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Rabbi at Sharon temple faces suit

Congregant says loan not paid back; Litigation filed in Stoughton court

Rabbi Barry Starr was photographed at his home in Sharon Friday.

John TlumackiGlobe staff

Rabbi Barry Starr was photographed at his home in Sharon Friday.

The long-serving rabbi of Temple Israel in Sharon, who resigned last week after admitting marital infidelity and other misconduct, is facing legal action by an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor, who said his spiritual adviser failed to repay him a $50,000 loan.

In litigation filed last week in Stoughton District Court, Morris Kesselman, a congregant of the temple for decades, said Rabbi Barry Starr came to his house in Sharon last fall and pleaded with him for money.

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“Rabbi Starr stated to me and my wife that he had a severe personal problem and said that he could go to no one else and asked if he could borrow the money, which he promised and swore that he would repay with interest,” Kesselman said in a sworn statement.

He added: “Relying [on] our 28-year relationship with the rabbi, our spiritual counselor, and his promise, I wrote and gave a check for $50,000.”

Last week, Kesselman and hundreds of other members of the Conservative temple received a letter from the rabbi, in which he acknowledged his wrongdoing.

“Sometimes people who try to be good people do things that are wrong, hurtful, and shameful,” wrote Starr, 64, who is married with two children. “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.”

In the letter, the rabbi told his congregants that he planned to leave Sharon “immediately” and that he planned to sell his two-story beige house as quickly as possible.

As a result, Kesselman asked the court to attach a lien to Starr’s home, which would require the rabbi to repay him with any proceeds from the sale.

Kesselman’s daughter said in a telephone interview Monday that her father declined to comment.

It was not clear why Starr needed the money, and he did not elaborate on his personal problems in the letter.

On Friday, Starr declined to comment.

Members of Temple Israel gathered Monday night at the synagogue to discuss the controversy; police escorted a Globe reporter off the premises.

Police said they were told that most of the temple’s approximately 630 families were expected to attend.

After the meeting concluded more than two hours later, Paul Maltzman, who has been a member since 1958, said he was as shocked as when he arrived.

“We know something bad happened,” he said as he walked to his car. “That’s all we know.”

Maltzman said they were told that “things are now in the hands of the authorities.”

Maltzman called Rabbi Starr, “my rabbi, my clergy, my friend.”

“What could have caused him to do the things he is accused of? I’m shocked. I’m so upset that a man I loved, a man I still love, could do this. It’s like a bad dream.”

An e-mail sent last week 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.”

A discretionary fund generally accepts donations to be used by the rabbi to help members of the community.

“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 about the nature of the fund and how the checks had been compromised.

Arnie Freedman, president of Temple Israel, said in a telephone interview last week 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.

Freedman did not return calls Monday afternoon.

Last week, he described how much Starr meant to the congregation and how much members looked up to a man who served as president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis and the region’s Rabbinical Assembly, the umbrella group for Conservative rabbis.

“This is the most tragic thing that has happened in the life of this community,” Freedman told the Globe. “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.”

Related:

Longtime Sharon rabbi abruptly resigns

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.
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