There was once a time when I stood up for Mordechai Gafni. Not for the man himself, precisely, but rather the notion that a man is innocent until proven guilty. On one occasion, in the midst of an argument with Jewish Whistleblower here on Jewschool, I was explicitly warned by several of my most esteemed jblogger friends to diassociate myself from such remarks because, when the shit hits the fan, I’m not going to want to be seen in any way, shape or form, to be among his sycophants. So before I break this story, let me just clarify: I have have always been suspicious of Gafni. Though I have never met him or conversed with him (perhaps luckily, as I’ve never come under the sway of his “charismatic leadership”), I have heard one-too-many alarming tales from his students and would-be victims to remain ambivalent towards him. In turn, I have inquired of all allegations against him to both prominent Renewal leaders and their staff members, as well as some contributors to Jewschool who have been in close contact with him. Their responses have hardly satisfied me, and I have since made it a point to warn every person in the Renewal community I know to steer clear of him.
That said, the shit has hit the fan. Gafni, nee Marc Winiarz, who reportedly fled the United States for Israel to avoid either prosecution for previous charges of sexual assault or the social repercussions of such allegations, has been oustered from his position at Bayit Chadash, the spiritual community in Tel Aviv-Yaffo, amidst five distinct allegations of sexual harrassment and one charge of rape three charges of sexual and psychological abuse, including rape [see Update on Gafni: Not rape].
Letters are presently circulating to the directors of various spiritual communities here in North America at which Gafni regularly teaches, warning them not to invite the man onto their premeses. I should have one of these letters in my possession shortly. More details will follow.
Gafni, by the way, also writes parshat hashavua for ynet. I can’t wait to see how they report this when it hits the press, if they report it at all.
I cannot divulge the source of this information, lest it be said that it comes from someone whose word I value and trust, and I am therefore taking these charges very seriously. I hate to say it, because it’s a bridge I so don’t want to burn, but I think it is high time to demand accountability from Renewal leaders for brushing off previous charges and giving a predator the space and the legitimacy he needed to strike again. They have a responsibility to act, and if they do not act accordingly this time, they will have lost one of their biggest and most vocal young supporters — me.
The teshuva clock is ticking.
[Update] Apart from inside channels, I have contacted the letter’s author, Bayit Chadash, and Gafni himself and am presently awaiting response. Because it is Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael and because it will soon be Shabbat here, there is an obvious delay in the progress on this matter. Others whom I intended to reach are “out of the office” until Monday. Your patience, please.
Re: JWB’s remarks on this post, I personally do not believe the “immediate resignation” of said leaders is appropriate nor even feasible. I do, however, believe they should publicly acknowledge their error, apologize for it, and make visible inroads into shifting perspective and policy on these types of issues.
Re: Rebbeism remarks, does the Renewal movement really advocate Rebbeism? Or are Renewalists simply Rebbeists? We each hold as much accountability for allowing our charismatic leaders to draw the lines, as those leaders hold for drawing them.
The Yid HaKodesh said: When Moshiach comes, all the Rebbes will go with their Hasidim before Moshiach, and Moshiach will say, “Go away with your Hasidism.” And the Hasidim will return to Moshiach and say, “Oh Moshiach, what we have we done? Did we not love our Rebbe enough?” And Moshiach will say, “It’s not that, but rather that you never questioned whether your Rebbe was a true Tzaddik. Nor did you strive to be a Tzaddik yourself. Therefore you do not merit the world to come.”
[Update] The following text comes from an email I was just forwarded. The identities of both the forwarder and the original author shall remain confidential.

Mordechai Gafni has officially been fired from his organization Bayit Chadash, 3 women have filed complaints against him to the police for sexual and psychological abuse (one of the cases was rape) [THIS ALLEGATION IS FALSE], 5 women have given depositions to the lawyers, 10 women have said that they have been sexually involved with him in the past few years (students & staff), and his whole community has been notified and agrees with the action that has been done.
At this stage Avraham Leader and Jacob Ner David are writing formal letters to send out to all of the people that have supported him in the past, letting them know that Rmg is indeed sexually and psychologically dangerous. They will also write letters to every institution where he teaches and let them know the situation.

[Update] The following comes from a friend who has been deeply involved with Bayit Chadash for the last year:

At this point what is true and public is that there are 4 depositions in the hands of lawyers for sexual and psychological abuse and manipulation. There have been 3 complaints to the police. He was fired from Bayit chadash. Avraham Leader and Jacob Ner David and the Israel board of Bayit Chadash agreed that these charges are true, and his relationship to BC must therefore be terminated. While there are many other women that he has been sexually involved with from the Bayit Chadash community and board, students and staff, there have at this stage only been 4 brave women that have filed depositions, and 3 courageous women that have refused to remain silent and filed complaints with the police.

[Update] More from inside Bayit Chadash: Gafni, who fled Israel late last week for the US, “could have left for either of the following reasons: Firstly, both women he was currently involved with were not willing to stand by him after learning all the details of his current and past situations. The Bayit Chadash community officially left his house in Yaffo, so if he went home, he went home to an empty house. He met several leaders of the Bayit Chadash community at their lawyer’s office the night he arrived in the US and was informed that he was fired and that he should prepare to ‘go down.’ He then allegedly tried to bribe Avraham Leader to cover for him. He then went directly to Boston to stay with Erica Fox who has been his teaching partner for several years, with whom he may also be romantically involved. She has covered for him previously and continues to do so. Secondly, he was aware that three women filed complaints against him to the police and may have fled Israel to avoid the charges.”
More Jewschool posts on this issue since this one was written…