Tales of the Rabbinate, Part I

    An enterprising and concerned individual just brought the following to my attention. The short story is about me, but the longer story is about how Rabbis deal with recalcitrant husbands (who capriciously and maliciously refuse to give their wives gittin)and the perils of modern life. One such evil husband was a Givon (Harland) Zirkind, who made his wife an aguna over ten years ago, prompting back then a local Rabbinic and lay demonstration outside his home which did not ultimately succeed in persuading him.

   He recently wrote a self-published and tendentious account rationalizing his misdeeds, and attacking every rabbi who sought to have him divorce his wife as the Torah obligates divorcing men to do. In his attempt to impugn me, he wrote: “The Lanner affair is still a big scandal. What surprises me about how the community reacted to Lanner was that Rabbi Pruzansky; of Teaneck NJ and the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County; was never forced to resign for his complicity and remains the pulpit rabbi of the largest synagogue in Teaneck. Teaneck is a very wealthy, densely populated Jewish community. The community was incensed over the scandal. Synagogues stopped paying their dues to the OU as a boycott demanding action. But, Rabbi Pruzansky, who with his rabbinical court, had actively been involved in covering up Rabbi Lanner’s sexual abuse of children, had not been forced to resign !”

     The “exclamation point” at the end is a little over-heated, and I cannot figure out why he used the two semi-colons the way he did. The sad part is that I remember this Zirkind as a real mental case, which is often the situation in aguna matters. The libelous part is that almost every assertion in the paragraph he published is false, blatantly false. Lies. If he weren’t utterly destitute, I would sue him for libel. If he actually belonged to a community, or the community of the sane, I would seek to have him banned. But he is already banned.

     Here’s the truthful part of the statement above: I am the “pulpit rabbi of the largest synagogue in Teaneck.” Here are the falsehoods:

1)      I was never involved in the Lanner case in any capacity, formal or informal. There was no “complicity” on my part. Lanner’s crimes preceded my tenure in Teaneck. The accusations against him took place while I was living in Queens. Zirkind, in his delusional state, apparently has me confused with some of my colleagues who have lived here for more than 30 years and knew Lanner both personally and professionally.

2)      My “rabbinical court,” far from being “actively…involved in covering up” the abuses, has only been in existence for three years and deals exclusively with matters of conversion. It is not even “my” rabbinical court, but the Bet Din of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, founded in 2007, almost a decade after Zirkind’s contemptible treatment of his wife and two decades after the Lanner crimes in Bergen County.

3)      Far from being “complicit” or “covering up,” I barely knew Lanner. I do not think I have even seen him more than a half-dozen times in my life, and I might have said “hello” once. My “involvement” in his matter was limited to denouncing him publicly, urging children in our shul who have been abused to inform their parents, and informing parents that, in such cases, to bypass me and go right to the police – the correct address for criminal charges. I was completely uninvolved in his prosecution, defense, the original accusations, the later accusations, the Bet Din, the informal discussions, etc. – simply uninvolved.

4)      Teaneck is not at all “densely populated.” The homes are very evenly spaced, with plenty of land for all residents.

         He went on to write that he heard a rumor that I got “flack” from my Board for getting involved in this case. Sorry, Harley. It was never mentioned to me; I received not even a fleck of flack.

     One tragedy of modern life is that I am forced to address this at all. In years past, I would have ignored it, remembering the psychological instability of the author. But the Internet has dramatically changed the way we live. News travels fast, and Mark Twain’s quote (attributed to him, at least) that “a lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” is exponentially truer today. The Internet has a way of making a public record and ruining reputations almost instantaneously, and ignoring what is written just feeds the beast. The greater tragedy, then, is that people will read and believe what they read, without endeavoring to find out more information or background as to the provenance of what they read. That is how I even found out about this – someone read it and brought it to my attention.

    So, this is a correction of the public record – a complete and utter denial of all charges level against me by a tragic individual with grudges against many Rabbis. There are rabbis who are intimidated into eschewing involvement in aguna issues because the reaction of the recalcitrant spouse is often publicly vindictive and threatening; I trust those rabbis are few in number. It is better to do the right thing, and then respond to the vitriol and abuse that invariably follows. That is sometimes the price for doing the right thing, and it is a price that most rabbis are willing to pay.

      After the initial demonstration in this matter, and repeated efforts to induce Zirkind to give his wife a get, the local Rabbis withdrew when the wife-in-question rejected our advice on how to proceed, and followed other rabbinic advice. This was over a decade ago. They were not members of my synagogue, and I do not know whether in fact the couple is reconciled, divorced, estranged, etc. Somehow, the author here surfaced again in the last year or so with bundles of grievances against the rabbis who tried to get him to do the right thing.

     In summary, I was not even remotely connected to the Lanner scandal as a principal, a bit player or through the OU. Zero. Nada. Gornisht.  My OU involvement at the time was restricted to consuming the products whose kashrut they supervised.

      Consider this a repudiation of everything Zirkind wrote – and a challenge: Is it too much to expect that even a sad and demented individual should be able to recognize his error and publicly apologize ?

3 responses to “Tales of the Rabbinate, Part I

  1. Daniel Schwartz

    Unfortunately, the world loves a lie and feeds off of them. How well we know this from the media’s depiction of Israel. The pursuit of truth is something that has escaped society in general and your story shows just how far down on the tumah ladder some have sunk. I suspect had this rasha been in mitzrayim he would have hit the 50th step and been locked-in forever.

  2. J. Greenberg

    There were no “Lanner crimes in Bergen County”. Rabbi Lanner was convicted by a jury in Monmouth County, NJ for incidents that took place at the Hillel yeshiva in Monmouth County. And if you’re referring generally to bad acts that he’s alleged to have committed in Bergen County, I’d expect that as a former attorney, and in particular in an article in which you’re denouncing inaccurate statements made over the internet, you would strive to be more precise and accurate.

    • Crimes are crimes even if they’re not prosecuted. One need not be a former attorney to recognize that, but one would have to be a current attorney, or morally obtuse, not to see that. An unwanted touching of another human being is a crime, as is harrassment, as are a host of other bad acts.
      – RSP