Culture, Justice, Religion, Sex & Gender

Ken Wilber on Gafni

The following was written by Ken Wilber, one of Gafni’s friends and colleagues, on his weblog. Wilber apparently intends to treat Gafni for his “sickness,” and seems to expect his eventual return to teaching.
See also Vomiting Confetti, whose author Tuff Ghost writes, “Wilber’s response reads like there is no history of controversy with Gafni, and it makes some cloying claims.” Here are his posts — one and two.


On Tuesday, May 9th, 2006, three women from Bayit Chadash, a spiritual community in Israel headed by Rabbi Marc Gafni, filed complaints of sexual misconduct against Gafni with the police. Upon reviewing relevant testimony, the steering committee of Bayit Chadash decided to remove Marc Gafni from the Bayit Chadash staff. (See below for the formal announcement.)
Subsequently, rumors have been rife. After long conversations with many of the concerned parties, I have come to the following conclusions. At this time, these are my personal opinions, and are open to immediate revision in light of any further evidence. Marc Gafni is a close friend of mine, but in circumstances like this, friendship decidedly takes a backseat to ethics and justice. In my opinion, the viewpoint that takes the most number of perspectives into account is the more likely to be the better moral judgment, with the Basic Moral Intuition the ultimate guide.
These are my conclusions at this time:
1. There is substantial truth to some of these allegations.
2. This has caused something of a feeding frenzy for the mean green meme, which is understandable but I believe inexcusable. Frankly, some of these have reached pathetic portions.
3. Nonetheless, there is some truth to these allegations because of grave wrongdoing on Marc’s part, and I believe this wrongdoing is due not just to bad judgment on Marc’s part, but to a pathology or dysfunction affecting Marc.
4. Marc, in a letter to Bayit Chadash, agreed that some of his actions indeed stemmed from a pathology or, as he termed it, a “sickness.”
5. I do not believe that somebody with an acknowledged emotional illness or sexual pathology is competent to be a public spiritual teacher. Therefore, at this time, Marc will not be involved in public teaching or presentations of any sort at Integral Institute.
6. With Marc’s agreement, I have asked Frances Vaughan to begin a consultation with Marc focused specifically on his dysfunction.
7. I have other suggestions for therapeutic work that I believe would be helpful to Marc, and I believe he is sincere in pursuing them. He will be stopping in Boulder/Denver periodically to consult with me and with Rabbi Zalman as to these directions.
[Correction: Since having written this, I have spoken with Rabbi Zalman. Zalman has decided that it is best neither to meet nor speak with Mordechai until further notice.] 8. I realize that some people doubt Marc’s sincerity. This is understandable. My strong recommendation has therefore been to create a board of advisors to oversee Marc’s therapeutic work. This board would biannually review Marc’s progress, and make specific recommendations at each juncture. This board would have to be composed of individuals completely acceptable to both sides (i.e., to Bayit Chadash and to Marc Gafni).
9. I have stated my conclusion, after reviewing the evidence and as many perspectives as I can, that there is truth to some of these allegations and that this is due in part to Marc’s illness, and that as long as this dysfunction is not addressed, I do not believe that Marc should be teaching. But I want to point out that emotional illness can be treated and in many cases cured. Marc may or may not be sincere, and his therapy may or may not be effective—but that is exactly the purpose of the therapeutic board: namely, to make that decision, and not to let either of the partial sides do so. I do not know if this solution will work, but to date it is the only rational, compassionate, and fair one that I have heard, and therefore the only one which serves justice.
10. Whatever is decided on that issue, my understanding is that there is no objection to Marc pursuing his writing. We all recognize the brilliance of his contributions in this area. If we are accepting a “levels and lines” argument, then allowing Marc to pursue this line seems reasonable to me, and is something I would certainly recommend.
This is an extraordinary difficult period for all parties concerned. Bayit Chadash has been hurt. Integral Institute has been hurt. Mordechai has been hurt by his own actions. And most of all, the parties directly involved have been hurt.
But I beg all of you—all of us—not to inflame the situation further by demanding more pain, more suffering, more agony. Inflicting more pain on Marc will not take away the pain that all of us are already suffering. Let us not have an eye for an eye, but justice and mercy in equal proportions. Please don’t let hatred into your soul, I beg you; that serves nobody, least of all those who offer hatred a home.
My heart goes out to the women involved—I am so deeply, deeply sad at the pain and turmoil they have suffered; and my heart goes out to the men and women who have been affected by these tragic events. My heart goes out as well to Mordechai, a dear friend whose very bright light has cast a very sharp shadow, and in a way that has inadvertently caused such harm. I do believe, however, that emotional illness can be cured; I believe that reasonable restitution can be made; I believe that forgiveness and compassion are stronger than any evil in this world; and I know that the outreach of our own tender mercies and loving kindness will ultimately carry the day.
Sending all of you much Love, Light, and Life,
Appendix: Stay tuned to this blog, and I will attempt to keep you up to date on these issues as best I can. Here is the formal announcement sent out by Bayit Chadash:
Dear Ken,
We must share with you that on Tuesday, May 9, 2006, three women from our community filed complaints of sexual misconduct against Mordechai Gafni with the police. We were aware of this situation because on Monday, May 8, 2006, we had previously read the depositions that these women had declared to an attorney. We also personally heard the testimonies of these women, as well as that of another woman from an institution where Rabbi Gafni previously worked. We shared our findings and recommendations with Shantam Zohar, a Bayit Chadash teacher and leader; and with Or Zohar, a Bayit Chadash teacher and our CEO.
Our colleagues agreed with us that in the present situation, we should recommend to the Bayit Chadash steering committee that Mordechai Gafni’s tenure in Bayit Chadash be ended immediately, or alternatively, we would collectively resign. After the members of the steering committee read some of the depositions, they decided to remove Mordechai Gafni from the Bayit Chadash staff. The decision of the steering committee was further reinforced in light of the complaints filed with the police.
Were this was a matter solely related to Mordechai Gafni’s private life, it would be of some concern to us and to the community. The problem is greatly exaggerated by the fact that this involves women from our community, staff members and students. It is our position that there is no place for relations like this between a rabbi and his students or between an employer and his employees, whether consensual or not. It would seem that this is also the opinion of Mordechai, since he swore all the women involved to eternal and absolute silence.
Some women, however, decided to speak. We have no doubt that they speak truth, and willingly risk our personal credibility and integrity in support of their testimony.
As to the criminal aspect of his actions, that is up to the police and the courts to decide. Beyond that, judgment is in the hands of the Judge of all the world.
The sense of disappointment is very great, for us personally as well. Mordechai always treated us with friendship and respect. 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. Certainly there is much to learn from such a difficult and painful experience.
May we all see, fear and tremble, may healing to our shared soul come swiftly, and may this healing encompass all involved and all who are witness, in this and all worlds.

19 thoughts on “Ken Wilber on Gafni

  1. Some critics of Jewish Renewal are responding to the accusations against Mordechai Gafni by criticising the movement. This should not lead to the defensive response of refusing to reevaluate the tragic dismissal of earlier accusations. I have known Mordechai for at least twenty five years starting when he was a student and during the years that he functioned as an Orthodox rabbi. The young women who complained then and have never modified their stories, did not receive much of a hearing then from an Orthodox rabbinate that was impressed by his charisma and talent. A number of us, followed a career of short periods of brilliance as a head of an outreach program, a teacher and a congregational rabbi each ending suddenly with rumor of scandal. After changing his name and moving to Israel the pattern repeated itself.
    The only thorough investigation of the accusations was made by a private investigator in Israel in 1997 and it did not clear him. Based on my ongoing conversations with women who had made accusations, which was only a portion of the dossier prepared by the private investigator, the supposed investigations by various rabbis two years ago were minimal and their testimony not heard. I suggest that all the defenders read the long interview with Rabbi Gafni in the magazine (sof hashavua) of Maariv Oct. 15, 2004. If he is sick, then it is not the kind of illness that suddenly strikes someone in his mid forties and his earlier behavior should reevaluated accordingly.
    Whether one supports Jewish Renewal or not is irrelevant to the fundamental issue of protecting women from abuse from an authority figure.

  2. Yes, and the question is whether one *can* be healed of such behavior. Certainly the Catholic Church for many years believed that priests could be healed and sent them to various therapeutic retreats – but then the priests would be reassigned to parishes and would reoffend. I am also very suspicious of any attempt to “heal” Gafni made by friends of his who are already disposed to view him favorably and who have very reluctantly been brought to acknowledge his actions.

  3. Ken Wilbur has an unfortunate history of turning a blind eye, or “rehabilitating” even the most egregious offenses of people he considers “brilliant”–usually those whose ideas conform in some ways to his own. This history includes fawning praise of Da Free John, but even more significantly, continuing association with “enlightened spiritual master” Andrew Cohen, whose history of severe, ungoing and systematic psychological abuse of his followers is well documented in two books: “Enlightenment Blues” written by Andre van der Braak, a student of Cohen for 11 years, and the other, Mother of God, by Cohen’s own mother, Luna Tarno, who was also his disciple until understanding the tyrannical and narcisistic nature of Andrew’s guruship. There is also ongoing documentation on The Gafni connection is that, through Wilbur, Gafni met Cohen and invited him to tour Israel together with him as a guest of Bayit Hadash. I personally contacted Gafni and warned him of Cohen’s systematic humiliation of his followers, and his creation of an almost fascistic hiearchy of people “in favor” or “out of favor” with Cohen–to no avail. Gafni continued to promote Cohen in Israel. Wilbur continues to benefit from his association with Cohen and to appear with him on the pages of Cohen’s magazine “What is Enlightenment”. So there is a triangle of abuse here, with Cohen, Gafni, Wilbur, with Wilbur acting as enabler of both–and with both Cohen and Gafni returning the favor by continuing to promote Wilbur as a great philosopher and theologian of the New Age. Will Wilbur learn from the Gafni incident and reexamine the copious evidence of Cohen’s continued and extremely severe psychological abuse of followers? I doubt it.
    Incidentally, as my friend Shefa Siegal has pointed out, one of the aspects of both Wilbur and Jewish Renewal’s promotion of Gafni and failure to truly investigate accusations against him despite repeated warnings is that Renewal, and I assume Wilbur’s organization, made good money from Gafni. Gafni, a facile “charismatic” speaker, was a good draw for Renewal events and for retreat centers such as Elat Chayim associated with Renewal. Whether consciously or not, I assume this was part of what kept the whole kit and kaboodle running forward.
    Micha Odenheimer

  4. I am more than a little disturbed by Ken Wilbur’s assumption that Gafni’s sincerity is meaningful. People with pathologies like Gafni’s (I am assuming he has a personality disorder of some kind) are frequently sincere in their apologies once they get caught. I have personal experience with this through a family member, who has issued more than eight deeply sincere and moving apologies but hasn’t been able to stop his behaviot. People like this may mean what they say, but will often cycle through the behavior again, and then offer more sincere apologies when they get caught again. Sadly, sincerity is not a benchmark for success in this matter.

  5. Micha, thank you so much for your thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of the situation. The whole Ken Wilber development just makes me sick. So much time and energy is being spent on Gafni’s healing and therapy–what about that of his victims, some of whom have never seen validation of their claims for over 20 years?
    God–at what point is enough finally enough? What more does he have to do? Let’s hope we don’t have to find that out. But I agree that it’s very doubtful that Wilber or anyone else in that community will “see the light” anytime soon. I really think it has something to do with a (perhaps unconscious) deep-seated elitism that excuses gurus and other such leaders from scrutiny, and the women are simply seen as collateral damage.
    Tentative kudos to R’Zalman for distancing himself. We’ll see if he does anything proactive.

  6. Micha’s post, as well as some of the comments on the earlier thread, have a dangerous, snowballing, witch-hunt quality to them.
    First, let’s remember that this is one person’s misconduct, not that of a movement. Some of the (male) Jewish Renewal and neo-Hasidic teachers with no record of any sexual harassment or misconduct include:
    Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
    Arthur Green
    Jeff Roth
    David Cooper
    David Ingber
    Alan Lew
    Miles Krassen
    Peter Pitzele
    David Seidenberg
    Elliot Ginsburg
    Ebn Leader
    Akiva Wharton
    David Zeller
    Or Rose
    and hundreds of others. All deeply spiritual, many charismatic, and no blemishes on their good names. So there is simply no correlation here.
    As more sensitive posters have observed, this is hardly a “renewal” or “spiritual” or “charismatic” issue. Rabbi David Kaye, who apparently solicited a 13-year-old boy for sex online, was none of these three. Nor are most of the rabbis who have been accused of misconduct, including this week. It’s ludicrous and offensive to suggest that financial or spiritual concerns unique to Jewish Renewal and its institutions have anything to do with this mess.
    Certainly, rabbis like Saul Berman are neither Renewal-minded nor financially interested. And when he and others did a thorough investigation, and found only 25-year-old misconduct, most individuals and institutions accepted their findings. Yosef Blau was one of those who did not, and he repeats his reasons above. He is clearly right that this is not a sudden, new “illness.” However, what I think his post most directly indicates is the need for objective standards in investigations. It’s not fair to either accept or not accept investigations’ findings based on intuition, or suspicion, or envy. Rather, there need to be clear, objective standards for these kinds of investigations. That way, the allegations that Blau raises above can be clearly evaluated — and if true, honored.

  7. To compare Gafni to Kaye is more than a little absurd. Where were the warnings with Kaye? Where were the previous victims telling their stories? Where were the concerned individuals making Kaye’s abuse known? What rabbis played a sick game of “see no evil” with Kaye’s victims?

  8. BS”D
    Jay, I do agree with what you’re saying, however it is exactly the power imbalance that some take advantage of which keeps the further disempowered victims from crying foul. The fact that a charismatic male rabbi hasn’t been charged doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a closet full of disempowered skeletons.

  9. I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance. Jay Michaelson seems to be attacking me for something I never said, implied, hinted or thought. And since his remarkes have a dangerous, snowballing, witchhunt quality to them, I wanted to clarify: I don’t think that Jewish Renewal rabbis or teachers have a greater propensity for sexual misconduct–or any other kind of misconduct–than ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist rabbis. What I said was simply that Ken Wilbur, philospher par excellence of the New Age movement, who wishes to help in Mordechai’s therapy, has been cooperating, enabling and shielding a New Age guru by the name of Andrew Cohen for a long time, a person who has been and continues to be abusive in the extreme to his disciples, Wilbur has been warned and has ignored these repeated warnings, and in fact introduced Cohen to Gafni who brought him to Israel. In addition, I pointed out that one of the temptations with someone as talented as Gafni is that people in the movement he is serving, in this case, Renewal, benefit from his popularity and thus have a conscious or unconscious motive for overlooking other aspects of his personality or history. What that has to do with Jay’s post, I have not idea.

  10. To blame the renewal movement for Mordechai Gafni’s criminal sexual behavior (I don’t see the word criminal used here, although that’s what it is–he broke civil as well as religious laws) is patently ridiculous. These issues have been around since I was a tyke. Girls were molested and spirited away while their teachers were allowed to continue. A few years ago, one guy, Brandstatter, was kicked out of Torah Vodaas and sent to my cousin’s kehilla. I called my cousin and reamed him out and basically got the same drill…he had charata, he did teshuva, etc. etc. etc. A few weeks later I got a phone call that I was correct in telling my cousin that his congregation should not be the garbage can for Rav Pam.
    This guy Kolko that UJO exposed and that they wrote about in New York Magazine has been a known predator for 30 years. All my buddies in the Agudah knew about him, and kids who lived near Mir and Torah Temimah knew to stay away from him.
    The problem is that the victims have been thoroughly and completely intimidated by their predators. Look, I know for a fact that mobi himself could have been a victim of a man who was such a predator in our neighborhood. The kids loved him, and he was friendly with kids and parents. Yet he was able to single out the most vulnerable boy in the area and had his fun–while the kid was traumatized beyond belief.
    When the shit hit the fan, the man disappeared to South America. His family fell apart, and everyone was devastated, and it still is there, somewhere in the background when we think about how kids relate to mentors, teachers, charismatic leaders, etc.
    I have been writing about domestic violence and sexual misbehavior in the Jewish community on the net for a very long time. When I first started to do this, my life, mobi’s life, all my children’s lives were threatened. The threats were made publicly, by an Orthodox Jew, a female. She was tracked down by our local police, and AOL TOSed her. She then stalked me around the net and succeeded in gaining access to a Second Generation (Children of Holocaust Survivors) network of which I was a member. After calling me a Hitler, I was ejected from that list because I protested her presence in the group.
    Forty-nine years ago, when I reported child abuse and wife battering to my teachers, I was ignored and put into a sort of “cherem.” When I went up against the rabbinate in 1969 and 70 in order to get my get from a closeted gay who liked to smack me around, I had to fight tooth and nail to be heard. I wasn’t dealing with low lifes. Among the rabbis I was dragged to see was the venerable Mosiach himself, Menachem Schneerson, who was my ex-‘s supposed leader, Rav Hutner his supposed Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Yoeli, my cousin the Satmar, the Sqvaerer Rebbe in Sqvaretown (which my father helped build), Rabbi Aaron Krieger, the get rabbi in Crown Heights, the Novominsker, whose wife at the time was my former Beis Yakov teacher and a counselor with Jewish Family Services in Boro Park (you don’t want to know the kinds of cases she was pursuing, but incest was on the list).
    Not one of them took me seriously.
    The only person who took me seriously was Reb Moishe Feinstein, Zichrono LeVaracha, who send me to NY State Court to get my divorce (after I yelled at him and threw a hissy fit par excellence when he told me I should stay with the batterer for the sake of the child. I went right through the roof of his apartment, while the rebitzen cried into her apron. It could have been a scene straight from Fiddler on the Roof.)
    In the end, in the original divorce decree, signed by Irving Saypol, (the same judge who sent Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the chair) he was ordered to give me a get or go to jail He went to jail, and the decree was overturned for church/state reasons. My dad shelled out almost half a mil for my freedom. In the meantime, Reb Moishe and Shelly Silver came up with the Silver Get Law. It works.
    But here’s the punch line–the Agudah has not yet stopped preaching against this law, claiming they need a needle not a sledge hammer to deal with these issues. They are right, they don’t need a sledge hammer. They need a nuclear bomb. but they aren’t interested. I called them on it and asked them since when they could supersede a psak from Reb Moishe. That doesn’t stop them from continuing to bust that law.
    It took me years to convince certain people in the Agudah start writing against the practice of corporal punishment in yeshivas. And the fact that the Jewish Press, where Naomi Mauer works, is protecting Kolko, is way beyond belief. They were leaders against the abuse of women, but I guess boys don’t count! (One “leader” now in his 80s said to me, “You know how it is. There are no women in their lives. They get married and they straighten out.” That’s when I first understood the meaning of the word “Bent.”
    Out of all the crap that came out of their mouths, I will never forget Reb Hutner…These men need the money to get married again. find yourself a rich husband. And his daughter was my teacher at Esther Schoenfeld. Sheesh.
    The punch line on all of this is the following: One major, major Chassidic rabbi I am related to knew my ex had been caught in bed with another guy at the yeshiva they both attended. It turns out that lots of people knew he was gay. No one told me. And though they knew it, and they knew I needed to get out of the marriage (I lied and said I committed adultery), not one of them came forward to make it possible for me to get a mekach taut, an annulment, instead of a get.
    The rot in the system when it comes to the treatment of women in all the denominations is systemic. There are individuals and leaders in each movement who understand that women, children and other victims need to be heard. But the systems in every denomination is geared to keeping victims in their place while granting authority to the power system. The power system sucks. I have been howling for changes for more than 30 years.
    My only hope is that in the last ten years, since this shit hit the internet, that changes have been forthcoming. I know that is so, but slow in ultra-O circles, but as I have said many times before:
    When you sweep shit under the rug, the rot and the mildew will fester forever and stink up the whole house. When you pull the rug up, and the sun hits the crap, it can be cleaned up.
    Shoving things under the rug is the first thing power structures do. The classic case is Baruch Lanner. As a long-time Bergen County resident who lived in Teaneck and whose lawn boy was Yona Hiller, we know it took 30 years to bring that son of a bitch to justice.
    But the people who brought the charges were, at first, vilified, ignored and forced to apologize.
    So, it seems, it’s business as usual.

  11. There’s one more issue here: The Israeli Police have an outstanding warrant for Gafni’s arrest. Whether he is a psychopath, a victim, or just a poor confused kid, he’s still a fugitive. Unlike the previous cases in which he was involved, the secular authorities are involved. And unlike Kyle’sMom’s unfortunate get story, there is no problem of constitutionality regarding the warrant. Although there have been no reports yet of the Israeli police asking for Gafni’s extradition from the US, he is a fugitive. So, if Wilber or anyone else hosts Gafni, or knows about Gafni’s whereabouts, they are abetting a fugitive, itself a crime (pending US warrants for Gafni’s arrest).

  12. I continue to be gravely concerned by the toxic thorn relating to the Integral Life Corporation’s continued support of the dangerous abuses of the likes of Marc Gafni, Andrew Cohen, and other lesser “integral” teachers. I am also deeply offended by this corporation’s blatant authoritarian imposition of censorship to try to cover up the activities of these victimizers. My advice has to continue to be “buyers beware!”

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