A former Atlanta rabbi has been sentenced to six months in prison after pleaded guilty to two sex-related charges in suburban Cleveland.
Rabbi Stephen Weiss, an assistant rabbi at the Ahavath Achim Synagogue from July 1990 to June 1997, pleaded guilty Jan. 26 in Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court to attempted sexual contact with a minor and possessing criminal tools, both felony charges.
Weiss was the longtime rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in the Cleveland suburb of Pepper Pike until his arrest last April 2022.
According to media reports, Weiss, 61, will be classified as a Tier II sex offender and his sentences on the two charges will run concurrently. The maximum prison sentence possible was 30 months in prison. Weiss will be required to register as a sex offender every six months for the next 25 years and will be on probation for five years after leaving prison.
Defense attorney Michael Goldberg told Cleveland Jewish News that Weiss could serve less than six months, as under Ohio law he can petition for judicial release before the scheduled end of his sentence.
According to CJN: “During Weiss’ statement to the court before sentencing, he spoke of his guilt and regret for his actions, breaking down in tears as he told Judge Emily Hagan of his ‘deep remorse’ for actions which go ‘against all I stand for.’ He said his actions ‘betrayed his values, family and community, and caused great hurt and pain,’ and that he could not understand why he did what he did.
“I’ve spent my life protecting children, and this is incomprehensible to me,” Weiss said, adding that he “prays for forgiveness” for what he has done,
CJN reported that, before sentencing, Weiss’ daughter, Rivka Weiss, “told the court she was appearing on behalf of her siblings and said, ‘We know our father to be a good person…he’s always been a loving father and grandfather. While we are angry, and we are hurt, we also know that this is not who he is as a person. He needs help and we know that because of all of the good and giving things he’s given to our family and to our community. Our parents taught us that we are not the worst days of our lives and there’s room for grace and to forgive.'”
Weiss, the senior rabbi at B’nai Jeshurun since 2001, was arrested April 18, 2022, by the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children task force. The criminal complaint alleged that he communicated on a social networking app with an undercover investigator posing as a 15-year-old boy and then traveled to a location in Newburgh Heights, Ohio, to meet what he thought was a teenager. The Cleveland Jewish News reported: “According to the prosecutor’s office, the vehicle he was driving was searched and law enforcement officers found a box of condoms and two bottles of lubricant.”
Weiss initially was charged with one count of attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, one count of importuning and one count of possessing criminal tools. The importuning count was dismissed.
B’nai Jeshurun suspended Weiss immediately following his arrest. He was suspended April 25 by the Rabbinical Assembly, the international Conservative/Masorti movement’s rabbinic body.