Culture, Justice, Religion

Gafni Strikes Again

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…

40 thoughts on “Gafni Strikes Again

  1. Mobius – I often disagree with you but, unfortunately, this time you are right. We must demand accountabilty.
    BTW, I am concerned about the connection many prominent rabbis (not just in the Renewal community) and people like Jacob and Haviva Ner-David have with Bayit Hadash and Gafni.
    (OTOH, there is some weird shit going on with the Awareness Center and JewishWhistleBlower, too. … something is fishy there).

  2. Baruch hashem, the truth is coming out. Now, what are Rabbi Saul Berman, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Avraham Infeld, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi going to say? Are they going to continue running to his defense? Are the leaders of the Renewal movement going to do their own “investigation” this time as well, not actually interview victims, and pronounce Gafni innocent?
    There is no doubt that Gafni is (b”h, “was”) a problem and a threat.
    These new allegations, however, are not only a threat, but a symptom. They are a symptom of the greater disease that our religious leaders have inflicted upon us by ignoring credible threats to our community in favor of their own personal interests. Did the rabbis of the Renewal movement have so much to gain by keeping Gafni around?
    He Rabbi Waskow and Reb Zalman. You heard what was going on. You took a risk in supporting him.
    Was it worth the risk?
    B”h, may his victims find some level of healing in his ousting from Bayit Chadash.

  3. The Ner-Davids and Avraham Leader aren’t friends with him anymore–that association was long before this stuff started to surface.

  4. I haven’t found one ounce of evidence (via Google) about fresh, new allegations against Gafni. Now look, I’m no fan of Gafni, but if you’re merely circulating old allegations (some of which have been proven, some no) you’re doing major, major damage (read: L’shon Hora) to a man’s reputation. If correct, this post is a blessing. I truly hope – for yourself and the victims – it’s the latter.

  5. Holy $%^&*
    I just sat with dude last weekend.
    I mean.
    I didn’t like him or believe an ounce of his industrial grade horseshit (does this qualify as l’shon hora?).
    But holy %^&*(!!!!

  6. Anothe rabbi accsued of “sexual assault”. I’m getting tired of all thisn nonsense, just like I’m getting tired of all the false rape accusations in society generally ( See: Dule Lacrosse team). Everyone knows we iN America have a litigation problem becasue there is no “English rule”, which requires the loser to pay the costs of the litigation. The same is true in these blgus allegations. We need a statute making it a felony to falsely accuse someone of rape. The way things stand today, every day we her another ten allegations, all from plaintiffs hoping for a quick payoff ( but piously claiming “its not about the money!)
    By the way – I’ll give a free dinner to anyone who can clearly define just waht the heck “sexual assault” is, anyway. I had a teacher when I was a kid who was the most loving teacher in the world – he would even stroke my cheeks. Was he a FONDLER too, or a SEXUAL ASSAULTER? Please. It’s all nonsense. The plaintiffs pretend to get all emotional and indignant when you call them on this, but everyone knows the score. It’s embittered people hoping for a quick buck, knowing they’re identities are kep secret, and there is no felony for a fasle accusation.

  7. The Ner-Davids and Avraham Leader aren’t friends with him anymore–that association was long before this stuff started to surface.
    Couldn’t have been that long ago. According to, Leader was partnering with Gafni to develop a “Rabbinic Ordination” program as late as 2005. The issues surrounding Gafni surfaced well before then.
    In an article from the summer of 2004, Jacob Ner-David refers to Gafni as close friend, he is still listed on the Bayit Chadash website as the International Chair, and his bio for the 2003 class of the Aspen Institute proudly proclaims that “Jacob plays an active role as Chairman of Bayit Chadash, which he co-founded.”
    These issues have been out there for quite a while, and anyone who cared to look into this could easily verify many of the damning narratives. Even if the Ner-Davids and Avraham Leader have distanced themselves from him in the last few months or even years, they must face the fact that they lent him legitimacy at a crucial time, facilitating his further abuse of women as we see now. They turned a blind eye, and now we see the consequences.

  8. first, thank you dan for bringing this to light. it is a tough decesion because of the lashon ha’rah arguments, but openess is the enemy of abusers and public communication may very well save many from the terrible fate others have already encountered. I have no personal experience with gafni but that there are so many accusations and no legitamite investigation leads me to believe that the folks who have hired him did so irresponsably and that he is likely guilty.
    1) very few jewish communities are serious about clergy abuse. The Reform and Reconstructionist movements generally have good teams who investigate allegations and work with local communities to transparently address them.
    My assumption is that nearly every community eventually has problems with boundaries and their abuse. if you haven’t heard abou them, it probably means their isn’t full transparency.
    2) as far as the issues in renewal are concerned, i suspect their are fairly directly related to the use of the rebbe model and the power and potential for power abuse that comes along with it. this is one more reason to strucutre communities democraticly and with egalitarian power structures and cultures.
    3) i am also curious how art green will address these new allegations following his very serious letter to The Jewish Week in defense of Gafni:

  9. I demand nothing less than the immediate resignation and removal from any public role in any Jewish institution the following rabbonim:
    Rabbi Saul Berman;
    Rabbi Joseph Telushkin;
    Rabbi Arthur Waskow;
    Rabbi Zalman Schechter-Shalomi;
    Rabbi Avraham Infeld;
    Rabbi Haviva Ner-David;
    Rabbi Michael Zedek;
    Rabbi William Berk;
    Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein;
    Rabbi Leonid Feldman;
    Rabbi Tirzah Firestone;
    Rabbi Arthur Green;
    Rabbi Rolando Matalon;
    Rabbi Joe Schonwald;
    Rabbi Daniel Siegel;
    Rabbi Avi Weiss;
    Rabbi Eli Herscher;
    Rabbi Eric Yoffie;
    and all other Rabbis that publicly supported rasha Gafni and ignored the cries of his survivors. Hopefully, we can name more of them shortly.
    Damn each and every one of them.
    —–Original Message—–
    From: Name withheld upon request
    Sent: Saturday, February 26, 2005 4:36 PM
    To: Office of the President
    Subject: Appearance of “rabbi” Gafni at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles
    Dear Rabbi Yoffe:
    I would like to call your attention to the lecture series being presented by the above mentioned “rabbi” at the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles, California.
    The man is a sex offender and his presence in any Reform Temple is a disgrace to our Reform community.
    Thank you for your attention to this email.
    Name withheld upon request
    Member of a Reform Synagogue
    Tue, 1 Mar 2005 15:27:44 -0500
    From: “Office of the President” …
    To: Name withheld upon request
    Dear Name withheld upon request:
    The rabbi of Stephen S. Wise Temple, Eli Herscher, has informed me that the allegations against Rabbi Gafni have been investigated again and again and have been proven to be simply untrue. Rabbi Herscher is a man of great integrity and I rely on his judgment in this matter.
    Eric Yoffie
    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. All their investigations and “determinations” of Gafni’s innocence were done without even interviewing Gafni’s survivors.
    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

  10. Sexual abuse is only one symptom of the larger problem, alluded to by others: the use of the ‘rebbe’ model within Jewish Renewal. Whereas Hasidic communities surely had problems as well, at least that community operates in an environment of strict control and an absence of privacy, as we know it. When the rebbe model is used in a modern setting, we have somewhat unaccountable leadership combined with a huge privacy fetish, taking place in settings where abuse is more likely, as opposed to less likely to occur.
    One way to examine the institutional framework of any rabbi is to ask: is there accountability? Our goal should be to prevent any and all circumstances of unaccountable power, whether by rabbis in a spiritual setting, or politicians in a power setting.

  11. Dan…this is starting to stink. Can’t find any of your info on the ‘net…yet your allegations are spreading. Perhaps you should’ve read your “Jewish Bloggers For Responsible Speech” tag before posting this info w/o accompanying facts.

  12. of course you can’t find anything about it — it only happened the day before yesterday and people are working dilligently to keep things under wraps.
    that’s what “breaking a story” means.

  13. charles,
    good point about the accountability. structures are essential for that accountability. it is always tough to balance hesed and gevurah. my hope is that folks will increasingly.

  14. >and people are working dilligently to keep things under wraps.
    Be advised that there are mandated reporting laws in Israel and that anyone, and in particular, medical practitioners and educators that fail to report the allegations to the appropriate authorities will be reported and their names posted on the internet.

  15. >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.
    What good is their apology and what possible teshuvah could they do at thisd point?
    We begged these monsters to talk to Gafni’s survivors and to community leaders to prevent this very situation of more victims. What did they do? They declared Gafni’s innocence and engaged in a campaign of terror and smears against Gafni’s survivors and their supporters.
    They have no place in the leadership of the Jewish community. They must step aside.
    Damn them all.

  16. JWB:
    Quite frankly, after following the Gafni issue for a few years, knowing a number of peole who have been affected by him and involved with him, and also seeing your activities (JWB/Vicki Polin/The Awareness Center/etc…), the only thing I see you doing is hurting this cause.
    The fact that you have found a few examples of legitimate abuse (that MUST be crusaded against and stopped) is horribly overshadowed by the innocent individuals you have attacked, and by your seriously fucked up allegations of Jewish ritual sacrifice and cannibalism (that you made on Oprah).
    I spoke with an individual this Shabbat, who, while never being suspected of any type of sexual abuse, was screwed over by you in another way (financially). Now, when issues of rabbis and sexual abuse is brought up to this individual, she has a hard time believing it, because she thinks it’s just more of your fearmongering. She was not the first person I had spoken with who felt like this.
    You just need to realize that individuals like Gafni are more helped by you and your actions than they are hurt.

  17. Yaakov, I’m not nor have I ever been Ms. Polin. That was just
    another smear from supporters of Gafni/Worch/Tendler.
    Secondly, Gafni/Winiarz has been protected for decades by the efforts of Rabbi Berman and now the Jewish Renewal movement.
    Thirdly, having knowledge of the smear campaign against Ms. Polin, myself and Rabbi Blau, I can say without a doubt I reject your allegations against her. I and others have looked into these “financial allegations” (including “Olga”‘s, a follower of Rabbi Hershy Worch) and have found no substance to them. There were claims of fraud, criminal investigations and civil proceeding against Ms. Polin by Worch’s followers. I and others determined that there was no fraud, no police report, no criminal complaint and no civil proceeding ever filed. In fact nothing untowards at all had been done. It was simply a smear campaign. I challenge you to bring your allegations to the police instead of smearing a person’s good name here. Oh that’s right, you have nothing to take to the police “Yaakov” this is just a smear campaign on behalf of one of those on The Awareness Center webpage.
    Further, I reject your claim that any innocent has been harmed. I have done extensive research and have yet to find one “innocent” on the Awareness Center page. I challenge you to give us one name or forward any evidence of such.
    Further Ms. Polin and Rabbi Blau were the ONLY ones who have stood behind Gafni’s survivors and offered them assistance.
    I have researched Gafni/Winiarz/Winyarz’s various identities and lies and have helped expose them. We took away the one thing that has protected him all these years … the silence/silencing of our community leadership.
    Gafni’s survivors were treated terribly by Berman, Telushkin, Waskow and the rest of the Jewish Renewal crowd.
    Damn them all.

  18. Somebody had asked for a definition of sexual assault. Here you go.
    Sexual assault is any undesired physical contact of a sexual nature perpetrated against another person. While associated with rape, sexual assault is much broader and the specifics may vary according to social, political or legal definition.
    According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sexual assault includes “inappropriate touching, vaginal, anal, or oral penetration, sexual intercourse that [one says] no to, rape, attempted rape, [and] child molestation.”
    Aggressors may include, but are not limited to, strangers, acquaintances, superiors, legal entities (as in the case of torture), or even family members. Often, the act is accomplished by force sufficient to cause physical injury. At other times, even though no lasting physical injury is sustained, the psychological damage done by this intimate violation may be substantial.
    Check the sidebar on the right here for more:

  19. Mobius, this is a short excerpt from our “debate” on protocols, a debate in which you made clear that you took your concerns to Waskow and that he took those concerns to Aleph’s executive. Also, a senior Rabbi in Jewish Renewal posted in that thread a defense of Gafn claiming the nightly sexual abuse/torture of the 13 year-old over a one year period was consensual. The excerpt lists the simple things I wanted then. Now it is too late, Jewish Renewal, Berman, Telushkin, Herscher, Yoffie and many others (named above and others to be named) have the blood of Gafni’s latest victims on their hands as well as the blood of those they have smeared and defamed to protect Gafni. I now want and will accept nothing less than their resignations from ANY community position in the Jewish community. They are no different than those in the Catholic Church that protected child molesters. They must go.
    Damn them all.
    me @ 3:31PM | 2004-06-24| permalink
    No. I want him and his fellow Jewish Renewal Movement leaders to:
    1) Fully address the issue of sexual and spiritual abuse within their community.
    2) Publicly appologize for their silence and arrogance.
    3) To stop promoting Carlebach’s legacy and thumbing their noses at Carlebach’s victims.
    4) Fully and publically investigate Gafni/Winiarz and remove him from public life and working with children and women.
    5) Put in place proper and effective mechanisms so women and children will be safer.
    Is that too much to ask?
    email | website
    Apparently, it was too much to ask.
    Damn them all.

  20. As an Israeli who was with some relationship with Bait-Hadash I hope this community overcome this stage and see a path to be better and stronger religious entity. My hurt is with the people who feel betrayed and abused. I apologize that my English is not perfect and hope I’ll be understood.
    As I experienced it the community formed with specific identity of openness and deepness that when kept can contribute great deal to the Jewish Renewal movement this, I think, is valuables to all spiritual movements who are based on solid traditions. I hope that the Gafny’s effect will play a role in increase control and education for rabbinic processes that will disable such phenomena to be accepted and repeated.
    Talented and problematic Gafny helped to form this community but he was not able to be the man he said he is. His once been friends are now standing betrayed against him questioning all his saying.
    This is also some blow to Jewish renewal movement and other things Gafny related himself to. That caused some people to question the whole idea of renewal just because this talented person was not able to overcome his shadow. Personally I think this is another crime he did, since his knowledge and talent he should know what the effect of his behavior will be, he probably needed help but his ill-ego was blinding him. Was this his Soul-print?
    The question is – Can we be better the Gafny and other such people that we will meet while we go in spiritual renewal roads?
    We need to find a way to build a process to track this behavior and guide powerful ill spirits as Gafny into controlled balanced space. What we do sometimes when we negate the entire persona we think we clean the community but we loose consciousness of the dangers.

  21. Your movement and leadership protected and enabled an abuser of women and children.
    You all stood quietly and allowed him to destroy more Jewish victims. You ignored the cries of his earlier survivors, choosing to smear and silence their voices and those of their supporters.
    Whatever you think you had in your movement was a sham.
    Just as with Gafni, it’s time the leadership of your morally challenged movement be held publically accountable. At this time all they can do is apologize publically, resign and step aside. They can never restore the damage they facilitated nor truly ever give back peoples names that they’ve smeared. They have twisted the very words of the Chofetz Chaim to protect a rasha and destroy his enemies. They have no further role in the Jewish world. Like those who protected the child molesters in the Catholic Church they must go. Virtually the entire leadership of Jewish Renewal stand exposed as garbage.
    Damn them all.

  22. The following message went today to every one of the thousands of subscribers to The Shalom Report. You can subscribe by clicking to
    Dear friends,
     Once again we face the news that a position of spiritual leadership has been turned into a platform for sexual abuse.
    I am sending you a statement issued Friday by Avraham Leader, head of the Board of Bayit Chadash in Israel  — a community dedicated to the spiritual renewal of Judaism..
    The statement  announces that its Board has just fired Rabbi Mordechai Gafni  (its founder and chief teacher) because of his actions described in the formal depositions of four women, and the statements of others –  some who had been students and subordinate staff –  that he had had sexual relationships with them, and had sworn them to secrecy. Leader affirms his and the Board’s conviction that the assertions are true.
    I hardly need to say how sad, how angry, and how betrayed Gafni’s behavior makes me feel.  (To me they spell “abuse’ because of the power differentials, even if there was formal consent by the women.) — And how much it raises questions once again about how to walk that thin line between spiritual ecstasy and the domineering frenzy that is not only damaging in itself but sometimes even leads to sexual abuse.
    I am grateful that these women have come forward to say the truth.
    There is a lot more to say. Some of it I will say below, after inserting here Avraham Leader’s announcement so that we can all know what we are talking about.
    Avraham Leader’s statement: :
     Back to me, Arthur Waskow:
     There is a great deal we could do in all communities of spiritual depth – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, no doubt others  — to prevent or minimize this deformation of the Spirit into an idol – an event that has happened in each of these traditions, and not just once.
    Not only must the teachers who might fall into this idolatry be taught how to celebrate in joy but not in frenzy; those learners or on-staff subordinates who might fall into the role of victim also need to empower themselves to access their own inner “rebbe,” not feel that the only rebbe-energy that they can  access comes wrapped in domination.
    And in this they need the help of the community in creating a culture that encourages  each of us, all of us, to see ourselves as rebbes, able to be in touch with God.
    Of course this involves not just theory or theology but also the real-life suffering of many people. (Truthful theology always flows from the lives of the people – the Images of God.)
    Avraham Leader says on his own behalf and that of Bayit Chadash, “At times like this our sages say that one should scrutinize one’s own actions, and meditate upon why one is part of such a story.”
    True enough.  And I ask myself the same question. Mordechai Gafni taught at both ALEPH Kallot and at Elat Chayyim retreat center. Both organizations will need to respond in their own voices.  What I know, having also taught and learned at both places, is that both have extremely strong and clear prohibitions on any sexual relationships between teachers, davvening leaders, and other such persons in positions of authority with any students, participants, etc.  Those prohibitions are communicated not only to the teachers but to all participants.
    When reports surfaced about Gafni having been an abuser 25 or so years ago – none till now ever surfaced about any occasions more recent –rigorous investigations went forward. Persons in leadership at Elat Chayyim deliberately interviewed women who were in a position to know whether Gafni was violating the ethics standards. No evidence surfaced that he was.  Outside the sexual sphere, he was rebuked several times for behavior in classes that was domineering,  and seemed to restrain himself thereafter.
    I myself have been accused by a few people on the Internet of having
    “defended” him. What I did defend was a process for investigating allegations – a process that  insisted on serious evidence, not second-hand or third-hand statements  like ” I have been told that … ” I continue to believe that this is the only way to deal with any allegations of wrongdoing, including this kind.
    And in this case, nothing emerged that indicated any problem less than 25 years old – and even those seemed unconfirmable.
    It is true that there is an unusual problem in applying this standard in this kind of situation. Some or all of the women who have made statements in regard to his behavior at Bayit Chadash have said that Gafni swore them to secrecy —and they agreed, till now.  The fusion of spiritual power and sexual abuse is liable to create such a situation when even people who might be thought to have every reason to reveal violations feel so overawed or so “beloved” by the abuser that they do not define what is happening as abuse, or are unwilling to talk about it.
    So that means it is a lot harder to get the kind of evidence that can justify dismissal, etc.  At Bayit Chadash, when such evidence did surface the institution responded. I am open to suggestions on how to act in some other way that as the tradition commands, will pursue justice, justice –pursue the ends of justice by using just means.
    For some of my thoughts of how we might address and act on this whole matter of the relationships among spiritual leadership, sexual energy, and sexual abuse, see my essay on our Website –  (It was written years ago in response to a previous case, and of course I will continue to keep thinking and writing about this issue.)
     May all those who are involved in this, the victims first and most of all — and ultimately the perpetrator too –  find a healing that includes tzedek and mishpat,,  both restorative & transformative justice.
    To use the Kabbalistic language about God’s aspects or emanations –   not just Chesed (overflowing lovingkindness) and not just Gevurah  (rigorous boundaries) and not just a “balance” between them –  but their profound synthesis in Tiferet / Rachamim, that womb-like, heart-like  outpouring of life that is  rooted in powerful boundaries, just as the powerful and strongly boundaried heart-muscle sends life-blood pouring through the body,  and the powerful and strongly boundaried womb-muscle births new life into the world.
    In setting forth this prayer, I do not mean to leave its fulfillment “in the hands of God.” Or rather, I do – in the sense that when human beings act in a holy way, they are indeed  “the hands of God.” 
     Shalom, Arthur
    Rabbi Arthur Waskow

  23. Saul Berman is one of most important defenders of Jewish women in the Jewish community. He would not knowingly protectan abuser. He would try to make sure that the allegations were true before he would condemn someone else.
    Let’s be clear…from everything I have seen and heard about Gafny, he could have convinced Abu Abbas that he was a Jew. Look, there is no way one can know until courageous women come forward. These courageous women did. Let’s give them our support. And the hell with the rest. the Movements will have to cope. The people need help. Concentrate on the people who are now feeling lost and without a leader. Who will heal them? We need to heal them first and provide them with counseling, caring and religious guidance that will not turn them into Jewish haters of Judaism.
    That;s the priority: Help his vicitms across the board…those he abused sexually and those he abused by being who he is.

  24. re: the Gafni situation: As an attorney, I have represented victims of sexual assault in the workplace and community. As an activist in the women’s movement, I am committed to working to transform institutions and communities into safe havens for all. And what I have learned is that in this world, hatred does not conquer hatred; only love conquers hatred. The justice that I value is a justice that has no room for blame and judgment because it is complete and full of compassion and kindness. How do we model our ideal of protecting those who need protection and giving a sincere hearing to those who are accused? Let us look to the teachings in Leviticus for purification? Separation from the community, a period of reflection leading to transformation. We can add restorative justice…..But surely Jewish Renewal will not, in this time of testing, fall back to the “eye for an eye” punishment and retribution distortions of our teachings. Wisdom traditions and our life experiences teach us that the ones who are hardest to love are the ones who need our love the most. I understand that organizations may decide they need to distance themselves from Gafni at this time. Let us do it in a way that creates space for Truth to arise and healing to take place. . That is what our great Jewish tradition offers. There are many models for this, the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa is one.
    Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.
    Etty Hillesum
    Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inwards in prayer for five short minutes. Etty Hillesum

  25. I’m quite disturbed by one comment made by Arthur Waskow, which it seems to me blames the victim rather than the perpetrator – “Not only must the teachers who might fall into this idolatry be taught how to celebrate in joy but not in frenzy; those learners or on-staff subordinates who might fall into the role of victim also need to empower themselves to access their own inner “rebbe,” not feel that the only rebbe-energy that they can access comes wrapped in domination.” Doesn’t Arthur understand how an unequal power-relationship can lead to the subordinate/learner being seduced by the teacher/rebbe? It seems to me that here he is really saying that both are equally responsible – which they aren’t. The abuser is the one responsible for the abuse, not the victim. Gafni should have known that you don’t sleep with your subordinates or your students – period. Another disturbing thing about his statement is that it still seems to affirm the idea that the rebbe-student model is something admirable and worth propagating in the Jewish renewal movement. Isn’t the renewal movement supposed to be an example of egalitarian Judaism? Shouldn’t the lesson have been learned from the revelations about Shlomo Carlebach, documented in Lilith Magazine years ago? There is *always* a danger in charismatic leadership and it *must* be hedged about with safeguards so that people in a position of lesser power – such as needy people who are seeking something when they get close to a charismatic leader – are protected. This needs to be set up institutionally – it’s not a matter of “empowerment” here.

  26. Roberta: i object to your reference to ‘eye for eye’ – halacha is wise and has much to offer to those who study it. But, in general, i don’t understand your post. I can see how your personal path might be to cultivate kindness, but if the accused is convicted of rape and assault, your response in this forum is odd. What would kindness look like? Real restitution (the Jewish understanding of eye for eye is restitution) might indeed be kind.
    Rebecca: i agree that there is an institutional obligation to protect the weak. I’m familiar with Arthur Waskow’s deep and wide thinking concerning systems, and am certain that his words are part of his approach to meet these obligations. For instance, if in the culture of aleph they teach empowerment, that isn’t to blame previous victims, but to insure that there not be future victims.

  27. I don’t think that Rabbi Waskow means to blame the victims. I think that what he’s saying is that by encouraging people in teacher-student relationships to feel empowered, we preclude the possibilty of this sort of thing happening in the future.

  28. ALEPH: ALLIANCE FOR JEWISH RENEWAL sent its members two messages today. One reported the events at Bayit Chadash and said that Mordechai Gafni would not do any teaching under ALEPH auspices. (Text below) The other enclosed a message from Mordechai Gafni. (Text below, followed by my own comment).
    To the ALEPH community:
    It is with great sadness to share with you that we have been informed by Bayit Chadash in Israel that women from their community filed complaints of sexual misconduct against Rabbi Mordechai Gafni with the police. As a result of this information and other information made available to Bayit Chadash, Bayit Chadash has removed Rabbi Gafni from its staff.
    When ALEPH received this information from Bayit Chadash, the Executive Committee of the ALEPH Board decided that Rabbi Gafni will no longer teach in any venue sponsored by ALEPH.
    The criminal aspects of his actions are up to the police and courts in Israel to decide.
    We want to acknowledge the great courage of the women who came forward. And may there be healing for all involved.
    Linda Jo Doctor
    Chair, Board of Directors
    ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
    Dear Friends,
    Mordechai has asked us to post this response to all those who are aware of the accusations against him. These are his words.
    To my holiest friends,
    I want to say I understand I have made grave mistakes. I made choices that
    clearly hurt people I love. I am infinitely saddened and profoundly sorry
    for the pain I have caused.
    I take full responsibility for all the pain I have inflicted. I Clearly all
    of this and more indicates that in these regards I am sick. I need to
    acknowledge that sickness and to get help for it. That is what I am doing in
    this letter.
    I want to state clearly and unequivocally that I now recognize that I am
    sick in these ways and I am committed with all of my energy to check myself
    into the appropriate programs that will get me healing on this. I have
    already turned to a leading figure to guide my treatment program and am
    entering treatment immediately. want to enter into the most appropriate
    healing process with both myself and where appropriate with the others
    I promise you from the bottom of my heart and in the name of everything that
    is holy, I am taking this crisis with utmost seriousness. I am making
    healing the number one priority of my life. I must act now to discover what
    led to me to make these damaging choices that hurt people I care about, hurt
    my community, and hurt the people who have supported me for years in
    building Bayit Chadash.
    In light of all that has happened I am leaving all of my rabbinic teaching
    capacities. I am looking now, together with a professional team, for
    in-house treatment centers where I can go and learn about what led me here,
    where I can grieve for all the pain that I have caused, and where I can heal
    so that this never happens again.
    I apologize with all of my heart and soul to everyone.
    With love and pain beyond words,
    My thoughts (Rabbi Arthur Waskow): This kind of behavior did not start with Mordechai Gafni and will probably not end with him. We need to do a series of deep trainings, not only the fullest ethical teaching at the intellectual level but also serious emotional and spiritual training of (a) our teachers & (b) our entire community to make sure that no one claims the spiritual authority to act in this way, that no one succumbs to such a claim, & especially that a demand for silence about such behavior be taken as a signal not of spiritual height and special protection but an alarm bell that something is wrong.
    ALL our institutions — not only Jewish progressive and Jewish renewal, not only Jewish, but for sure all our communities of spiritual life — should be planning such workshops. They go to the heart of empowering our WHOLE community not only to act in a more authentically spiritual way in regard to sex but to have fuller intimate knowing (grokking) of ourelves as integral beings in the life and light of the Holy ONE.
    As beings in whom sexual joy is neither sent outside our selves nor allowed to take over our selves, for in either case it will crouch at the doors of our senses and come to rule over us. (See Gen. 4: 6)
    The alternative? — “Why are your faces fallen? Do what is good, & they will be uplifted!” Do not look down in shame, do not bow your head before someone else to whom you give more honor and whom you think more godly. — Look each other in the face, look even your misdeeds in the face, look your SELF in the face, and you will see the Image of God. — What crouches at the door will no longer rule over you. Us.
    Exhortation is not enough. We must learn how, in all four worlds.
    Shalom, Arthur

  29. Rabbi Saul Berman; Rabbi Joseph Telushkin; Rabbi Arthur Waskow; Rabbi Zalman Schechter-Shalomi; Rabbi Avraham Infeld; Rabbi Haviva Ner-David; Rabbi Michael Zedek; Rabbi William Berk; Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein; Rabbi Leonid Feldman; Rabbi Tirzah Firestone; Rabbi Arthur Green; Rabbi Rolando Matalon; Rabbi Joe Schonwald; Rabbi Daniel Siegel; Rabbi Avi Weiss; Rabbi Eli Herscher; Rabbi Eric Yoffie; and many others Jewish Renewal had all the information needed several years ago that could have prevented the more recent assaults.
    I personally feel they should be held responsible for some Gafni’s actions. If anyone who reads this blog knows of any survivors of Marc Gafni they should foward the following contact information attorney Jeffrey Herman. I’ve been told he’s more then will to represent the survivors in legal proceedings.
    Jeffrey Herman
    Toll Free: 1-800-686-9921

  30. I am a woman in my late ’40s and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. As for many other survivors, my years in healing and recovery have been something of an intensive course in the nature, causes, and consequences of sexual abuse. I have had to learn so much about abuse in order to heal from it that I sometimes take it for granted that everyone has this knowledge. I often forget that many people in this world don’t know very much about the subject at all.
    So this week, when I looked around the net for information about the situation at Bayit Chadash, and I read Gafni’s quote in the Jewish Week about his sexual contact (at the age of 19 or 20) with a 14-year-old girl, I was stunned that so many Renewal leaders were not able see his statement for the admission that it was. While Renewal leaders were talking about unsubstantiated rumors, Gafni’s own words made the nature of his behavior–and its dangers–very clear to me.
    Now, I disagree vehemently with the poster who believes that all the Renewal leaders who read this article and got the warnings and did nothing should be unceremoniously tossed out of their jobs. They didn’t act out of malice or greed. They acted out of blindness and ignorance. How, you might ask, could they say they didn’t see any evidence that anything wrong had happened? Because they are experts in the field of Jewish belief and practice, not in the field of sexual abuse. And so they had the article, and they read it, and they couldn’t see what was right in front of their eyes.
    I know that many people have tried to explain it to them. I really do, and I share the frustration of those whose warnings went unheeded. I also feel a great deal of empathy for the burden of responsibility that many Renewal leaders must be feeling right now, knowing that the information was there and they couldn’t see it and didn’t respond to it. I feel a lot of sympathy for everyone involved–the survivors most of all–and I don’t think that mutual recriminations will get us very far.
    At this point, I would ask that our esteemed and beloved Jewish Renewal leaders like Reb Arthur and Reb Zalman and so many others have the kindness and the humility to step back and allow themselves to be taught by people who are experts about the problem we are facing. And I hope they will allow themselves to be taught by women, who are most often the survivors of these crimes.
    I wholeheartedly agree with Reb Arthur that every Jewish Renewal organization should begin deep spiritual and emotional trainings to try and prevent abuse from ever happening again within our communities. Everyone attending workshops and retreats should be educated to stand up for themselves with dignity and power, and teachers should be sensitized as to the dangers inherent in their positions. But it’s crucial to understand that such deep trainings will very likely have no effect on a sexual offender. Such a person needs intensive treatment from a professional; a spiritual retreat center or shul is not the place where that treatment can or should take place. And so, rather than believing that we can stop any further abuse simply by continuing on our own, I suggest the following:
    1. All Renewal leaders should convene for workshops about sexual abuse, how to define it and how to respond to it. And then, all Renewal organizations should offer such workshops to students at shuls and retreat centers as well. The more we educate people about the problem, the more powerful a force for healing our communities will become. There are many brilliant women out there doing excellent work in this field, and it would be a shame to waste their talents.
    2. All Renewal organizations should consult with a professional in the field of sexual abuse that they can contact when faced with allegations, rumors, or any other type of information that abuse may have taken place. Such a person can help each organization interpret the information they have and suggest how to proceed.
    3. All Renewal organizations should get legal advice about how to proceed in these matters so that potential victims are protected while the police look into any allegations.
    Finally, I would like to know if anyone can set up a website on which people could post messages of support for the courageous women of Bayit Chadash (and any other survivors who might come forward in the future). I am not able to set up such a site, but would be so grateful if someone could.
    Rachel Batya

  31. So does anyone know what Gafni actually did? What does ‘sexual misconduct’ mean? Sexual harrassment? Rape? There’s a wide range of behaviors that could encompass and I cannot find any info on the web.

  32. BS”D
    Rebecca, if I could speak to the initial sentence of your comment?
    I agree with Danno.
    The weekend before each ALEPH Kallah there are mandatory sessions for teachers to ready us for the hundreds of people who come seeking to burst open in love of Torah. One very important session which I always appreciated was what I affectionately call the “Don’t Sleep With Your Students Workshop”. I don’t recall Gafni attending any of those, but I found them really helpful. Mysticsm, spirituality & such attracts a higher percentage of people wounded in their Judaism.
    This is an excerpt from my blog about the last Kallah:

    After this celebrations came the Teachers Ethics Meeting. This is a mandatory session which is both a “don’t sleep with your students” reminder & a “watch out for all the students with personality disorders”.
    I’m always so grateful for these exercises. I am not practiced at dealing with inappropriate behaviour in a way that redirects the energy kindly.
    R’ Goldie Milgram gave an example of what sort of boundary-crossing behaviour had already been displayed at the registration table:
    A student came retracing her steps looking for her water bottle (which they give away at Kallah with your name on it), but instead of her own, she came across the water bottle of a teacher who had left theirs behind.
    “Oh, well if this teacher left their water bottle behind, then I guess I’m not such a bad person” she began. Then she went on, “I wonder how much I could get for this water bottle on eBay.” She examined the bottle more closely & saw that it wasn’t full. “Hey, if this teacher drank from their water bottle & then I drink from it, it would be like we kissed.”
    Unfortunately, any kind of open, loving, welcoming, ecstatic, inclusive, charismatic event will attract traumatised people with unhealthy boundaries. So we teachers were cautioned against the type of students who can suck the life out of you & still demand more.

    Now, I am in no way defending Gafni. Neither am I making any statements about his victims, nor any vicitms. I’m concerned about those women he took advantage of. All of those women, both from 25 years ago & from last week who had the courage to step up & say “enough”. They are to be supported & admired.
    I just wanted to elaborate on what I think Reb Arthur was referring to by sharing some of my own experience here. That teachers at Kallah & Elat Chayyim are made aware of appropriate boundaries between themselves & their students so we do not cross them & we are given assistance in dealing with students who do cross them. So there will be no more victims.

  33. Soferet, Gafni must have done something in addition to having consensual sex with some of his students or staff. Sleeping with his students would get him fired from Bayit Chadash, but I don’t think it is illegal (is anyone familiar with the Israeli law on this?). Several police reports were filed. Something more serious (and nonconsensual?) probably took place. I wonder when this information will come to light. When (if?) he is officially charged by the police? Can he be charged officially if he remains in the US?

  34. BS”D
    What you say makes sense, Sophie, but like you, I don’t know. I didn’t intend for what I wrote to make it sound like I know any more about this situation than what I’ve read on the internet or found in my inbox. I apologize if I gave that impression. Sorry.
    I didn’t even hear about any of this until I came back home from visiting my mum on the weekend. I don’t think anyone can lay charges for plain old consensual sex between adults, but like Danya wrote above, there are different degrees of & names for what you can press charges for. I have no idea how the law works in Israel or the USA as I don’t live there/am not from there. I’m sure that the charges & legal process will become a part of public record as this process unfolds.

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