Rabbi convicted of solicitation and barred from worship services

A rabbi is no longer welcome to worship in his suburban Washington DC synagogue because of his 2006 conviction for trying to sexually solicit a minor. A former vice president over programming at Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leaders and Values, the man was caught on tape in the “Dateline NBC” series “To Catch a Predator” propositioning a person he believed to be an underage girl.

The rabbi was convicted in federal court on one count of the sex offense of coercion and enticement, as well as one count of travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct. He received a six-year prison sentence with 10 years of supervised release. He believes that someone in his synagogue saw a rebroadcast of the show and brought it to the leadership’s attention.

Barred from worship

The board of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland spent a reported “backbreaking amount of time” considering the legal and ethical implications of allowing the rabbi to worship in their midst. According to the board’s September 2012 message to the congregation, the debate included discussions on the “safety of our children, responsibility, teshuvah (repentance) and the compelling needs of the community at large,”

Adat Shalom’s spiritual leader told the Washington Jewish Week, “The process was painful, but it was something to be proud of. We were guided by balancing safety with the respect for individuals.” Understandably, the convicted rabbi is frustrated with the decision that impedes his ability to worship. However, Adat Shalom’s decision is neither surprising nor uncommon.

Maryland sex offender laws

Laws prohibiting sex offenders from living near schools, parks, recreation centers and nursing homes are on the books of at least 30 states. However, Maryland is not one of them and has no sex offender living restrictions, although sexual offender registration laws still apply. Some cities and counties around the country are very aggressive, banning sex offenders from even going to public places like parks, beaches, harbors, community pools and other places where children might congregate.

Private organizations, like Adat Shalom, can prohibit sex offenders from joining their ranks. In fact, courts can also prohibit offenders from participating in private groups, like churches or synagogues, if doing so would violate the terms of their supervision. For example, a New Hampshire court recently denied an offender’s request to attend a specific church because the presence of minors would cause him to violate his probation terms. The court said the man had other means of practicing his religion.

Though Maryland does not require sex offenders to abide by residency requirements, they are bound by a judge’s decision as to the terms of their supervision. This could ban them from locations where children are apt to be found. Moreover, private groups can set the terms of their membership and prevent sex offenders from joining.

The consequences of a conviction for a sex offense are life altering. If you have been arrested for a sexual crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation and your options.