Rabbi A. Charles Shalman, expelled in 2008 from the worldwide Rabbinical Assembly amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a member of his congregation, has resurfaced as a featured participant in High Holy Day services at Hillel of Buffalo.
Shalman assisted last week during Rosh Hashana services at Hillel, the primary Jewish student organization on the University at Buffalo campus, and he is slated to do the same again tonight and Wednesday for Yom Kippur, Judaism's most solemn holiday.
Shalman's return to the pulpit as Torah reader has caused considerable consternation in some circles of the Jewish community, including a letter from a local rabbi to the Hillel board chairman strongly objecting to the move.
"We all know that Rabbi Shalman is a gifted, knowledgeable and charismatic teacher. However, given his refusal to own up or change, it is not appropriate for him to work with the young, vulnerable student population at Hillel," Rabbi Keith M. Karnofsky wrote in a letter obtained by The Buffalo News.
The letter was addressed to Hillel board Chairman Dan Lenard.
Karnofsky also wrote that leading High Holy Day services "imposes an additional requirement that the leader be above reproach" because his "misdeeds can reflect upon the congregation."
Karnofsky, who is currently the president of the Buffalo Board of Rabbis, said in a brief telephone interview that he stood by his letter but that it was his opinion, not a statement on behalf of the rabbi board.
He declined to comment further on Shalman's role in worship at Hillel.
Shalman served as rabbi of Temple Shaarey Zedek in Amherst from 1995 until his resignation in 2008, when he was accused by a member of the synagogue of having an inappropriately close relationship with the member's wife.
It was the second time in his tenure at Temple Shaarey Zedek that Shalman faced allegations of misconduct. In 1999, an investigation by the Rabbinical Assembly's ethics board concluded that Shalman had violated several principles of rabbinical conduct in his private counseling or teaching sessions with female members of the synagogue. The violations including improper touching and suggestive comments.
The congregation voted to retain Shalman, who had to undergo therapy and refrain from any future one-on-one teaching with women.
But following the 2008 allegation, the Rabbinical Assembly expelled Shalman, effectively meaning that synagogues affiliated with the Conservative Judaism movement cannot hire him.
Hillel is not affiliated with a particular movement, and Lenard on Monday defended the organization's use of Shalman in its High Holy Day services. The Hillel board twice, by a 9-2 vote, approved bringing Shalman aboard this year, said Lenard.
"He was a wonderful altar rabbi, and we needed somebody to read Torah for our liturgies," said Lenard, who described Shalman as a friend.
Lenard pointed out that Shalman was not acting as a rabbi or counseling anybody and that a cantor hired out of Chicago was in charge of leading the services.
"What he brings to the pulpit is a tremendous knowledge of Torah," said Lenard.
Lenard also said Shalman has never been accused of any crimes and deserves as second chance.
"The guy is human," he said. "What we've got here is a guy who made a big mistake, showed a lack of judgment and paid a tremendous price for it."
Some members of Shalman's former congregation want to make him into a pariah, added Lenard.
"This is a time of forgiveness in the Jewish religion," he said. "Put it behind."
Shalman declined to comment for this story when reached Monday.
Some members of the Jewish community objected to Shalman's pulpit duties with Hillel but said they were uncomfortable speaking out publicly on the matter.
One father of a University at Buffalo student expressed concern about Shalman's pulpit sermonizing leading students to seek him out after the services.
"If a student would assume he's a rabbi and would want to go to him for advice - especially a female student - I would hesitate as a parent to have my daughter go talk to him," the man said.