As noted previously, I notified the editor of the Jewish Press, Jason Maoz, of Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum's plagiarism on Thursday 8-23-07. I sent an urgent email and followed up several hours later with a phone message. I emailed and called this week, as well, all with no response – until noon Wednesday.
Jason Maoz answered my email and explained the error Rabbi Tannenbaum made. In the process of explaining, it became clear Maoz was under the (incorrect) impression that Rabbi Tannenbaum had been working with the article's actual author, Dorothy Shapiro, even before the first column appeared.
I asked him again for a statement. After an exchange of emails, he gave one:
"We removed last week's Machberes oolumn from our website pending
clarification. Dorothy Shapiro told us that Tannenbaum had spoken with her
while he was working on the followup column that appears this week, adding
that she had no problem with his use of her material, though she would
have preferred being credited in last week's column. In this week's issue
Tannenbaum gives her that credit, and we also put an editor's note on top
of the column expressing regret at Tannenbaum's failure to credit her last
week. In addition, we restored last week's column to our website along
with an editor's note concerning Mrs. Shapiro's authorship. Tannenbaum has
been told in very strong terms that in the future he must be more careful
and precise in crediting any original sources."
I told him (before the statement above was written) that Rabbi Tannenbaum had not been working with Dorothy Shapiro before his first column – the one he stole from her – was printed. He first contacted her only after the Jewish Press was informed of the theft.
Rabbi Tannenbaum's excuse? He thought she had passed away.
Even so, Rabbi Tannenbaum did not attempt to contact the Catskills Institute, the publisher of that article or the family of Dorothy Shapiro – he simply stole the column from a supposedly dead woman and printed it as his own.
How do I know this? I spent a long time on the phone with Mrs. Shapiro, a kind, gentle woman who was willing to overlook the theft. I also contacted the head of the Catskills Institute who told me he had not been contacted by Rabbi Tannenbaum or the Jewish Press.
Jason Maoz says he did not contact the Catskills Institute because Dorothy Shapiro told him she owns the rights to the article. This is fine and, as far as I know, true. Still, one would think the Catskills Institute should have been contacted as a courtesy, if not to investigate further.
In the end, both Dorothy Shapiro and the Catskills Institute got some well deserved publicity, so in this respect, the affair worked out well for them.
But this does not and should not let Rabbi Tannenbaum off the hook:
- Rabbi Tannenbaum had no contact with Dorothy Shapiro until after his theft was exposed.
- Rabbi Tannenbaum is not a first time offender. He has a 30-year-record of fraud and theft including at least one (but I believe, two) criminal conviction(s), and an SEC record of violations. In other words, Rabbi Tannenbaum is no stranger to stealing.
Rabbi Tannenbaum should not be a leader of a rabbinic organization. But, sadly, he remains the director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America (Igud HaRabbonim), despite his crimes.
Rabbi Tannenbaum should not hold any public position in the Jewish community. Yet he 'pens' a weekly column for the Jewish Press, the largest independent Jewish weekly in America.
Both the Rabbinical Alliance of America and the Jewish Press are Orthodox Jewish organizations. By allowing Rabbi Tannenbaum to retain his positions without penalty, the Jewish Press and the RAA send a very negative message, a message that is received and understood by Jewish children, as well as by Jewish adults – theft, fraud and stealing are not disqualifications for Jewish leadership.
I do not believe either organization wants to send this message. But every day Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum remains in their employ, it is that very message they both send.