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Chicago rabbi is out months after hostile workplace investigation

Three months ago, Rabbi Seth Limmer returned to the Chicago Sinai Congregation after a leave of absence during which he was investigated for creating a hostile workplace culture.

Chicago Sinai Congregation in Chicago. Image courtesy of Google Maps

(RNS) — Three months after his return to the Chicago Sinai Congregation after a leave of absence during which he was investigated for creating a hostile workplace culture, Rabbi Seth Limmer is leaving the Reform synagogue.

In a letter to congregants of the prominent synagogue on Wednesday (May 11), the president of the board of trustees wrote: “Unfortunately, sometimes relationships are damaged in ways that cannot be repaired. We honor the legacy of his tenure, and want to focus on all the good he has done during these many years.”

An independent firm investigated Limmer last year after complaints arose that in his eight years as senior rabbi he had fostered a workplace culture that was discriminatory and disrespectful. 

It found no criminal conduct, moral turpitude or sexual misconduct but reported that “there were times when the Rabbi’s actions did not live up to our highest values.”

Limmer was allowed to return to the pulpit in February.


RELATED: After #MeToo, hostile workplace complaints prompt synagogues to investigate rabbis


At least three prominent Reform synagogues undertook similar investigations of their rabbis over the past two years, representing a new level of ethical accountability in the Reform movement, the largest Jewish group in the United States.

Rodef Shalom Rabbi Aaron Bisno, center, delivers his sermon with soloist Molly May, left, during a service that was streamed live, Friday, March 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Rodef Shalom Rabbi Aaron Bisno, center, delivers his sermon with soloist Molly May, left, during a service that was streamed live, Friday, March 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

In Pennsylvania, the board of Pittsburgh’s Rodef Shalom Congregation placed Rabbi Aaron Bisno on administrative leave last year after employees complained about his conduct. In March, the board decided not to renew his contract. He had led the venerable 166-year-old congregation, Pittsburgh’s largest Reform synagogue, since 2004.

And in Minneapolis, Rabbi Michael Adam Latz of Shir Tikvah Congregation resigned in the wake of an investigation into “long-standing, significant issues with his interactions with staff.”

Under federal law, a hostile workplace is one with discriminatory and unwelcome conduct directed at an individual or a group because of his, her or their protected status, be it race, age, sexual orientation, gender, disability, religion or marital status.

Rabbi Seth Limmer. Photo via Chicago Sinai Congregation

Rabbi Seth Limmer. Photo via Chicago Sinai Congregation

Limmer’s tenure has been marked by high turnover among the synagogue’s staff, some of whom resigned or were dismissed. In the wake of his return, an associate rabbi at the synagogue took a 12-week sabbatical; another associate rabbi announced he was taking another job at the end of June.

It was unclear Wednesday what led to Limmer’s departure. Out of concern for respect and confidentiality, the board of Chicago Sinai wrote: “We hope you will understand this means we may not be able to answer your questions.”

Limmer also serves on the board of the Reform movement’s rabbinical association, the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

The Chicago Sinai board leadership did not respond to a request for comment.


RELATED: Pittsburgh rabbi is out following hostile workplace investigation