Sunday, April 6, 2014

Clergy Counselors and Confidentiality: A Case for Scrutiny: Rabbis Weinberger & Flaum

Jaapl    This is in regards to my recent post regarding Rabbi Biderman's breach of confidentiality by forwarding emails from Beth Alexander to her husband and a judge who is a friend of the husband. That raises the larger question of the parameters of rabbinic confidentiality. I am posting a link to legal discusion of a case in New York in which two rabbis tranmitted information that the wife revealed to them - to her then husband without informing her in advance or even warning her that they were obligated to reveal certain information to the husband. Was there in fact any halachic justification for Rabbi Biderman to reveal Beth's emails to her husband?

As religious organizations contribute increasingly to community mental health, counseling by clergy acquires greater significance. As a result, clergy confront from time to time ethics challenges resulting from the need to balance a commitment to clients and an obligation to follow the requirements of religious doctrine. The recent New York case of Lightman v. Flaum highlights an example of this dilemma. A woman who asked two rabbis (Flaum and Weinberger) for help in her marriage complained that they had violated the confidentiality she expected of them. The rabbis requested summary judgment based on religious grounds, and the trial court rejected their request. The state’s highest court concurred with an appeal court’s reversal of the trial court. We discuss the arguments raised in this case about the extent to which clergy may owe a duty of confidentiality to those who consult them for psychological help, and we also consider the religion-based arguments that would fashion an exception to confidentiality in this unique context.


  1. Of course, clergy owe a duty of confidentiality. When you confide in a rabbi, you are putting your trust in him. To put it bluntly, Rabbi Biderman double crossed Beth and her children.

    If it was any other profession, be it lawyer, dentist, doctor, that professional would have to be answerable to their particular professional council or institute, for instance the medical board etc....

    Who then is a rabbi answerable to, and if he is found guilty of gross misconduct is he struck off from his profession. I hope somebody can answer my question on this. Thank you.

    1. Leah,

      Rabbi Biderman is answerable to G-d. Rabbi Bidderman will face Him one day! And, as it stands right now, there will be a tremendous accounting he will be facing. I sincerely hope he does do teshuva and seeks - with complete sincerity - to recognize, and then rectify, the harm and wrongdoing he has committed.

  2. The flaum/weinberger case is almost 20 years old. I wouldnr call it recent.

    Anyway, the clergy priveledge belongs to the clergyman, under NYS law. He can waive it (per the tendler (father / son in law) case.) There is no priveledge to the congregant (or counselee).

    Thus mrs lightman couldnt claim it.

    The problem with that case is that despite the fact thst both rabbis did wrong, their fellow rabbis did NOTHING about it, even though they promised to do something after tbe civil case was dismissed.

    Not mentioned in the background at the time was that the ex husband was very valuable to rabbonim in brooklyn and five towns, for certain expert testimony he was very good in manufacturing, on request of the rabbonim.

    (Note: both rabbonim recently lost their jobs, for completely different reasons, years later.)

    MiMedinat HaYam

    1. the article which was written ten years ago refers to it as a recent case because at that time it was a recent case.

  3. Recipients and PublicityApril 7, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    This point is about the immaturity of most rabbonim in regard to counseling.

    While on the one hand many rabbonim disparage or poo-poo professional psychotherapy (whether from psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers) and tout themselves as "equals" to the best that modern mental health and counseling practice can offer, the rabbonim still adhere too a stone age mentality of "infallibility" often combined with cynical profiteering always with an eye to the bottom line of who signs their checks and who would be their biggest donors.

    Money talks and too many rabbis know that too well unfortunately.

    Really, bottom line, most current rabbis are not up to the task of dealing with modern-day complexities that are involved in psychotherapy or marital counseling, issues that are best dealt with by PROVABLY RELIABLE professional mental health workers and counseling professionals.

    The problem is compounded that in far flung communities rabbis take on larger than life roles and postures when in fact they are just small time shnooks from Brooklyn or Israel who are often times in troubled marriages themselves, and never worked through the stage of of troubled teens with no secular education or at least a respect for what professional counselors can do.

    Rabbis should become experts in who the best PROVABLY RELIABLE therapists and counselors are in their communities to refer congregants to and not get in over their heads, helping congregants stay away from harmful therapists and doctors and certainly not take guidance from them or guide innocent people to them or ally with corrupt psychologists, doctors, judges, and vindictive community members.

  4. You make some very interesting points

    1) when you say that the father was very valuable to the Rabbonim.

    Because the Rabbonim are being so protective of the father, Michael
    Schlesinger in Vienna, in particular,
    Rabbi Biderman, it makes me believe
    that perhaps, Michael knows
    something unsavoury about him or

    2) Lay leaders as well as Rabbis promised to help.

    They did then went back on their

    If only to speak to the father to make him see sense that there is no reason for the children and their mother not to have more contact.

    Why? If they have a reason they need to tell us! The Austrian Jewish Community is losing respect. Is this what they want? Do they want to stand alone and be shunned?

    They must have some good reason why they are protecting this cruel man.
    The truth will come out in the end. It always does! Why are they making the children suffer in the meantime?
    Shame on the Austrian Jewish Community.

    1. These type cases are usually resolved by rabbonim in the two communties formally (bet din) or informally (a few phone calls).

      I presume manchester rabbinim called vienna and received a "no discussion" answer. Can this be verified (at least attempts at such resolition?) Or is the manchester rabbanut shirking their duty?

      MiMedinat HaYam


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