By a vote of 515 to 91, Temple Oheb Shalom’s congregation decided at an Oct. 21 meeting to terminate its spiritual leader of 19 years, Rabbi Steven M. Fink.
On Aug. 22 and Sept. 26, the 165-year-old Pikesville temple’s board of trustees voted unanimously to begin termination proceedings against Rabbi Fink due to allegations of sexual misconduct and ethical violations. The vote came in the wake of an Aug. 20 vote by the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ ethics committee to suspend Rabbi Fink from the rabbinate due to the alleged violations. (The CCAR is the Reform movement’s national rabbinic leadership organization.)
The CCAR conducted a months-long investigation initiated in May following the report of “an improper incident of a sexual nature that may have occurred a number of years ago involving Rabbi Fink and a then teenager, who was a minor at the time,” according to a letter sent in May to congregants by the board of Oheb Shalom.
In a phone interview with Jmore shortly after learning of the congregational vote, Rabbi Fink, 67, said he was “very disappointed for me and the congregation. They have destroyed the congregation today. I’m not surprised [about the vote] because the vast majority of our supporters have left the congregation. I would’ve been amazed if I’d won.”
Nonetheless, the rabbi said he will continue to fight. He said he plans to talk about the next legal steps with his attorney, Andrew Jay Graham of the law firm Kramon & Graham.
“The battle is over, but the war goes on,” Rabbi Fink said. “We will be engaging in litigation with the congregation. This is a travesty of justice. Hopefully, our civil rights will be respected in the courts and I can have due process, which I was denied throughout this whole ordeal. …
“I know I have done nothing wrong, but have been treated unfairly and I’m a victim of – as [celebrity lawyer] Alan Dershowitz calls it – ‘sexual McCarthyism.'”
In a statement, the congregation said, “Today, Temple Oheb Shalom held a congregational meeting to ratify the Board of Trustees’ unanimous decision to terminate Rabbi Fink’s employment contract ‘for cause.’ The meeting was conducted by a professional parliamentarian and the voting monitored and tabulated by certified accountants. By a vote count of 515 to 91, including proxies and in-person ballots, the congregation voted to affirmatively ratify the Board’s decision. This is an affirmation by 85 percent of those voting. Rabbi Fink’s employment with Temple Oheb Shalom is now officially terminated as of today.”
The statement went on to say that the vote will be the first step toward “the healing that our congregation needs and deserves, and we can now begin to put this painful matter behind us. We will continue to be spiritually guided for the next year by [interim senior] Rabbi [Marc L.] Disick. And significantly, we have preserved the moral integrity of our beloved congregation by insisting that our spiritual leadership adhere to the high standards of ethical and personal behavior expected of Reform rabbis.
“These past months have been difficult, stressful and divisive. We are grateful for the dedication of all who have deeply engaged on behalf of this congregation and who are invested in Temple Oheb Shalom’s future.”
Oheb Shalom President Mina Wender referred all media inquiries to Amy Rotenberg, the congregation’s spokeswoman.
Rotenberg called the congregation’s vote “overwhelming, beyond what we’d call a mandate. There may be loud voices in the opposition, but not many of them. … We’re grateful to our congregants and staff, including [assistant] Rabbi [Sarah] Marion, who was unfairly dragged through this.”
Rotenberg contended that Rabbi Fink was given a great deal of due process to present his position to the CCAR and the congregation and its leadership. She said the congregation handled the Rabbi Fink matter “meticulously” and “by the book,” and has adhered to the CCAR’s recommendations and concerns.
“He wasn’t able to convince [the CCAR or Oheb Shalom]. This congregation wants to move on and supported its board and voted for the moral high ground,” she said.”
She said Rabbi Fink, who was suspended with pay since May when the allegation first surfaced, will receive no further payments from Oheb Shalom but will collect a retirement pension. If he had not been terminated at the Oct. 21 meeting, the congregation would have been forced to pay the rabbi for the remaining 20 months of his contract, Rotenberg said.
Regarding a future legal battle between Oheb Shalom and Rabbi Fink, Rotenberg said, “We are very comfortable with our legal position and focused on beginning the healing process. It’s his choice. One might hope that with how events played out over the past five months that he would find another way to conclude his relationship with Oheb Shalom. We hope this is the end.
“The congregation is not divided over this matter,” Rotenberg said. “This vote shows that there’s overwhelming consensus. The congregation has voted and does not want Fink.”
Rabbi Fink said he has no plans to back down or move on. “My life will go on. I’ve had a lot of support and love, and that will continue This is our home,” he said. “But they have destroyed a congregation. They’ve destroyed Oheb Shalom.”