SHARON — Over the years, Rabbi Barry Starr amassed accolades and built a national profile. He has served as president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, as well as the region’s Rabbinical Assembly, the umbrella group for Conservative rabbis. He has sat on the chancellor’s rabbinic cabinet of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, one of the academic and spiritual centers of Conservative Judaism.
He had been best known as the beloved rabbi of Temple Israel of Sharon, where for the past 28 years he has presided over major renovations, seen his congregation grow to about 630 families, and delivered sermons about ethical standards and the value of tradition.
Starr’s reputation as a mensch — a person of integrity, someone to be looked up to — ended last week when he abruptly resigned from his position at Temple Israel, stunning people in this suburb south of Boston.
“I write this letter with a very heavy heart and a sense of shame and remorse that makes this the most difficult thing I have done in my life,” he told his congregants in a letter he sent by e-mail Tuesday. “As you know, sometimes people who try to be good people do things that are wrong, hurtful, and shameful.”
The married father of two added: “It is with great remorse and deep regret that I acknowledge I have engaged in marital infidelity and other serious personal conduct which require me to resign.”
Starr went on to ask for forgiveness and implored congregants to allow his family to try to heal in private. Neither he nor officials of the congregation provided additional information about his decision to resign.
The rabbi, who according to public databases is 64 years old, declined to speak to a reporter Friday when he answered the door at his beige clapboard house in Sharon.
‘I write this letter with a very heavy heart and a sense of shame and remorse.’
A separate e-mail sent to congregants from Benjamin Maron, executive director of Temple Israel, said some checks made payable to the rabbi’s discretionary fund over the past month may have been “compromised.”
“If the cheque [sic] has not cleared, we urge you to put a stop payment on that cheque [sic] and to notify the Temple Israel office,” he wrote.
Maron did not return calls seeking comment.
Arnie Freedman, president of Temple Israel, said in a telephone interview that the Norfolk district attorney’s office and local and State Police are investigating. Neither police nor prosecutors would confirm that an investigation is underway. They had no record of an arrest.
Freedman said he and many others here are grieving and trying to make sense of a turn of events that remains unfathomable to many congregants, hundreds of whom have long confided in Starr, looked to him for guidance, viewed him as a part of their family.
“This is the most tragic thing that has happened in the life of this community,” said Freedman. “He’s always been the heart and soul of our community. We’re just grieving. We’re all very sad. We don’t know what’s going on.”
He said he lacked details about the rabbi’s misdeeds.
“We, the community, would like to know why he resigned, as well,” he said. “I can tell you the temple has not made any allegations of any crime whatsoever against Rabbi Starr, about anything, on any level at all.”
He added: “At this point, all we have is each other to hold onto.”
At the synagogue, other congregants declined to speak.
One woman who recently joined the congregation and declined to give her name would say only: “It’s upsetting.”
Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University and now a visiting professor at Harvard University, said Starr had been well regarded in the Conservative movement because of how he managed to expand his congregation.
But he noted it was not the first time a rabbi or other religious figures has betrayed the trust of his flock.
“These are some of the most difficult traumas that affect congregations,” he said.
In his letter, Starr blamed himself for the pain he has inflicted.
“I have hurt my wife and family the most,” he wrote. “Words cannot begin to express how I feel about that. I love them very much and have violated the basic decency that should govern such love relationships.”
He added: “I know I will have to bear the burden of guilt; I regret that they will have to bear the results of this throughout their lives.”
Starr wrote he planned to sell his house and would leave Sharon “as quickly as possible.”
He made one final request to his congregants.
“I beg of you do not call, write, or come to visit,” he wrote. “At present, I cannot face you, even though I care about you deeply. It is too painful, and I need time to work through the issues I face.”