who is somebody.

      And he is somebody because of his imaginary friend.

      Probably shouldn't think about it too hard, after all they don't.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  15. Hugh Jass

    Frankly, given the nature of the discourse in today's society, I am more comfortable using the name Mike Broyde instead of my own when I post on white supremacist websites. I hope I haven't, er, deceived anyone. If I have, I don't care.

    April 16, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  16. Ronald Bandor

    Particularly egregious coming from someone purporting to be an expert on ethics.

    April 16, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • Razi

      Not really... he used the other ID to play devils advocate to stimulate more discussion on some topics. I don't really see this as a big deal. Under the pseudonym he never claimed to have credentials he didn't have in real life.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • Razi

      Wait, I changed my mind. It's terrible! Twenty lashes with a bull's pizzle.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  17. Lokari

    If anyone chooses to criticize him for having a fake online persona, they should be required to do so using their own real, full name.

    April 16, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      But my real name is Herkimer Quetzal Bagpipe.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Ralphie McGregor

      Aye, from the clan Bagpipe, are we?

      April 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      Bagpipes, that's my bag.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:07 pm |

  18. LOL

    April 16, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
  19. Reality

    Just more credence for the following:

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" are converging these religions into some simple rules of life.

    No pope. koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    April 16, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • james

      what about JWs and KHs ?

      April 16, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
  20. Reasonably

    Why have one name while you can have two and argue with yourself on the inter webs?

    April 16, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • WASP

      @reason: clear case of multiple personality disorder. XD

      April 16, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Akira

      I know people who do this already.
      I don't know why, lol.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • jake

      roses are red,
      violets are blue.
      i'm a schizophrenic,
      and so am i.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      I only have one name, but it's a beauty.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • Akira

      Your name is A Beauty? I thought it was Hugh Jass.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
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