Law Prof. Michael Broyde Admits to Fake Online Identity

Emory Professor of Law and Senior Fellow Michael Broyde admitted last Friday to creating a fake online identity, which he used to gain access to a rival professional rabbinic group and tout his own scholarly endeavors, according to an April 12 article in The Jewish Channel.

According to The Channel, Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser — Broyde’s pseudonym — has been an active and respected rabbinic voice for more than 20 years, frequently publishing in scholarly journals and often praising Broyde’s work. In addition, Broyde used Goldwasser’s name to become a member of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) — a rival to the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), of which Broyde is a member.

Broyde’s involvement in the creation of the online identity of Goldwasser was verified through his Emory University Internet Protocol (IP) address. Although the Goldwasser character claimed to be writing from a computer in Israel, his IP address matched that of Broyde’s Emory University computer.

Susan Clark, the associate dean for marketing and communications and chief marketing officer for the Emory University School of Law, wrote in an email to the Wheel in conjunction with Emory School of Law Dean Robert Schapiro that an inquiry will be conducted regarding this matter.

“The allegations regarding the conduct of Professor Michael Broyde are concerning to the Law School,” they wrote. “We are currently reviewing the matter and plan to issue a statement once our inquiry is complete.”

Broyde initially denied the accusation that he had created the fake identity, claiming that the pseudonym of Goldwasser was not his invention.

In a phone interview with The Channel, he claimed that Goldwasser was a teacher of his.

“Not my character … He’s a [teacher] of mine from many years ago who’s deceased [and moved to Israel] 10 years ago, or something like that, maybe more, I don’t remember,” he said.

Broyde wrote in an email to the Wheel that he is unavailable for comment about the allegations at this time.

After denying his involvement in the creation of Goldwasser, Broyde later admitted to inventing the character and apologized for having done so in an email, published in The Channel, to Barry Gelman, the former president of the IRF — the organization Broyde gained access to through the Goldwasser name.

In the email, Broyde stated that he realized becoming a member of the IRF through a fake character was an error in judgment.

“It is clear to me that my conduct was inappropriate, and I have regretted it for a while,” Broyde wrote.

Paul Wolpe, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Bioethics and Director of the Center for Ethics, said the specific circumstances surrounding Broyde’s use of the pseudonym violate standards of academic ethics.

“The Law School will have to determine the facts of the case and the proper response,” he wrote in an email to the Wheel. “In general, though, while the use of a pseudonym is not in and of itself wrong, submitting a piece to a professional journal under a [pseudonym] that is not disclosed at least to the editors, and using that opportunity to cite one’s own work, are clearly breaches of academic ethics.”

The RCA granted Broyde an indefinite leave of absence yesterday from his position as a judge with on Beth Din of America — the leading rabbinic court in America — due to his actions, according to an April 15 article in Tablet Magazine.

The president of RCA, Shmuel Goldin, expressed disapproval of Broyde’s actions in an interview with the Tablet.

“Broyde has admitted to behavior that the Rabbinical Council finds extremely disturbing,” he said. “We have determined and announced [through] the Beth Din of America … that he has ceased to serve as a [judge] immediately and indefinitely.”

Broyde’s biography can no longer be found on the Beth Din of America’s website.

In addition to writing a letter to Goldin, Broyde posted on The Hirhurim-Musings blog on Friday to explain his actions and apologize for his missteps.

He wrote that initially he felt he had to lie and deny his association with Goldwasser in order to protect his friend who joined him in using the pseudonym to write about Jewish law and policy.

“I felt that I had no choice but to temporarily deny any involvement until I consulted with my writing partner,” Broyde wrote. “…It was both silly and a mistake for me to lie to the reporter, and I hope I have learned from that.”

Broyde continued to apologize in the blog for his error in judgment.

“It was an error of judgment on our part to join any professional organization,” he wrote. “We did so in an era in which membership was not verified at all and no fee was charged, but it was still something that my own [teachers] would not approve of and thus I regret. I am truly and genuinely sorry for this.”

Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, said she hopes this error in judgment will not detract from all the good Broyde has done.

“All I would say is that, based on what Professor Broyde has already acknowledged, I think he made some serious mistakes,” she wrote in an email to the Wheel. “But I would hope that those mistakes would not completely overshadow the good work he has done over many years.”

Michael Berger, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in religion, acknowledged in an interview with the Wheel that “what [Broyde] did is certainly not how professional academics behave.” However, he said he is confident Broyde will take the necessary steps to move forward.

“It starts with recognizing one’s errors, acknowledging them and apologizing to those affected, which I know Professor Broyde has begun doing,” he said. “Next will be trying to make it up to those same individuals and organizations, and resolving to behave properly in the future, which I am confident Professor Broyde will do in the coming weeks and months. I hope that a time will come that he will be able to contribute once again to the fields of Jewish law and academic law in the ways he has in the past, having learned from his mistakes.”

— By Arianna Skibell

4 COMMENTS

  1. This “scandal” strikes me as a pile of baloney, and the fools who have manufactured it have revealed themselves to be, at best, puritanical prigs. Broyde shares his terrible ethical problem with people of the likes of John Locke, Voltaire, Lawrence Sterne, Benjamin Franklin, and Fernando Pessoa.

    He shares it with hundreds of other public intellectuals, whose actual identities are often unknown (including, incidentally, many a famous Jewish rabbinical figure), and who have craftily concealed their identities and used pseudonyms, often multiple pseudonyms, to engage in argumentation with others. Books on intellectual history are filled with examples of precisely this kind of conduct. The “Chinese garden” fashion came to an end in England when a critic of that style published an essay purportedly authored by a visitor from China.

    Oh, but now that we have the Internet, we must all suddenly acknowledge that such actions are inappropriate and, even worse, actually damaging to the career of an austere, orthodox rabbi of whom we demand that he be as priggish as we are.

    One must, above all, hope none of Broyde’s “socks” sent out any satirical emails, because that would be a major crime in America, the land of free speech. For some insight on exactly how the Internet cops have started going after satirically inclined socks-puppeteers, see the Raphael Golb trial website:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    Read the trial transcripts. See how we used a million taxpayer dollars to “get” Raphael Golb. See how his dangerous Dead Sea sock-puppets (“he knows how to use words to stir up controversy”) were exposed by Manhattan prosecutors, acting at the behest of a small group of academics who apparently didn’t like their dirty laundry being exposed on the Internet.

    An odd detail, though: the prosecution was allowed to argue that Golb used his socks to make “false accusations,” but Golb was blocked from introducing any evidence that his accusations were true, because “neither good faith nor truth is a defense to the crimes charged.” Great stuff! Hopefully the authorities at Emory will use this brilliant technique to get Broyde too, and every other professor out there using a sock.

    And in fact, since there is actually a Herschel Goldwasser who lives in New York, maybe Emory should have Rabbi Broyde arrested and charged with “identity theft”? After all, he used the name of another to influence a debate, thereby obtaining a “benefit.”

    No, but seriously, have we all lost our minds? To remove someone from a rabbinical court for such nonsense? To “investigate” him? This says a lot more about the court and the investigators than about Michael Broyde.

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