Akiva Roth of Englewood, who had been hired this year to teach English at Yeshiva College, was fired last week, after news of his 1997 conviction for lewdness.
Because of the nature of the offense of which he was convicted, last week the Orthodox synagogues in Englewood decided that prudence dictated that he be asked not to show up for shul, and he agreed.
Therefore, an email went out to the members of the shuls – Congregation Ahavath Torah, Congregation Shomrei Emunah, the East Hill Synagogue, and Kesher. That email soon made its way to the Internet, where it was posted on the Failed Messiah blog.
“It is important that we respond appropriately,” the email said. “On the one hand, with an eye towards the protection of all; on the other hand, without jumping to conclusions solely based upon media accounts.”
Roth, now 42, was arrested in 1997, charged with exposing himself to pre-bar mitzvah boys at private lessons, touching himself and encouraging them to do as he did. He was then a teacher at what was the Solomon Schechter Day School of Union and Essex; that West Orange school has been renamed the Golda Och Academy.
The original charges were for sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child, but Roth was convicted of four far less serious charges of lewdness. He was sentenced to 10 years of probation, a sentence that ended six years ago.
The judge who sentenced him, Barnett Hoffman, allowed him to plead guilty to lewdness rather than the more serious charges, but he is reported as having been uncomfortable with Roth. One the one hand, Hoffman said, Roth was “in the lowest category for risk of re-offense.” On the other hand, the judge said, Roth demonstrated “a lack of appreciation for the wrongfulness of his conduct.”
He went on: “Defendant is very arrogant and continues to blame the victims,” Hoffman said.
Roth has worked in many Jewish institutions, mainly Orthodox or Conservative – the Jewish Theological Seminary, Camp Ramah, and YU. He also worked for Hillel and AIPAC.
The rabbis who signed the email – Akiva Block of Kesher, Menachem Genack of Shomrei Emunah, Shmuel Goldin and Chaim Poupko of Ahavath Torah, and Zev Reichman of East Hill – are making few public statements as they decide how to handle the issue, which is complicated by the age of the charges and the question of whether the behavior has ever recurred. As they consider their next steps, they are joined by Rabbi Fred Elias of Kol HaNeshamah, a Conservative shul in Englewood; Roth would sometimes go there as well as to the Orthodox ones.
“The community is discussing the matter and determining the best path to take,” Goldin, who is also the immediate past president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said. “We are also researching whether there are any current issues.
“We have to be sensitive both to the community and to Akiba,” he said.
In their email, the rabbis acknowledged the tightrope. “May Hashem grant us the wisdom to deal with this and other complex situations properly,” they wrote.