The Forward reports,
At least five female students and staff members have come forward to accuse Rabbi Mordechai Gafni of luring them into sexual relationships through intimidation, psychological manipulation and deception. Late last week, Gafni, an Orthodox-trained rabbi who has become a star of the New Age-style Jewish Renewal movement, was dismissed from his position as the head of Bayit Chadash, a center on the Sea of Galilee that he co-founded six years ago.
Gafni subsequently issued a public apology for having “hurt people I love,” and said that he would seek in-patient treatment for what he called “a sickness.”
A number of prominent American rabbis who publicly backed Gafni when allegations surfaced in the fall of 2004 have said that they now regret their previous support. Among those voicing regret are Rabbi Saul Berman, the leader of the liberal Orthodox organization Edah; Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, an Orthodox author best known for his accessible books on Judaism; Rabbi Arthur Green, dean of the rabbinical school of Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., and former president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, leader of Congregation Nevei Kodesh, a Jewish Renewal community in Boulder, Colo., and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia and a leader of the Jewish Renewal movement.
In recent years, the Orthodox Jewish community has suffered several high-profile sexual abuse cases. It also has been accused by some critics of being insufficiently alert to the nature of abuse and overly protective of leaders at the expense of alleged victims. The dismissal of Gafni — who had been dogged by a welter of rumors and allegations over the past two decades — has shone a similar spotlight on the responses of a number of individuals on the liberal end of the Jewish spectrum and in liberal Orthodox circles generally untainted by previous scandals.
“The saddest part of the story is that there were these women from the past who had the courage to speak up despite their isolation and their own pain, despite being threatened by him repeatedly, and nobody came forth to give them support,” said one of the current accusers at Bayit Chadash, who did not want to be identified by name. “People in this culture [chose] to support the male predator rather than…the women’s voices that were alone.”
Full story. (And not to nitpick, but Bayit Chadash is in Tel Aviv-Yaffo, not on the Kinneret.)