Sockpuppeting Rabbi Claims He Used a “Pseudonym”

This one’s a few days old; Rabbi Michael Broyde –  academic director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University and last year reportedly a contender for next UK Chief Rabbi – writes to a past president of the International Rabbinic Fellowship:

About twenty years ago, I and a friend began jointly occasionally using a pseudonym to write about matters of halacha and Jewish public policy… This pen name had a literary career for about 15 years, and included letters to the editor to various Torah publications as well as other comments, publications and emails.

…At one point when we were both interested in the IRF and considering joining, this pseudonym joined the IRF and participated vigorously in the debates on its internal email list, which we found full of wise and interesting comments.

…Recently, someone else who I don’t know has started posting using this pen name which has encouraged a journalist to investigate my pseudonymous activity.

Broyde was recently exposed as having written under the name “Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser” by the Jewish Channel’s Newsdesk. Broyde was undone in large part due to IP evidence (not the first such case), although his apparent knowledge of private IRF discussions seems also to have raised suspicions.

Broyde’s letter elides the difference between a pseudonym and a fake identity – and one suspects this is deliberate, as he’s clearly an intelligent man. Broyde did not simply hide his identity, which may be legitimate where there is no conflict of interest or intent to evade responsibility or deceive – he gave his creation a bogus biography and even home address. Further, he used this fake identity to promote his professional persona, which certainly is a conflict of interest.

The suggestion that “someone else” has now taken over what he calls a “pen name” is a weird detail – why would anyone else besides his “friend” have known that the Goldwasser name was fake and therefore available for use? What motive would this person have for doing so, and for continuing to use the name to promote Broyde?

Emory is currently “investigating” Broyde’s behaviour, and he is on “indefinite leave of absence” from his position on the Rabbinical Council of America’s Beit Din.

If Emory decides to deprive him of his academic position, perhaps Broyde could relocate to London; he will be encouraged to hear that Birkbeck College still employs Orlando Figes, despite Figes’ use of  a sockpuppet to puff his own work and to attack rivals – and his use of a libel action threat to attempt to suppress the truth.