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Watching out for Bush nominees
Jews watch for nominees to assess a Bush White House

Jewish Telegraphic Agency
December 6, 2000

Republican Jewish Coalition
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, center, flanked by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, left, and Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks, visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem during a 1998 tour of Israel for Republican governors organized by the RJC. Jews will look to Bush's Cabinet appointees as a clue for his Mideast policies.
NEW YORK—Reform rabbis across the country are reeling from the news that one of Reform Judaism's highest-ranking professionals has resigned amid charges of sexual misconduct.

Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, 58, quit his post as president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion on Monday, shortly after being suspended from the Reform movement's rabbinic association.

Zimmerman is the highest-ranking rabbi ever to be suspended from the CCAR.

The suspension, resulting from an inquiry by the Central Conference of American Rabbis' seven-member ethics committee, prohibits Zimmerman from serving as a rabbi in any Reform temple or institution for at least two years.

According to an HUC statement, the suspension results from Zimmerman's "personal relationships" before he became president in 1996.

Neither Zimmerman nor officials with the CCAR returned phone calls seeking comment.

Reform officials said Zimmerman had violated guidelines concerning "sexual ethics and sexual boundaries," but the ethics committee has not disclosed the precise nature of his misconduct.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said the committee's inquiry came in response to a complaint filed earlier this year. Zimmerman could have contested the decision, but chose not to, said Yoffie.

"He recognized that he made a mistake and accepted responsibility for that," said Yoffie, who does not sit on the committee and said he does not know the details of Zimmerman's misconduct.

"Obviously, a suspension of two years indicates this is a serious matter," said Yoffie.

Zimmerman, who is known by his colleagues as "Shelly," was the past president of the CCAR, the body from which he has been suspended. He was widely admired not only for his administrative work in the college, but for being a spokesman for the Reform movement.

Zimmerman is widely known by "the force of his personality and his ability to present the principles and commitments of Reform Judaism in a popular and compelling way," Yoffie said.

The news hit students and colleagues in the Reform movement hard.

"Shelly is one of the great American rabbis," said Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, of the Community Synagogue of Port Washington in Long Island, N.Y.

"He has been a leader in this movement for three decades," said Salkin. "His teaching and creativity has touched numerous lives. I profoundly respect him and call him a friend. My heart aches for him and for his family and for our movement."

One former student who considered Zimmerman her mentor, said, "It feels like a death.

"He was a brilliant teacher, and was the single most helpful person in teaching us to find meaning in a text and to communicate it to people," said this rabbi who asked not to be identified.

In the past five years, the CCAR's ethics committee and guidelines on sexual misconduct have been strengthened and enforcement more aggressive, say people familiar with the process.

Zimmerman has been credited with rebuilding HUC's faculty, and under his tenure the college began ordaining rabbis on the West Coast, as well as in New York and Cincinnati.

Recently, Zimmerman had been vocal about the need to address the national shortage of rabbis and other Jewish professionals.

Before assuming the HUC presidency, Zimmerman served as senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas and assistant rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York. Ordained in 1970, he was president of the CCAR from 1993 to 1995.

HUC appointed its provost, Norman Cohen, to serve as acting president. The college is in the process of forming a search committee for a new president.

HUC, which has campuses in Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles and Jerusalem, has 1,400 students in its rabbinical, cantorial and other graduate programs.

© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission


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