Culture, Politics, Religion, Sex & Gender

Chair of Elat Chayyim Board speaks out on Gafni

Not very impressive, no real condemnation. The lashon hara bit seems unproductive, and to say that “the first thing that must happen after the revelation of sexual abuse and/or abuse of power by clergy is full and honest disclosure to the community of the facts” is just hypocritical.
But don’t take my word for it:

Rabbi Mordechai Gafni: a formal announcement
Dear members of the Elat Chayyim community
I am very saddened to share with you a situation about which I have recently learned.
Mordechai Gafni, a talented rabbi who has taught at Elat Chayyim and in many other places, has been accused of sexual misconduct by women within his spiritual community in Israel, several of whom have filed complaints with the police. He has not denied the allegations. These are serious offenses because although these relationships were apparently consensual, there is no place for relations like this between a rabbi and his students or between an employer and his employees.
Some of you may have studied with Mordechai Gafni, or participated in other events with him. For others he might be a complete stranger, and this letter may be irrelevant.
I am writing to you because experts who deal with abuse of power indicate that the first thing that must happen after the revelation of sexual abuse and/or abuse of power by clergy is full and honest disclosure to the community of the facts, as accurately as they are known.
It is in this spirit that I am passing on to you the information that I received from Israel, and informing you that Mordechai Gafni will no longer teach at Elat Chayyim. Those who have registered for his classes have been notified, and may either choose another workshop or receive a refund.
The Program Committee of Elat Chayyim had, in anticipation of our move to Isabella Freedman, begun to review our Code of Ethics, which all teachers are required to abide by. This unfortunate incident has strengthened our determination to maintain our high standards and continue to create an environment that is safe and heartfelt for all our guests.
The Committee continues to work in this regard.
This situation is only beginning to unfold. As always, at moments like this, there is a tendency to want to share and speak about what has happened. I urge all of us to do so with the highest awareness of what our tradition teaches about lashon harah, negative speech. We have both the obligation to know and to teach about abuse of power, and the obligation to strive to refrain from gossip — and any harm that we may cause others by our speech.
This is also a moment to send our love and support to those women who have been harmed, and to acknowledge their courage in coming forth.
May we each send forth our blessings for healing, for all those who are involved in this situation and for each of us as we face our own shadows in the journey through our lives,
Lynne Iser
Chairperson, Board of Directors

8 thoughts on “Chair of Elat Chayyim Board speaks out on Gafni

  1. As much as I have enjoyed time I’ve spent at Elat Chayyim and therefore like the institution, I am horrified by this letter. (It even makes the other letters I’ve seen look good). They do not go near taking responsibility for their part in ignoring earlier victims who spoke out. They certainly don’t show any concern for people who may have been impacted negatively by interacting with Gafni at Elat Chayyim. And they have the nerve to remind us all not to speak lashon hara…. I’m thinking a little more talking among ourselves would have been a good idea.

  2. As they say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. This is an Elat Chayyim white-wash.
    See below:
    >Having heard the rumors long ago, ALEPH and
    >Elat Chayyim did their own assessment of the
    >situation and not only found no evidence of
    >wrongdoing that anyone was able to make available,
    Yeah, that tends to happen when you refuse to take calls from the victims and rabbis with information. How is that an investigation or an assessment?
    Elat Chayyim appears still more interested in Lashon harah (although it never stopped them from attacking the previous brave women who came forward and their supporters) then protecting the vulnerable, taking responsibility for their failures or appologizing to those they’ve publicly wronged.
    In the past, they used Lashon harah as a shield to protect the predators and a sword to attack victims and their supporters.
    Have they learned anything? No acceptance or responsibilty, no appologies. Pretty much, the leadership of Jewish Renewal continue to demonstrate they have learned nothing.
    This email from Arthur Waskow (see last post) was circulated throughout the Jewish Renewal movement at the time. I would note that all his assertions of Gafni/Winiarz’s innocence are garbage. But it shows once again the Jewish Renewal movement will protect a predator at the expense of women and children. And they count on the silence of other rabbonim and community leaders to do it. Unfortunately, they have done so at the expense of MORE victims.
    Damn them all.
    Arthur Waskow – Friday, March 19, 2004
    Dear Mr. Plone almoni,
    Since I also received your original memo, Rabbi Isenberg has shared with me his response to you and your rejoinder. There are three aspects of this question that I want to make you aware of:
    1) If Rabbi Riskin were in fact in possession of any actual facts, rather than rumors, it would be incumbent on him to say so clearly to the people you have written and the broader public; and knowing his commitment to both ethics and halakha, I am sure he would have done so. In the absence of such a message directly from him, with facts rather than “I have been told,” there is no evidence of the “independent corroboration” that you claim. The Jewish Week also had nothing but rumors, as its editor made clear — and although in other cases that paper named names because it had evidence, in this case it only mentioned rumors about an unnamed person, precisely because it had no evidence.
    2. Having heard the rumors long ago, ALEPH and Elat Chayyim did their own assessment of the situation and not only found no evidence of wrongdoing that anyone was able to make available, but took steps to make sure that its strong and explicit and publicly and repeatedly announced policy of preventing any sexual harrassment or abuse was carried out in all cases.
    3. You assert that “Rabbi Gafni/Winiarz has a history of serious abusive behavior with women and children.” What is your evidence (not rumors but evidence) that this is so? You also mention “the ongoing danger he resents.” What is your evidence (not rumors but evidence) that this is so? In the absence of such evidence, the passages of Torah you quote are irrelevant. and in the absence of such evidence, I would join in Rabbi Isenberg’s question: What distinguishes your allegations from lashon hara? I would also ask what distinguishes your accusation that “It is a failure of community leaders in the Orthodox community that his name is not mentioned”( from lashon hara against a long list of Orthodox community leaders?
    It seems far more likely that their refusal to name the specific name that you are so insistent on naming stems from their own sense of ethical behavior in a case where rumors are not substantiated by evidence.
    Shalom, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Director The Shalom Center

  3. jewishwhistleblower, do you have to post the same long chunks of text over and over again? There’s a reason that God created hyperlinks.

  4. i am troubled that the relationships are referred to as consensual. relationships accross sharp power gradients ought not be referred to with that term, it is misleading.

  5. It is not fair to make the victims totally powerless. The relationships *were* consensual, and yet it does not make them OK. On a related plane, sex between a man and his sister, or a woman and her brother, however consensual, are forbidden nontheless (and unlike Gafni yamash the perpetrators are stoned)

  6. Ugh and it’s even worse since they’re hosting a spiritual activist retreat soon that i’d love to go to, but in all good conscious i don’t think i could be inside–at least not as I read this post–maybe that would change, but right now i’d rather be on the outside asking folks why we aren’t doing better at being better to each other and holding each other accountable in good ways.

  7. A most disappointing statement from Eilat Chayyim, lacking any self reflection or taking responsibility for dismissing allegations in the past. The reference to healing “for all those who are involved in this situation” which does not differentiate between abuser and victim is not consistent with Jewish thought. While not intended ,the approach is Christian. Psychologically it is damaging to the survivors.

  8. i think that zt and amit raise a question that is very confusing to me – the levels of responsibility for sexual interactions (when the interaction can be described as sexual as opposed to simply violent). power gradients themselves are a moral issue – to some extent people have some responsibility to question and even opt-out of the default (or assumed) power structure.
    i have no desire to blame victims with this statement. but keeping an eye to the present and future, teaching about this issue can empower students and employees to have cleaner relationships and to be safer.

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