A new investigation by The Jewish Channel suggests a deception related to Rabbi Michael Broyde’s academic work that academic ethics experts say would represent a much greater breach of academic ethics than the revelations from a previous investigation published by The Jewish Channel on April 12.
The Jewish Channel has previously revealed that Rabbi Michael Broyde — a prominent rabbi who was reportedly on the shortlist to be chief rabbi of England and is a law professor at U.S. News & World Report’s 23rd-ranked law school at Emory University — created a fake professional identity, Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser, that Broyde used over the course of nearly 20 years. The Goldwasser character joined a rival rabbinic group and gained access to its members-only communications, to argue with other members of that group under the fake identity, to submit letters to scholarly journals that in some cases touted his own work, and engage in other scholarly deceptions.
But a second identity uncovered by The Jewish Channel might have gone farther down the road of academic misconduct than did the Goldwasser character. The second identity, claiming to be an 80-something Ivy League graduate and Talmud scholar in 2010, alleged he’d had conversations with now long-dead sages in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The alleged conversations were used to produce a manufactured history of statements from long-dead scholars that buttressed an argument that Broyde had made in a highly-touted article published in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. Broyde, in a later publication, subsequently quoted this second identity’s alleged findings as further proof of his original argument.
The consequences for Broyde in creating the Goldwasser character have been greater in his role as rabbi than in his role as a law professor. Broyde has already taken an “indefinite leave of absence” from his position as a judge on the largest rabbinical court in the United States, as well as from his role as a member in the rabbinic professional association with which it is affiliated. The president of that rabbinical group, the Rabbinical Council of America, has called Broyde’s conduct “extremely disturbing.”
But whereas numerous rabbis have explained to The Jewish Channel that the requirements of a rabbinical court judge include having a reputation for unquestioned integrity and honesty, several academic ethics experts have explained that the standards for university professors are different. Broyde’s conduct revealed in The Jewish Channel’s previous reporting thus far is less clear as a violation of academic standards for professors, these experts say.
However, if Broyde created this second identity and alleged historical evidence, that would “clearly be false scholarship” and “clearly require disciplinary review,” according to Professor Celia Fisher of Fordham University, where she is director of the Center for Ethics Education.
Broyde’s conduct as Hershel Goldwasser could be “defensible” if it was used “to stimulate discussion or even controversy,” said the director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, Professor Teddi Fishman, but “Making up a supposedly real person to prop up one’s own positions does just the opposite and undermines scholarly integrity.”
Broyde did not reply to multiples e-mails or to multiple voicemails at both his office and mobile phone numbers requesting comment for this story.
This second identity involves a 179-page article by Broyde published as a special supplement of the scholarly journal Tradition in the fall of 2009. A prefatory note to special supplement expresses thanks from the editors of Tradition to two entities, one of which is Broyde’s employer, the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, where Broyde is a senior fellow. The two entities “funded this special supplement, thereby enabling Tradition to publish a worthy article that we would not otherwise have been able to print because of considerations of space,” the editors write.
Broyde’s article generated significant controversy within the Orthodox rabbinate and in Jewish scholarly circles for its detailed historical argument suggesting that the dominant view of past rabbinic sages was that married women might not need to cover their hair in public in order to conform to Orthodox Jewish law.
Tradition received multiple letters in response to the article, both supporting and opposing Broyde’s argument. Two of the letters supporting Broyde’s argument aroused editors’ suspicions about their authenticity.
Someone claiming to be David Tzvi Keter wrote one of those letters to Tradition from a Gmail account, establishing a biography in which he claimed he had “moved to Israel in 1949 after graduating from Columbia,” and that he then went on to learn at one of the most prestigious yeshivas in the world at the time, Jerusalem’s Etz Chaim yeshiva, under a major sage of the time, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer.
The Keter character then goes on to provide a history in which he gathered the oral testimony of several prominent sages of the mid-20th-century on the topic of women’s hair covering. His letter provides their comments 60 years later to add them to the historical record Broyde had been analyzing in the Tradition article.
After Tradition declined to publish the letter, Broyde succeeded in getting the letter published on the Orthodox Jewish scholarship website Hirhurim. Broyde then wrote a follow-up to his Tradition article at Hirhurim, in which he responded to critics and cited the Keter letter as one of three “additional sources that support my position which have come to light since my article came out.”
Finding David Keter
The Jewish Channel has been unable to find any evidence of David Keter’s existence.
Columbia University has no records of a student named David Keter in the 1940s, nor does it have a record for any student having an English version of that name, David Crown, in that era.
The Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, founded in 1951, as “the primary support organization for immigrants to Israel from North America,” has no record of David Keter in its database. According to a director of the organization, Josie Arbel, “in the early years [membership] was very inexpensive & automatic,” and “all olim [immigrants] arrival info from the Jewish Agency went into our database.” However, it’s possible that someone from 1949 never made contact with the organization, despite the relatively few such immigrants who were in Israel at the time of the organization’s founding.
All but one of the four men named David Keter listed in Israeli phone directories going back to 2003 told The Jewish Channel that they were born in Israel. The family of the David Keter who could not be reached told The Jewish Channel that he died more than 8 years ago, and was also born in Israel.
The only public record The Jewish Channel could find of a David Keter who was not born in Israel was a 1961 Hebrew newspaper article about a lawyer and yoga aficionado who had just emigrated to the country from the United States. The article said that the David Keter who was a subject of their article had changed his name from Isaac Dowd. Columbia University has no records of an Isaac Dowd attending Columbia University in the 1940s, either.
Brandeis University Professor Jonathan Sarna told The Jewish Channel that new immigrants to Israel were frequently featured in the English-language Jerusalem newspaper of the time, The Palestine Post. A search of the online archive for the newspaper produced no mentions of anyone with the last name of Keter.
The Jewish Channel was unsuccessful in trying to get government sources to determine whether David Keter ever received a national identity card, which Israeli law requires every resident of Israel over the age of 16 to carry at all times. Without more identifying information about Keter, the sources said, a search could not be completed.
No One Home
The Keter character provided a fake home address to Tradition editors when they sought to engage him in follow-up correspondence to his original letter.
After Tradition editors initially became suspicious of the Keter letter, they reached out to Keter on January 11, 2010, asking for an address and phone number to contact him. The Keter character wrote back eight days later, apologizing for the delay in response, which he said was because “I had what they tell me is a mini-stroke and I am only now able to read email at all.”
Keter responded with an address and phone number, but Tradition’s editor, Professor Shalom Carmy of Yeshiva University, did not recall doing anything with this information.
The Jewish Channel investigated Keter’s phone number and mailing address in 2013.
The phone number Keter provided to Tradition in 2010 today leads to a message that it is a non-working phone number. The Jewish Channel has been unable to obtain records for the phone number going back to 2010 to determine who, if anyone, once held that number.
Regarding Keter’s alleged address, while the Keter character’s letter claimed to have lived in Jerusalem in the mid-20th-century, he responded to Tradition’s 2010 e-mail inquiry by saying “I live in Maalot Tarshisha now, all the way up north, in 16 Shlomo Hamelech.”
That address the Keter character provided to Tradition consists of two lots. According to property records obtained by The Jewish Channel, the current owners of the two lots have owned those properties since 2002 and 2007. Owners of both properties told The Jewish Channel that they have resided there since their purchases and have never met anyone named David Keter, nor any man living in the area who was Orthodox or born in the United States. A next-door neighbor who told The Jewish Channel she has lived in her home since 1996 said that for as long as she has lived in her home, no one named David Keter, nor anyone born in the United States or who is an Orthodox Jew has lived nearby.
The small town of Maalot Tarshisha, population 20,000, consists mostly of secular Jewish Russian immigrants, with an additional 20% of the population being Arab. The head of the local religious committee for the time period Keter claimed to have lived there, Michael Hazan, told The Jewish Channel that he’d never heard of a David Keter.
Connections With Broyde
Unlike the Hershel Goldwasser character revealed by The Jewish Channel in an earlier investigation, the David Keter character does not claim to know Broyde — but Broyde did claim to have spoken to Keter.
In the months after Tradition chose not to run the Keter letter in January 2010, various outlets were publishing responses to Broyde’s controversial article.
In September 2010, the Jerusalem-based Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin sent a response to the proprietor of the Orthodox Jewish scholarship website Hirhurim, Gil Student, that was critical of Broyde’s article, declaring in part that “Rabbi Broyde’s core position…is untenable.” Henkin told Student that he had originally sent the letter to Tradition, and that the journal had not published it.
Student forwarded Henkin’s letter to Broyde before publishing, and Broyde replied “I have no problem with this — just make sure he knows that Tradition will certainly not publish it if you do.” Broyde then brought up the Keter letter, asking “Can I send you in a more favorable letter to the editor that Tradition declined to publish? Can you publish that also under some section of letters tradition [sic] did not publish?”
Upon Student’s assent, Broyde then forwarded the Keter letter to Student, explaining that he had obtained it when the editor of Tradition “sent it to me as an FYI.” Broyde then requested, “Please do publish it.” The Tradition editor, Carmy, told The Jewish Channel that he has no record of sending Broyde the letter from Keter, but that he regularly deletes old e-mails and that “I had no reason to keep it from Broyde.”
Student wrote to Keter’s e-mail address asking for permission to publish the letter, and Keter replied less than two hours later, writing “That is fine with me. It is an incident that is more than 50 years old now.”
In the days after The Jewish Channel’s investigation of Broyde was published on April 12th of this year, Student specifically asked Broyde whether Keter was a real person. Broyde responded that Keter is real, as Broyde had personally spoken to him by phone.
In a later conversation, Broyde told Student that Keter had given Broyde access to Keter’s Gmail account, and that Broyde had edited Keter’s original letter before sending it to Tradition.
Gmail accounts, unlike the Hotmail account used by the Goldwasser character, do not include the Internet Protocol, or IP, addresses of those sending messages from Gmail in their metadata.
How Could Keter Exist?
Student published Keter’s letter on Hirhurim in September 2010, and soon thereafter heard from readers, including editors at Tradition, about the factual concerns regarding Keter’s letter.
The overall biography for Keter is extraordinary. He claims to have graduated Columbia University in the 1940s, an era when being an Orthodox Jew in an Ivy League school was extremely rare, according to Brandeis University Professor Jonathan Sarna. “You still had quotas in the 1940s,” Sarna said in a phone interview, where rules existed such that “Jews are not more than 10 percent [of those enrolled as students], usually less, at top universities, and of those Jews, the vast majority tended to be non-Orthodox, since it was especially difficult to be an Orthodox Jew on most Ivy League campuses.”
Keter then claims to have moved to Israel in 1949, just after Israel’s war of independence and before many of the basic government services — including immigrant absorption — had been established in the Jewish State. “Back in 1949, aliyah [immigration to Israel] from America was highly unusual,” Sarna wrote in an e-mail to The Jewish Channel, adding “Orthodox American college students were no exception to that rule.” Sarna noted that “many of whose who did make aliyah returned after a few years,” because “Israel was a third-world country in 1949, and Americans did not find living there easy.” Sarna concluded that, “I am not aware of any precise figures concerning American Orthodox olim with college educations, but I suspect that you could count their numbers on your fingers and toes.”
Once in Israel, Keter claims to have studied at one of the most prestigious yeshivas of its era, which would usually require years of high-level Talmud study instead of schooling on secular subjects at an Ivy League University. While Meltzer’s yeshiva “certainly had taken American students” in the first half of the twentieth century, “they would tend to be people who went to Yeshiva Etz Chaim in America or another yeshiva, and then gone off,” instead of having gone to university.
Asked about the possibility of an Orthodox Jew doing all of these things — attending Columbia University in the 1940s or earlier, then moving to Israel in 1949, and studying in Meltzer’s yeshiva — Sarna answered in the phone interview, “Whoa, that’s unusual.” Sarna added, “I’m not going to say the facts are impossible,” but “I would ask a lot of questions.”
That such an exceptional figure would then never be heard from in the field of Jewish scholarship, until he wrote a single letter 60 years later, struck many scholars contacted by The Jewish Channel as extremely odd.
Presenting a New Narrative
The story Keter relayed also struck editors at Tradition as odd. The premise of the Keter letter as a response to Broyde’s article is that, while learning at the exclusive Jerusalem yeshiva under the sage Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, “I was engaged to a woman who would not cover her hair and I spoke to the Rav Meltzer about this matter at some length.”
Keter relates that Meltzer was initially dismissive of Keter’s inquiry: “He told me that it was better not to marry someone who would not cover her hair.” But Keter was able to get the sage to refer the question elsewhere by citing the power of love: “After I told him that I really loved this woman and wanted to marry, he graciously gave me permission to speak to three of his students, Rabbi Yehuda Gershuni, Rabbi Elazar Shach and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.”
“So off I went” to meet those rabbis, Keter declares.
Keter’s letter then cites responses from Gershuni and Auerbach that are broadly consistent with what the historical record reveals.
Where Keter’s letter goes into completely new territory, and the portion which Broyde cited in a later publication, is in Keter’s testimony about Shach. “[I]t was Rav Shach who startled me with his halachic [rabbinic legal] view,” Keter wrote. After discussing the issue in detail, “Rav Shach told me that it was better to be strict on this matter, but one who was makil [lenient], yesh al ma lismoch [he has what to rely upon].”
It is this paragraph about Shach’s attitudes that Broyde cites in an article on Hirhurim, declaring that “a recollection by David Keter of a conversation he had with Rav Shach,” is one of three “additional sources that support my position which have come to light since my article came out.”
A Story That Couldn’t Have Happened
As improbable as scholars find the overall narrative of the man named David Tzvi Keter, the letter itself contains a false detail that suggests Keter’s story is untrue.
Scholars suggest it was extremely unusual that an Orthodox Jew would have attended Columbia University in the 1940s, and indeed Columbia University has no records of this man. They also find it extremely unlikely that a man who was so well-versed in secular learning that he could attend Columbia could also develop the Talmudic skills to be immediately accepted into an exclusive yeshiva just after graduating college.
But the stories about the new history provided by Keter raised questions, as well. Scholars questioned whether the chronology suggested by the letter was consistent with recorded history, and whether the historical statements Keter provided were reflective of the long-dead rabbis’ actual attitudes — especially those regarding Shach.
And indeed, in one detail in the letter, Keter includes a historical inaccuracy that reveals his narrative could not have happened as Keter claims it did. The author says he “moved to Israel in 1949″ before his rabbinic adventure began. All four rabbis Keter claims to have spoken to were in Israel then, but Gershuni left Israel for the United States shortly thereafter, in 1950, according to a 2005 memorial book edited by Itamar Warhaftig, Afikei Yehuda.
However, the conversation with Shach that Keter relates could not have happened until 1952, two years after Gershuni left Israel.
Keter tells of Shach saying that “his wife had not covered her hair in Europe or while he was learning at Etz Chaim,” but that things changed for Shach when he became an instructor at a different yeshiva. “Now that he was at Ponevitch she certainly did cover her hair,” Keter claims Shach said. Shach only started teaching at the Ponevitch yeshiva in 1952, according to a 1989 biography of the rabbi by Moshe Horovitz, HaRav Shach Shehamaphteach Beyado.
In October 2010, Student, the Hirhurim editor, gathered various of the factual objection to Keter’s letter and asked Keter about them in an e-mail. Student also mentioned in the e-mail a result of Student’s correspondence with editors of Tradition after he published the letter, that a nephew of a Tradition editor then studying in Israel wanted to meet Keter.
Student, trying not to appear accusatory, concluded, “I apologize if these request [sic] offends you. You have already been generous with sharing your experience and any further information you give is at your discretion.”
Keter never replied.