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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. Terry Williams

    @derp: I am a "typical" Christian, but I would never use the term "jewboy". I have great admiration for the Jewish people. I find it repulsive when non-Jews disparage the Jews. We may disagree about the Messiah, but that does not mean that I hate the Jewish people.

    April 16, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
    • Akira

      I think derp was quoting a person who has since been deleted, Terry; that's why he had quotes around the statement he was reacting to.

      April 16, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
  2. JJ

    "Joining a rabbinical organization's Listserv under a false name is wrong, but it may not be "an academically sanctionable offense," he said." Really? And you don't think this indicative of a pathological character flaw we know as LYING THROUGH YOUR TEETH AND THINKING YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH IT?

    April 16, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
    • Saraswati

      On that basis every prof who cheated on his or her spouse could be sanctioned. You have to be looking at the specifically academic components.

      April 16, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
  3. Ted

    Yoshua, a son of Jewish carpenter called himself Rabbi, then Messia, then son of God, then Church promoted him to God.
    Not bad for a career and name use.

    April 16, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • petroskies

      moron ignorant first you has to look into the history: in that time in Israel the church don't exist and the Lord Jeshua assist and save the sabbath like a regular jew in the synagogue, the difference my Lord Jeshua bring out the hypocrisy of the rabbit , like this rabbi.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
    • שמיחזה

      so you still worship a human that's calls himself a god

      that Idolatry, you go to hell for committing that one

      April 16, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
    • vpoko

      Oh, c'monn, as a Jew you should no there's no heaven and hell in the Torah. In the Kabbalah, sure, but where do you think the idea came from?

      April 16, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
    • vpoko

      no = kniow. Kinda have to laugh at myself for that one.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • שמיחזה

      the idea came from Druid and Nordic faiths

      April 16, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  4. fernace

    This is sure proof that religion is secular! Believers believe, but the religious believe in their cannons & laws & tenets & various "holy" rituals! They also believe in their own hype! Ask me why I don't go to church anymore! Because I'm tired of being smacked in the face w/the hypocracy every time I walk across the threshold! I will believe w/other like minded friends, but I will not be lied to in the name of God!!

    April 16, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
  5. petroskies

    like all innocent rabbit this rabbi love kill rabbit but not eating in public, we call that the classical jews hypocrisy

    April 16, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
  6. Sam Yaza

    Why is having an allies a bad thing, i have 267+.

    April 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  7. Joe

    So he used a pseudonym. So have many other writers. What's the big deal?

    April 16, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Akira

      "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.

      If he felt he did nothing wrong, why did he initially deny it?

      April 16, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
    • Sam (bringing the light, in fact some call me the light bringer) Yaza

      because that's what you do with aliases.

      April 16, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • Akira

      So my next question would be, what is the difference between an alias, a pseudonym, and a screen name?

      April 16, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • Ted

      Yoshua, a son of Jewish carpenter called himself Rabbi, then Messia, then son of God, then Church promoted him to God.
      Not bad for a career and the name use.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
  8. Bob

    On a similar note, Chad was caught also posting on this blog using the name 'Rachel':

    Thanks to Really-O, we can observe how Chad was posting as Rachel. Chad had lied and claimed otherwise.

    So, thanks again, Really-O. A link to look at about this is
    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/06/richard-dawkins-evolution-is-not-a-controversial-issue/comment-page-10/#comments
    Caught!

    April 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  9. CBP

    Surprised to read that there is a top tier of rabbis. Don't believe any rabbi has a higher standing than any other Rabbi.

    It is unfortunate that his gentleman had an alias and used it to author his own work. However, he is not the first author to use an alias and he won't be the last. But of course, there are those who use this story to promote their own prejudices. Unfortunately, this seems to happen almost daily in the comments section.

    April 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Rabbi Top 4

      White small fuzzy ones
      Floppy eared ones kept as house pets
      Free range
      Jacks.

      The free range ones taste better.

      April 16, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • CBP

      Of course, I would never self-promote or invite the ladies to check out the profile I just posted on Ashleymadison.com, because that would be unethical.

      April 17, 2013 at 7:41 am |
  10. David

    I'm a Jew, but barely religious. Thinking sometimes of leaning in the future to becoming Agnostic or an Atheist. Never ever see myself as ever being an Orthodox Jew, though I have family members who are. This is another reason why...

    April 16, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • Joe

      You have got to be kidding me. So David, did you fully identify yourself in your post? Why didn't you? Why not invite every horrible troll on the internet into your personal life? You don't have a problem writing anonymously yourself – and with good reason. Why should you judge another harshly and then smear a whole group ridiculously for what you are doing right now?

      April 16, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • David

      With all due respect Joe, what personal experiences I've had with Orthodox Judaism, good and bad, should have no concern to you. I'm not smearing Orthodox Judaism; I'm merely saying I can't live the life of an Orthodox Jew. If you have a problem with me giving my opinion, then go find something better to do instead of trolling and trying to smear others cause you apparently have nothing better to waste your time with, or at least make some sense in what you say, cause you're also obviously clueless in what you're talking about

      April 16, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • David

      I'm also clarifying my point of how at times religion is a b***h and nasty business, no matter what religion one practices

      April 16, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Joe

      Ummm David, you wrote rather clearly that this was another reason why you could not be an orthodox Jew. The "this" in your statement given the context would have to be the horrible crime of writing under a pen name on the internet. And you continue to write while not giving out your full name or a way to contact you. Does the irony not penetrate? It clearly seems not to.

      So you are right, I don't know your experiences with Orthodox Judaism. And would you believe that I don't care either. The reason I don't care is that they are not relevant at all to the discussion. Simple question... Do you want every freak and troll on the net trolling you – in your personal accounts – if you write something they don't like? If the answer is no, then using a pseudonym seems obvious.

      So in short, you apparently have an axe to rind with rabbaim and/or Orthodoxy in general. Otherwise you would not be busy condemning a non-story over something that you are personally doing right now for good reason.

      April 16, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • David

      You still don't see the point. What I wrote was meant as an in-depth comment that was meant to be reflective of something else. I'm surprised you seem to take literal everything I said when I added theoretical stuff in their too, with an element of satire.

      And I've never had trolls or freaks bombarding me with personal messages of hate, trolling, and such, and though I always eye it as a possibility, I believe it's unlikely that'll happen to me anytime in the foreseeable future.

      April 16, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • sam

      Uh, Joe – what crawled up your ass? Take it easy.

      April 16, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • Joe

      So then why are you not posting under your full name?

      April 16, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • sam

      Why aren't you, Joe? Stop having your little self righteous fit. You made your point – multiple times – and now you're just annoying.

      April 16, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Joe

      Sam with respect,

      I think it is perfectly fine to write under a pseudonym and there are very good reasons for doing so. I am not being a hypocrite. What astonishes me even more is that this non-story even was printed in the first place.

      A concise way to look at it is:

      1. Everyone here is writing anonymously.
      2.. There are good reasons to do so.
      3. Since it is common practice around the net in general, It is incredibly hypocritical to even make this a story.
      4. Therefore, once people notice this, to even complain about it, shows that they really only have an axe to grind of some sort or they are just the most pathetic of self-righteous hypocrites.

      Given 1-4, there should really be nothing else to say, yet, foolishly, people keep chattering and pretending that they aren't being self-righteous hypocrites – even when it is utterly obvious.

      April 16, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
    • .

      Joe sounds like Chad or Live4Him with the little logic tree thing going.
      I would say that Joe is the troll, given he immediately jumped all over Dave...and tore apart every little bit of information that Dave have. Joe also neglected to read the article where this guy was writing and giving his own works, under his given name, as a citation to what he was talking about. Rather dishonest, I would say. Nobody cares that he was writing under a pseudonym, what he was SAYING under that pseudonym is what he is being called out on. Funny, joe can't see the difference.

      April 16, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • petroskies

      very very good for you David , the real true are, we must be believe in the Go-d of Israel , but not in the rabbits of israel of 2013 they are fake rabbi ,

      April 16, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
    • David

      I am actually Joe anyway. I'm just pulling your leg.

      April 17, 2013 at 7:43 am |
  11. Shungamunga

    Typical and what we have come to expect.

    April 16, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Mike Broyde

      I always expect rabbis to have secret ident ities. Wait, maybe I don't expect that.

      April 17, 2013 at 9:07 am |
    • Rabbi Barry Goldwasser

      When you least expect it, expect it.

      April 17, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  12. Aleksander

    Well, I personally wish the best for him, and hope that he will learn from the whole experience.

    April 16, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  13. asdf

    So the dude did this because of extremist Orthodox Jews? I guess they do have lots of time on their hands to cause trouble considering things like gainful employment or serving in the military are taboo in their community.

    April 16, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  14. asdf

    How is it this guy is a villain for this while IDF forces bulldozing people's houses and shooting people throwing rocks at them are heros?

    April 16, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • asdf

      Oh thats right anything goes as long as you don't do anything bad to other jews. The golden rule.

      April 16, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • Wr

      You are a liar.

      April 16, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • petroskies

      you are the winer , they are herossssssssssss

      April 16, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
    • שמיחזה

      ohh good question...i guess its because

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8g46yHgg58

      we think were the good guys,.. I'm having second thoughts

      April 16, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • Mike Broyde

      After the 1967 war, nobody would blame Israel if they nerve-gassed all their neighbors to death. People who won't negotiate in good faith are doomed.

      April 17, 2013 at 7:53 am |
  15. asdf

    Wish they would be honest and say they are condemning him for saying liberal things instead of a pseudonym. After all anybody that questions the hardliners is anti semitic after all.

    April 16, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
    • Wr

      No, just you.

      April 16, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
  16. Bob

    What a tool! – and then when busted, he couldnt even keep his story straight – if using pseudonym is so common, then why deny it?? And as far as academic dishonesty, how is it not dishonest to bolster the importance of his own work by citing it when writing under a pseudonym?? This dude has lost all credibility.

    April 16, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  17. Joe

    Fascinating to see comment after comment 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?

    April 16, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I have no problem whatsoever with someone using a pseudonym but it's when people use one to promote themselves (implying 3rd party approval) or to defraud that it is a problem. We don't really know the details here unless someone has a link to more information.

      April 16, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
    • Your mama wont like me

      Good point.

      April 16, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • Steven Harnack

      If you can't see the difference Joe then I have a doorstop that has more reasoning skills than you do.

      April 16, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Joe

      Using a false name is horrible and shows that I, I mean you, don't have any morals at all. Obviously I'd steal candy from a baby and rob old people at ATMs. Anyone who would use a false name is a complete loser. Heck, I'm not even a real plumber.

      April 17, 2013 at 7:56 am |
  18. Byrd

    Beth Din of America is so upset because being Broyded, with a capital B, in the infernal regions is a lot worse than being goldwassered, whateverthehell that its... But to be Broyded...you don't even want to go there....

    April 16, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • Rabbi Barry Goldwasser

      "being goldwassered, whateverthehell that its." In your heart, you know it's ginger ale.

      April 17, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  19. yankeemon90

    What on earth did he do wrong? So he used a pseudonym throughout his career – so did Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain, for anyone who doesn't know). There's absolutely nothing ethically OR legally wrong with what he did.

    April 16, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • Saraswati

      The only things I could see being objectionable are:

      1) promoting one's own work. It's a lot different to read good things about someone's work from a third party than from the individual himself. Fake reviews of a building contractor by that person himself could, for instance, cause that person to get contracts unfairly. But without more detail on what exactly he said we can't know if this was an ethical issue.

      2) If he was actually infiltrating another organization under false pretenses. On the other hand most people accept spying under certain circu.mstances, so the exact motivations would come into play in making any judgments.

      April 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • HZ

      Promoting his own work? That's cheating... also spying on the other group. Now it could be that others are doing the same thing and in that environment he was just making a level playing field but he got caught so he has to take the heat.

      April 16, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • derp

      "But his actions don't surprise me, that is what the typical jewboy does"

      Spoken like a true christian.

      April 16, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • A Ruth

      Also Lewis Carroll!

      April 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • ajk68

      What he did wrong was cite himself using a different name. It's a way of trying to get academic respect.

      He also didn't tell the editor of the journal that he was writing under a pseudonym. This interferes with the peer review process. I guess one question was whether he was ever asked to review one of his own writings?

      Spying via misrepresentation is lying. Lying is never morally o.k.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
  20. Bootyfunk

    religion sure is dumb.

    April 16, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
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