Culture, Justice, Religion

Sex Abuser Mordechai Gafni is Back

Remember Mordechai/Marc Gafni? He was the guy who fled Israel two years ago to avoid charges of sexual misconduct and possibly rape after he was–once again–found to be using his charismatic rebbe-hood to exploit his female students and followers. It’s a pattern that had been going on for some time, with some of his past victims decidedly underage at the time of the abuse. (He was famously quoted in the NY Jewish Week as saying, in response to one woman’s claims that he had “repeatedly and forcibly sexually assaulted” her that “she was 14 going on 35…”) (The NY Post has some graphic accounts of abuse by some of his victims; Reb Zalman revoked his smicha; Gafni, when the story broke, wrote a letter to Aleph pleading mea culpa and referring to himself as sick–just as he was sneaking to the States and disappearing.)
Well, he’s back, like a bad penny–this time in Salt Lake City. Failed Messiah reports that he’s now in bed with a new age magazine called Catalyst, which has come to his defense. Evidently he’s been writing for them for a while under a pseudonym, and now Catalyst is coming out in support of Gafni, painting him as the victim of “sexual McCarthyism”; Gafni, for his part, is now denying his guilt with a bunch of New Age pablum:
“Sexuality creates wounds…but if we learn to live wide open even as we are hurt by love, the divine wakes up its own true nature…I believed that what we were doing was sharing love, and that therefore there was nothing ethically, and certainly not legally, wrong. I still believe that.”
According to the Catalyst article, he’s started to teach and has a couple of book contracts going (and, according to other sources, may be operating under the name “Marc Israel.”) He’s clearly positioning himself for another rise to guru-hood, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t continue his pattern of exploitation and abuse. He must be stopped.
ETA: It looks like Gafni himself (or one of his supporters) wrote his Wikipedia page, and so, needless to say, it’s in need of some correcting–it’s nauseatingly sympathetic, and notably absent of links to news sources explaining the “allegations of impropriety” against him. Anyone want to have a crack at it?

30 thoughts on “Sex Abuser Mordechai Gafni is Back

  1. Wow, where to begin?
    Well, I actually, ironically almost agree with the opening, “‘Sexuality creates wounds.'” I would agree with the statement “SExuality CAN create wounds; it can also produce the most beautiful…[fill in the blank].
    What a f-in tool. As my link states, “Spirit Corrupted and Set Free – Los Angeles, Summer 2007,” there is so much that is toxic in our culture now, Jews, esp. Jewish men and women need to address some internalized very unsexy ideas and attitudes.
    Like stereotypes are based in reality and I hate to say it, the Fran Drescher-schtick, Jewish women complaint about all those Jewish men marrying out is old, counter-productive and off-the-main issue. How do we make Judaism attractive to men who have walked away?
    Then these men might want to ask themselves some questions: beside their mommy issues, what toxic cultural messages are they buying into (not in terms of the Fran Drescher stereoype, which like all sters are quasi-based in social reality), but the deeper toxicity in our culture of why Jewish men feel such prerogative to abandone spiritual values — like finding fellow Jewish women whose Jewishness aligns w/ theirs — sexy? Too complicated to flesh out in a reply, but good food-for-7/4-thought.
    Happy 4th all, seriously, God bless America.

  2. the extent to which he goes to defend himself is awe inspiring.
    he’s posted psychological evaluations, legal documents and even polygraph tests attempting to prove his innocence:
    he even takes special time to attack bloggers luke ford and vicki poilin as disreputable:
    what’s even wilder, though, is that the defense he employs on both his site and in the catalyst article amounts to an attack on women, claiming that any woman who feels that she was victimized by him is “anti-feminist” because she is perpetuating a false stereotype of womens’ powerlessness. this argument was first advanced in his defense by rabbi gershon winkler. and it’s a sick argument to be sure, because it allows gafni to evade responsibility for taking advantage of the imbalance of power that exists — not between a man and a woman — but between a teacher and a student, a rabbi and a disciple, a leader and a follower.
    to describe him as “saintly,” as jeff bell does in his catalyst piece, betrays fundamental jewish principles about personal piety and sexual impropriety. which is essentially what’s wrong with gafni’s whole eros trip to begin with. the whole thing runs counter to the jewish conception of sexual purity that in many ways is regarded as the litmus test for one’s will.
    i’m reminded of gary lachman’s fantastic history of the occult in the ’60s and ’70s, “turn off your mind.” like so many cult leaders before him, gafni’s trip from start to finish seems like one grandly designed scheme to use mystical hocus pocus to get laid.
    i can think of little less saintly.
    if you can’t even keep it in your pants, precisely what have you mastered that you should merit my devotion? certainly not yourself…

  3. I think its great that he has risen, like a phoenix from the ashes. It can serve as inspiration to those of us who have struggle after sufferring much less.
    Most people who suffer less painful and public downfalls don’t recover.
    His teachings hold true (or false) regardless of what he’s been accused of.
    His accusers say that he promised marriage in return for sexual relations and swore them to complete secrecy. Ladies of Jewschool, would any of you view that as a red flag?

  4. I found my way to the “Gafni” story not via the Jewish world but through my long time interest in Ken Wilber and his Integral work. Anyhow apparently “Luke Ford” flew out to Salt Lake city on July 3rd and spent several hours with Gafni. Mr. Ford recorded a couple of hours worth of dialogue between the two and has made it available on his blog here. My guess is that some people might be interested in hearing Gafni speak for himself and so I am sharing the link.
    I am not associated in any way with Luke Ford or Mordechai Gafani, nor would I call myself a fan of either of these people.

  5. I have followed this story closely on Jewschool, as have many of you.
    Where can I find more information that is accurate, or that comes first hand from the victims? Like – was there rape ‘forcible entry’ or was it mostly abuse of power? (and I’m not expressing an opinion on what those this could mean.) Is it true that his victims agreed to have sex in exchange for various promises? (again, I wouldn’t necessarily take an answer to mean something in particular.)
    Gafni says a few things that ring true. First, that press accounts in Israel and elsewhere were sensationalized. Second, that the attorney for the victims exaggerated things for her own benefit. Might we have missed anything else worthy of close examination?
    And again, I’m trying hard to look at the story to learn what can be learned, not trying to find a way to see if Gafni is perhaps innocent. Someone I know is one of his victims, so that’s not a question in my mind.

  6. One thing I note is not being discussed here is that Gafni has a long and well-established pattern of sexual abuse and abuse of power, which precedes these events. This has been documented in a variety of Jewish newspapers and by statements made by the victims; Failed Messiah’s article has the references. The articles “clearing” him do not mention this history at all.
    Gafni claimed he had done teshuvah for the things he was accused of, or that he had been misunderstood, or both, just as he is claiming now. Most of the Jewish world defended him. The events that occurred in Israel did not happen in a vacuum; they happened after Gafni made promises that he would not abuse power in his relationships with women.
    Gafni is no phoenix, though he does seem to keep coming back.

  7. I am a former student of Gershon Winkler, and I want to speak to his redefinition of feminism, which I find, in a word, appalling—a word I would also apply to his support of Marc Gafni, about which I’m still in significant shock.
    As others have noted, in Gershon’s redefinition, if a woman feels victimized by a male authority figure, the problem lies with the woman. He gives no credence to the inherent dangers involved in a relationship in which one person is in a position of authority over another; in fact, he argues that anyone who believes that such a power imbalance is automatically dangerous assumes that women are, in his words, “sponge-brained.”
    I am not someone who believes that every single time a teacher/spiritual leader has a relationship with a student/congregant, it’s a disaster. As Gershon noted, his relationship with a student led to marriage and a beautiful child. And I would be a hypocrite to say that such relationships are always exploitative, as I fell in love with the spiritual leader of my shul, and we have been happily married for over 5 years. However, such relationships do not happen in a vacuum, and my story does not begin and end there; in fact, it illustrates the reasons that such relationships are perilous, especially for women.
    When my husband and I fell in love, he had been in the community as gabbai for over 20 years, and had been the spiritual leader for 4 years. I was a relative newcomer. When we came out to the community about our love, all hell broke loose. The board gave him a choice—send me packing or lose his job. In the blink of an eye, I went from a valued, contributing member of the shul to Public Enemy Number 1. It took my husband a little while to figure out that he really couldn’t have both his job and me.
    One morning, some of his friends summoned him and asked him, “When the story of your life is written, do you want it to be an abuse story or a love story?” He resigned that night. If he’d stayed with the shul, it would have been an abuse story. He’d have had his job, the shul would have had him, and I’d have been drummed out and left with nothing. That is what happens in many cases. The community’s stake in the male authority figure is far greater than its loyalty to its fellow congregants, especially its women congregants. This is a well studied and well documented pattern—so well studied and well documented, in fact, that when I told my story to a local Unitarian minister, he interrupted me after 30 seconds and said, “I’m sorry, but you really have no hope of ever being accepted by your community again.”
    He was right, and this despite the fact that my husband chose wisely, resigned his position, and never sought another one. We figured that his losing his job wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to us, and we were right. It wasn’t. Much worse was coming. People blamed me for “taking their rabbi away from them.” I got nasty phone calls. People said slanderous things about me. When we went to shul, people gravitated to him and said not a word to me. Same in the grocery store. Same in restaurants and everywhere else we went. He was still their beloved rebbe and I was the evil woman who had ruined everyone’s good time. After six years, for the first time in my life, I had no friends and no community. And then I finally realized (duh) that I’d been shunned. My husband and I are now in the process of selling our home, uprooting our lives, and starting over. After just a few months away, I have friends, offers of work, respect from my peers, and most of all, peace of mind—all the things I’ve been missing all this time.
    Do I feel victimized? Not any more, but I did, for a long time. Do I feel traumatized? Yes, but I am healing. Am I glad to be married to my husband? Absolutely. Do I think that we were wrong to have entered into a relationship when he was actively the rebbe and I was actively a congregant? Actually, I do. It cost us both a world of pain. It would have been better if we’d realized from the outset that he should resign his position and then we could have our life together outside of the power imbalance and all of its destructive consequences. It’s so obvious now. Why didn’t we see it then? Because we were in love, and that altered our perceptions of everything.
    And this kind of altered perception is exactly why sexual relationships between people in authority and their students/congregants are so dangerous. In a spiritual context, especially, people are not exactly in a rational state of mind. So it’s really easy to look at the women of Bayit Chadash now and say “Ahem, didn’t you see any red flags there?” But when you’re vulnerable, or grieving, or lonely, or lost, or overly trusting, or young, or searching for meaning, or in any other state that leads one to a spiritual community, you aren’t sitting back assessing the situation like a third-party observer. And this is why it is the absolute responsibility of the authority figure, male or female, to hold the limit on behalf of his or her students. It’s not that going over the limit is always destructive, but given both the power imbalance and the misogyny that so often forms the larger context, it often is. There are people who drive drunk, and never injure a soul, but there are still laws against drunk driving. There are people who have sexual relationships with their students and it all works out well, but most communities have rules against it, because of the incredible damage that can occur.
    So if you want to have retreat centers be playgrounds for the full expression of your sexual freedom, fine. Just be very clear, and let people know that a rebbe can be intimate with anyone he/she wants for the duration of the retreat or the youth group or the community, and people who think that’s fine can show up, and people who don’t can stay the hell away. For myself, after the experience of the past six years, I’d prefer to go somewhere in which there are boundaries that apply while the student-teacher relationship is operative. I don’t have a problem with what people do when they are outside of that relationship and it no longer applies; but given my experience, I have enormous concerns about what can happen to people when they are in the midst of it. I don’t want to see another woman go through what I’ve gone through—and I say that even though, when all is said and done, my story has a very happy ending.
    My 5 cents.

  8. As a member of the Jewish community of Salt Lake City, any tips on how to respond to this situation?

  9. Jewtah–
    Spread the word as widely as you can, esp. on the local level. Ask your local clergy (Jewish and not) to speak out against Gafni, both to make sure he stays discredited and doesn’t rise to power, and because possible/potential (and those who may already be) victims need to know that this guy has a history of abuse. It’s probably a great opportunity to talk about sexual abuse and/or abuse of power in a more general sense, too. Of course, if he’s done anything illegal of this nature in the last two years, authorities should be alerted.
    Spread the word, and try to get people in power to speak against him. I think those are the two main things. Other folks have thoughts?

  10. Missed Opportunity
    I actually think their could have been a legitimate way back for Gafni to be a teacher in the Jewish community. The only way he could have done it would have been by dedicating himself to the “Torah of boundaries.”
    In the context of trying to understand his own misdeeds and crossing of boundaries, in a way that absolutely rejected his previous behavior as opposed to justifying it, I’m sure there would have been rich teachings to emerge, given his compelling teaching skills and strong intellect.
    It seems that he has done just the opposite, making it a necessity to essentially ban him from teaching. It’s shame. One would have hoped that him being caught would have led to some serious soul-searching and attempts to dig deep in order to redeem himself. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

  11. Mr. Gafni and his supporters have a very simple way to prove his side of the story.
    Mr. Gafni should travel to Israel, go to the main police station in Tel Aviv (or Jerusalem), advise the person at the front desk that he is Mordechai Gafni, a person that the police may have an interest in, and wait about an hour to see if they do anything.
    If they don’t he should give the police an address in Israel at which he can be contacted. He should then go there and wait for 1 week.
    If he is not arrested, then the statement in the Catalyst article that he has done nothing illegal by Israel standards will be true.
    If he is arrested, he will have the opportunity to present his newly refound evidence in a court of law.
    True teshuvah includes facing up to any legal ramifications or accusations, not standing at a distance from them and having friends (or lawyers – when was the last time you ever heard the lawyer for an accused person state “Yes, my client did it and is ready to face the consequences!”) claim you are innocent.

  12. Dear chevra,
    The greatest damage in the present situation has been created by two public letters from Gershon Winkler. Winkler has done some good intellectual work in the past, especially on minority views concerning sexuality in Jewish law and practice (e..g the non-marital, egalitarian possibilities of the pilegesh relationship). But in this case I think his writing is profoundly slanderous – in the way he attacks women for telling the truth about their relationships with Marc Gafni and attacks “leaders of Jewish renewal” for taking these women seriously.
    It would take a close examination of the history to disentangle the origins of Winkler’s decision not only to leap to Gafni’s defense but to traduce those who spoke out about Gafni’s abusiveness, from Winkler’s previous intellectual work and from his own life-path in the world. But now his attacks must stand on their own, as an action separate from the other strands. Whether Winkler’s attacks are so deeply slanderous, what the tradition calls rechilut, as to constitute behavior so unethical as to make Winkler not acceptable as a teacher, must be for those to decide who have treated him as a teacher in the past.
    I had originally restricted my comments on these matters to a listserve on which Winkler’s second message appeared, because I did not want his slanderous remarks to be given even wider currency in the process of refuting them. But the matter has now become widespread enough that I think I need to address it more publicly.
    These are the offensive aspects of Winkler’s messages:
    1. As Winkler’s own words in his second letter make clear, it was after being challenged by his own readers and students that he issued a ”clarification.” But his “clarification” was only a restatement of his attacks on the women who accused Gafni and on those leaders of Jewish renewal who took them seriously, studied the accusations, and decided to bar Gafni from teaching in Jewish-renewal milieux. The “clarification” was different only in that Winkler did not repeat the extraordinarily offensive words “slander” and “malignant” from his first letter. What he should have issued was a profound and abject apology for his slanderous accusations in the first letter. It is offensive that he did not.
    2. Winkler says, “Unlike most, I did not jump to conclusions and blindly accept as absolute truth the accusations launched against him in the press and on the internet.”
    This is hazerei and balderdash, not to use the stronger Anglo-Saxon that would be accurate. It is not merely the expression of a different assessment of the facts, but a slanderous attack on the method and behavior of the Jewish-renewal leaders who took action concerning Gafni’s violation of all ethical standards of behavior of teachers toward students and bosses toward employees.
    The boards of Gafni’s own organization, Bayit Chadash, of ALEPH, and of Elat Chayyim (and I as editor of The Shalom Report) did not “jump to conclusions … blindly ..” but in fact met with several of the women who charged Gafni with sexual abuse. The board of Bayit Chadash was created and named by Gafni, and had every reason to want to trust and support him until they heard directly from the lips of the women what he had done to them. They looked and listened, with open ears and eyes. All of them made their decisions to bar Gafni from teaching not in schadenfreude (rejoicing at the misfortune of others) but with great sadness and reluctance.
    3. In fact, Winkler himself has never met with the women and himself has simply accepted Gafni’s version of the events and Gafni’s “reconstruction” of the “documentation” on which he depends. If anyone has blindly leaped to conclusions, it is Winkler himself. Indeed, Winkler asserts that he “reached out” to Gafni as soon as the accusations became public. If he had been interested in seeking the truth rather than leaping to defend Gafni, why did he not also “reach out” to the women who charged Gafni with sexual abuse?
    *** 4. The central issue is that Winkler claims that the sexual relationships Gafni had with his students and employees were “consensual.” This ignores the clear definition of ethics by ALEPH , Ohalah, Elat Chayyim, The Shalom Center, and other religious and spiritual organizations, Jewish and otherwise, that — given the great power imbalance between a teacher or spiritual leader or boss and his/her students, followers, or employees — true consent to sex is all but impossible as long as the dominant-receptive relationship continues. The rules under which teachers agree to work, including those applied to and known by Gafni, forbid such relationships for that reason.
    5. Winkler’s assertion that the behavior of the women is a kind of coward’s feminism that defines women as victims whereas he celebrates a kind of brave feminism that celebrates the strength of women ignores and perverts what happened. These women ceased to be victims, became strong women, precisely by telling the truth of their experience.
    6. Winkler resorts to the explanation that these events reflect an archetypal tale of the creative, transformative teacher being brought low by false accusations that mistake his charisma for abuse. Perhaps there have been some such false criticisms. But in the overwhelming number of such accusations, the charges have been accurate. The “archetypal” tale of the charismatic leader who becomes addicted and besotted by his own power into becoming a sexual abuser is far more prevalent in real life. The issue is not one “tale” against another, but the facts in each case.
    7. Winkler’s assertion that Gafni was noble and forgiving in refusing to sue the women for the slander he alleges they committed against him and in fleeing Israel posthaste instead of facing the criminal charges filed against him are made nonsense by the fact that Gafni has now attacked the women through interviews with Catalyst magazine and by posting Winkler’s own charges on his website. Winkler became Gafni’s mouthpiece for saying what Gafni wanted to say, and Gafni then justified himself by quoting Winkler. This is a second stage of Gafni’s abuse of these women, abetted by Winkler.
    I can imagine posts from Winkler in which he might have said that he had examined various pieces of evidence and, even taking into account that he had not met with the women who claimed abuse and even taking into account the definition of sexual ethics required of teachers by Bayit Chadash , ALEPH, and Elat Chayyim concerning power imbalances between teachers and students, bosses and employees, that nevertheless he has doubts about the decisions made two years ago and that while respecting the efforts of those who decided then, he thinks they may have been incorrect. That might have been a responsible and even perhaps valuable contribution to the renewal of Judaism, worthy of further discussion.
    What he did was not.
    Shalom, Rabbi Arthur Waskow

  13. In response to Jewtah and following up on Danya’s suggestions:
    If you are affiliated with a shul or other Jewish community organization in SLC, it might be worthwhile to start some sustained, public discourse about the issue, as in the format of a moderated community discussion. It shouldn’t just be a large shout-fest; that would be counter-productive, because it plays into Gafni’s accusations that he’s being persecuted by some kind of Internet lynch mob. In fact, the more serious and sober the discussion, the better, as befits the gravity of the issue.
    If/when these types of discussions happen, it’s important that people have access to information that counters Gafni’s claims on his website and in the Catalyst article. The best way to start would be to quote Gafni himself, because he’s hung himself out to dry with his own words over and over. Some examples:
    1. The now-famous Gary Rosenblatt Jewish Week article of 2004, in which Gafni dismisses the seriousness of his “relationship” at 19 with a 14-year-old girl by saying that he was just “a dumb kid.” His supporters will say that this is ancient history and that it’s been blown out of proportion. What is not ancient history is the fact that in the article, he was still minimizing and justifying his behavior into his 40s, and continues to do so. As for the whole incident being blown out of proportion…Even if we were to stretch credulity and give him the benefit of the doubt that he and this girl were just “making out” or whatever terms one might use back then, it’s still abuse, unless you think a 19 year old man making out with a 14 year old girl is okay.
    2. Gafni’s interview in Maariv of Oct. 15, 2004. Read it and be appalled.
    3. Gafni’s 2006 letter acknowledging that he is sick. His supporters now try to revise history by saying that he was oh-so responsibly falling on his sword. Fine. Even if you can accept this absurd argument, if what he wrote in 2006 wasn’t true, he was lying then. And if what he wrote in 2006 was true, he is lying now. Logic dictates you can’t have it both ways.
    There are other examples, but I’ll stop there.
    Another course of action is to give people information from sources that it would be difficult to discredit. I’m thinking of Rav Yosef Blau, who has worked for over 25 years to empower the survivors of abuse in the Orthodox world, who knew Gafni in his yeshiva days, and who has actually spoken with some of Gafni’s earlier accusers; Reb Zalman, who revoked Gafni’s smicha; and Reb Waskow who, in my opinion, has done teshuva for his earlier errors regarding Gafni by a) listening carefully to lots of outraged people who barraged him by email two years ago and gave him an education about the nature of abuse and its consequences and b) talking directly with the women of Bayit Chadash. The words of all three are available in the archives of various Internet forums, incluing jewschool. A simple Internet search will allow you to locate them.
    I want to be clear that I believe the words of Gafni’s accusers, and that I consider the attemps to discredit them shameful. I’m not making these suggestions because I don’t feel that the women’s own words are compelling. I’m making them because I’m brainstorming how to convince people who are still skeptical. Those of us who have looked at the record and believe the women don’t need to be convinced.

  14. Please note, as stated above: Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has revoked Gafni’s smicha, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow has also distanced himself from Gafni as we see in his post above. Genpo Roshi has also distanced himself from Gafni as a letter on the Awareness Center’s site makes clear. Winkler, however, is a current supporter of Gafni.
    I appreciate Vicki Polin’s information and dedication, but her continuing to name all these people as “colleagues and followers” of Gafni is untrue and weakens her case (and weakening the case against Gafni is the last thing I’d like to see.) She should at least say “former.”

  15. It was sad for me to read some of posts here but far from unexpected. I will at this point however respond directly to the core points made in some of these posts. Particularly I will respond to Arthur Waskow’s post. I will do this hopefully later in the day or tomorrow. The facts in his post and the arguments he made were spurious and deserve to be clearly refuted. I will welcome Arthur’s response to my response. The viciousness of some of the other posts while typical in the blogosphere, and not unexpected is none the less, sad.
    People speak about this all with no facts, no actual information, and no genuine curiosity. Rather a kind of shrillness seems to dominate far too much of the blogosphere and many of these posts. I have made a decision to respond to posts of these kind for a short time and then i will simply walk away and get on with living a constructive life.

  16. Marc,
    I remember you.
    I never liked you, never trusted you, did not like the direction in which you took JPSY. The Garbers had a good, heimish thing going, and then you burst on the scene like some bizarre hybrid of a used car salesman and the Reverend Sun Yung Moon.
    Did you know that our JPSY chapter had watched “The Wave” only the semester before you turned up? Did you know how much your “Rah-Rah” approach reminded me of that?
    I remained disaffected for upwards of 10 years. And I didn’t even know what accusations would be leveled against you, I just know you set something off in me that said “flee!” so I did.
    The Teacher/Disciple relationship is holy, it is the foundation of our tradition, it is no place for snake-oil salesmen, hucksters, or carnies.
    Even if the accusations against you are false, which I would have a hard time believing, you have used the Crown to puff yourself up. Your work has not been in the name of heaven, Mordechai, and the fruits show it. A google search on JPSY, which the Garbers worked to build, now returns nothing but your peccadilloes. Good Job!

  17. I think Vicki’s post is the very definition of lashon hara. She is posting a list for all to google and find of folks ‘guilty’ of supporting Gafni, without any distinction of when that may have changed.
    Given that the case against him is so strong, why go the extra step of making the situation appear worse? The tone and act strike me as perverse. I am no friend of Gafni but wow, Vicki…. I can feel the damaged/deranged vibe quite strongly….

  18. Rich,
    “Flee!” was also my visceral response when I first saw Mr. Gafni in action. Fortunately, it did not cause me to become disaffected. In fact, over the past week, the Gafni issue has given me a reason to tune into other stories on jewschool and failedmessiah, and I’m feeling more connected to the happenings in the larger Jewish world because of it.

  19. To begin: After reading the Gafni article in the catalyst, then actually spending a few hours looking through the polygraph tests and professional evaluation in the Controversy section of Gafni’s website, I find myself sickened by some of the comments on this post and, if fact, the title of the post itself.
    In the Catalyst article: the author’s state that they spend months going through hundreds of pages of files showing evidence of Gafni’s innocence. The article even stat4es that by releasing that evidence to the internet, he’d be dragging the women, as well as their names and identities, into the public debate, making them targets of the same type, if oppositely motivated, of attacks that he’s gone through on the internet.
    He also talks about moving forward and turning the other cheek, letting bygones be bygones. I find that inspiring.
    As a non-Jew reading this story and then seeing the internet attacks continue, as they do in this post and its comments section, I am sickened and disgusted.
    Popular and controversial religious leaders always seem to attract these type of attacks and Gafni is behaving with a degree of decorum that I would find impossible to match in the same circumstances.
    His refusal to take revenge on the women who did this to him is noble and progressive.
    Take the time to look through his website and actually read the documents that Gafni has provided instead of attacking from a position of ignorance and false anger.
    There are far too many actual offenders to spend time attacking one who can prove he’s been set up. Feminism and crimes against women are serious. This sort of attack, falsely accusing someone like this, weakens the position of women’s progress and makes real victims more vulnerable when they try to fight back against abuse.

  20. Rich and Rachel-
    It is worth keeping in mind that much of what happened at JPSY was predictive of what happened later, as Gafni was chased from job after job due to various sexual or fiscal “improprieties” (to use an understated phrase). His major innovation at JPSY, and I saw this with my own eyes, was to abolish Shabbat prayer, as he believed it was more important for the “kids” to hear him than to pray or otherwise participate in the Jewish tradition. This was an early sign of his narcissism combined with an unrelenting pathological need to seduce in every way (he hit on the maariv journalist sent to interview him during the interview!).
    Currently, by reading his website and blog, one can see that he may be not-entirely-well, with strange sexual ravings of a sado-masochistic nature, where he tries to justify all his actions by being a “bohemian” and spiritual “artist” and blaming all his victims (many there are, over a period of many many years!). What is sickening is his “evolutionary spirituality” all just sounds like a way for him to self-justify his sexual escapades.
    Not likely that anyone would find him a rewarding thinker at this point; its a shame that he didn’t wait to “return” until his medications kicked in…

  21. Your site sent me to Gafni’s home page, where I read the statements by him and others. While I don’t know the whole history behind these stories, I do know that my contacts with Gafni’s teaching over the years have been largely positive. Reading his website brought up many interesting questions and speculations. Obviously he is defending himself. Why not? Why wouldn’t anyone in his position try to defend himself—that is, publicly respond to those who want to write him out of the teaching world? Seems to me that anyone reading the website without prejudice would agree that he seems to have a more then reasonable case for that defense.
    I say that we owe it to him, as we would to any human being, to hear what he has to say, not to jump to conclusions based on incomplete information, even if ‘authorities’ stand behind those conclusions. Incomplete information is incomplete information, and a man has the right to speak on his own behalf, and to enlist others to speak for him, without being attacked for it. Instead of jumping to attack him for speaking up for himself, and to attack Rabbi Winkler for defending him, wouldn’t it be better for this community to allow some balanced dialogue on this issue?
    Gafni is a rare type of teacher, and one who often gets penalized in the public forum. To use Neitzche’s old polarity, he has a Dionysian-style presence, which means that in his teachings and public meetings, a great deal of ecstatic emotion was generated. The Dionysian religious style can be easily misunderstood, and is usually suspected by those who are more Apollonian, more formal in their approach to religion. It is always suspect by those in power, simply because it is so impossible to control. Dionysian energy cannot be ‘owned,’ either by the person it flows through or by the powers that be. I can easily imagine that people around Gafni, at first enjoying the rush that his energy produces, may have ended by wanting to distance him, perhaps with personal motives, perhaps out of fear.
    To continue, Dionysian energy can get that teacher into trouble, as it did with the original Dionysius. Dionysian teachers often have what a psychologist would call loose boundaries, and a tendency to take their spiritual ecstasy into more personal encounters. That means that in their lives there tend to be situations that lie outside the boundaries of the conventional. This seems to be Gafni’s case, and he has already paid dearly for these mistakes.
    My point is this: a distinction needs to be made between mistakes made in the arena of sexuality and relationship, and actual sexual abuse. It seems obvious to me, that Gafni’s history is one of mistaken experimentation, not a story of abuse. I highly doubt that Gafni ever sexually harassed anyone. His response on his site has the ring of truth. Yes, as a woman, I can read between the lines here, and pick up the all-too- familiar disjunction between female bonding needs and male ‘flow.’ No doubt the guy had too many girlfriends. Dicey for a rabbi, admittedly, but not all that unusual, and probably part of an inbuilt tension he’s fielded all his life—a Dionysian guy in an Apollonian religious context. From his writing on the website, it looks as if he is coming to terms with all this in a genuine way.
    Obviously there are many questions and issues for discussion here. But to draw the conclusion, as some people on this blog seem to be doing, that this man deserves to be shunned and hounded out of town, investigated in the city where he lives (and where those who know him seem to have experienced his behavior as exemplary) is not just overwrought, but scary.
    For myself, I look forward to hearing the teachings that come out of all this—Gafni’s and, yes, others. And I don’t want to be told that I shouldn’t listen to the teaching because the teacher is imperfect. Hasn’t anyone heard of the wounded healer?

  22. Sarah,
    With all due respect, I have never heard such a load of tripe. Dionysian? Appollonian? Wounded Healer? You can mythologize him as much as you like; you sound like so many abused women I have known who have defended their abusers as “misunderstood” or “acting in the interest of the greater good.” When Shabbatai Tzvi converted to Islam, he had his defenders who said that he only did it because he had to descend into the klippot to effect redemption. This is the high-flown language of falsehood, truth does not need such fancy clothing. When the day comes that you have to invoke Nietszchian paradigms to defend the behavior of a Jewish spiritual leader, something has gone very, very wrong.

  23. Sarah,
    If you’d like to know some of the history concerning Gafni, take a look at the following links:
    Article by Jennifer Siegal of The Jewish Daily Forward, May 19, 2006:
    2004 interview with Rav Yosef Blau:
    The Forward article is a good exposition, and it will give you information about the situations that Yosef Blau discusses in his interview. Rav Blau is a very fair-minded man, and his support for abuse survivors in the Orthodox community has been phenomenal.
    Please bear in mind that those of us who believe the women who have accused Gafni over the years are hardly doing so because any Jewish “authorities” have told us to. Up until two years ago, most of these “authorities” were doing a pretty inadequate job of listening to the women who had concerns or complaints against Gafni. It was only when some of them actually sat down with the Bayit Chadash women that things began to change.
    Many of us believe the stories that the women have told because it doesn’t seem plausible to us that over a 25-year period, women so widely separated by time, distance, denomination, and theological outlook could be the architects of a vast conspiracy. Plus, many of us have seen Gafni in action and felt that he was a person to stay away from–not because we fear ecstatic energy, but because we felt that he was more interested in his own power than in empowering others.

  24. There is a sense in the world that the spiritual teacher or artist needs to stay far removed from everyday life. A false sense. So I am honored to post something here far from the world of study and practice where I now live.
    At the same time the blogosphere is so filled with slander and viciousness – all hiding behind false names and partial identifications- that one’s sense of decency and integrity, often move one, to not engage the blogosphere in it’s all to often, dark energy.
    After this post, I do not intend to further read or engage the blogosphere. I have looked at it on occasion and was often sick to my stomach.
    One sickening example: A few years back, Bill Clinton on blog after blog of the far right republican world is called a murderer and accused of murdering staffer and old friend Vince Foster. That it is not true does not really seem to bother anyone.
    Sadly to much of the blogosphere has become a place where people can vent their abusive shadows without any consequences.
    Danya in her first blog suggests that I was accused of rape. This is a complete lie.
    Dan the moderator of this blog – if that is still the case- knows that this is not true. Yet he posts the blog anyways. A friend of mine tried to post a blog saying this was not true- Dan refused to post that blog..and I imagine Dan you may not post this either.
    But let’s be very clear. I have honored men and women my entire life. i have been deeply privileged to share torah with thousands of people – and to talk directly and personally to thousands of people – of the wisdom and teaching of kabbalah and torah. I have tried to honor each person. I have tried to reflect back to each person the infinite beauty of their most beautiful selves. Hafiz has been my guide.
    I wish that I could show you
    when you are lonely
    or in darkness
    the astonishing light
    of your own being.
    This talk of rape or abuses of power etc. etc. on this blog are not only untrue. They are -and i am sorry for the strong words- vicious, malicious and abusive in the worst of ways.
    Moreover, as I say clearly on my site I did not sexually harass or anyone in Israel. I swear that this is true. This is supported irrefutably by hundreds of pages of documentation as well as extensive polygraph.
    The attempt to portray me as an abuser and predator is sad and misguided.
    For a more nuanced and complete statement on this issue please feel free to visit my website at Look under the controversy section in statements one and two and this is all addresed
    I am sure that my posting will arouse a new round of vicious blogging. That is sad by not unexpected.
    there is much work to be done in the world.
    many people are suffering in genuine and real ways.
    My energy – for the rest of my life will go – I pray – to alleviating that suffering in whatever small way I can. To standing for the weak and oppressed. To speaking the truth of the dharma – the torah – as best as i know it from my lineage, life and teachers.
    this was my short foray onto the blogs. I wish everyone so much love and blessings
    those who live in love and blessings and integrity will feel the truth of my words.
    those who do not will see only their own projected shadows.
    the work starts when you- when all of us- take those shadows back and being to integrate them so that we can truly move towards the light.

  25. First, let me state here that I have no ‘personal’ relationship with Marc Gafni, other than my experience with him as a teacher and acquaintance. I speak as a student of religion, an observer of contemporary religious movements, and as one who has benefited both intellectually and spiritually from Gafni’s teachings. Rich’s ad hominum response to my post, equating me to an ‘abused woman defending her abusers’ is, to say the least, uncalled for. Is Rich saying that anyone who disagrees with his opinion must be deluded? Is it necessary to attack anyone who suggests that we give Gafni a fair hearing?
    Obviously, sexual abuse is a bad thing, and deserves our contempt. However, I am fully convinced that Gafni’s behavior did not constitute abuse. I have looked at the way this story has been handled on other sites, and marveled at the inflamed language with which he is condemned, and at the way in which friends and colleagues who speak up for him have been attacked as well. It appears to me that most of the reports on the complaints about Gafni in Israel are based on hearsay, and that there was indeed no attempt to hear his side of the story. Even the complainants themselves seem to have objected to the distorted accounts of what happened that were printed in the Israeli press and then taken up by other papers and on blogs.
    Gafni specifically refuted these complaints on his website, and his statements have been supported by both documentation and polygraph. People with serious professional credentials and reputations validated his statements in public letters, after reviewing the material. I have spoken to one of the evaluators directly. He told me that he was aware of the material in the Jewish Forward article which someone cited, and confirms that the core information in the article was not true. Many factors go into creating stories like this.
    But because these stories about Gafni have been repeated so many times, there is now an assumption that they must be true.
    Here’s what I see: the accounts of Gafni’s early ‘mistakes’ that originated on one website, several years ago, have been repeated and taken up across the blogosphere, and became accepted as fact. Youthful mistakes were inflated to look like a ‘history of abuse.’ Now, people assume that because they have heard all this repeated so many times, this so-called history is true. In other words, claims and opinions have taken on the status of fact. Very similar to the way in which political operatives flood the airwaves and the blogosphere with negative stories about their opponents.
    In this regard, it would be instructive to read an article posted on PsyBlog, by a British psychologist, regarding the fact that the loudest and most repeated voice is often taken to be the majority opinion on a subject. Here’s the link:
    This article describes a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Researchers found that when an opinion is repeated three times, it is taken in by listeners as though it was the general opinion. Similarly, when opinions are repeatedly broadcast to us by the same organization or advertiser, we tend to believe that they represent a general opinion. This has something to do with the way words are stored in memory—a facet of the human brain that has long been used by savvy advertisers and governments to ‘brainwash’ consumers, and which is now being put to good use in the blogosphere.
    Sarah Goldman

  26. One more thing–what’s with this headline referring to Gafni as a “sex abuser”? This is an unproven claim, and it is, to say the least, highly inflammatory and prejudicial to use this term as the indicator for this topic on the blog.

  27. Sarah,
    In your first post you say that you don’t know the whole history behind these stories, but now, it appears, you’re an expert on what happened.
    I’d like to know what “evaluator” you spoke with, exactly what he/she said was untrue in the Forward article, and how he/she knows this.
    Let me remind you that the most revealing words come from Gafni himself, who admitted in the Jewish Week article that he was intimate with a minor child of 14 when he was 19 or 20. Do you have children? I have a fifteen-year-old. She is strong, beautiful, intelligent, wise beyond her years…and a child. She is not 15 going on 35. She is 15. Period. What Gafni states he did is not a “youthful mistake.” It’s a crime as defined by NY state law. And before you say that the whole thing was “consensual,” please be aware that children do not have the ability to give informed consent because they are, well, children.
    25 years after this “youthful mistake,” Gafni persists in a) minimizing it and b) discrediting the person it happened to. Is this the behavior of a responsible person? Of a great spiritual leader? Messing with a person’s sexuality is messing with their soul. Whether he knew it was wrong or meant any harm is beside the point. The damage is done, and a mature, responsible, spiritual person would make a mature, responsible, spiritual attempt to heal the damage, not make it worse by attempting to discredit the injured party and minimize his culpability.
    In any case, I hardly see how you can discredit what Rav Blau has to say, since he’s been saying it long before most people knew Gafni’s name. Consider the following from Rav Blau:
    “There are the same common patterns between Mordecai Gafni’s situation and that of Baruch Lanner. Admitting a little bit one time and that you’ve stopped. The next time saying you’ve never admitted it. In the first article [The Jewish Week], he says: ‘I don’t work with kids, I don’t counsel men or women and I don’t meet alone with women.’ In the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles article, it is as though he did nothing wrong. His story changes. Arthur Green’s letter says that he did terrible things 20 years but he’s done teshuva. How would Arthur Green know aside from what Mordecai tells him? In the letter from rabbi Berman and Telushkin, it seems that he never did anything bad. This is classic pattern. Admit it when you have to. Deny it later.”
    Admit it when you have to (May, 2006). Deny it later (July, 2008). Rav Blau said this in 2004. It appears that the man knows what he’s talking about.

  28. Part of the tragedy of organized religion (in which I am a paid professional participant) is that it rewards charisma, good looks, style, rhetorical skills- none of which are the same thing as Torah learning, humility, spirituality, and a deeper perspective on life. So many great rabbis and teachers out there are never going to be the popular “stars” because they’re not charismatic, and so many charismatic people have the ambition to be a rebbe without internalizing the paradox that if you think you’re qualified to be a rebbe, you probably aren’t.
    Regarding the poster above who claims to have spoken to one of the professional evaluators, I personally smell- but cannot prove- either a troll or a somebody posing as somebody else. After all, a “student of religion” could use Google for about 3 seconds to ascertain that there were many different sources- not “one internet site” for the Gafni discussions, and a “student of religion” might not repeat more or less verbatim the defending arguments of the accused.
    I could, however, be totally wrong about this, and if demonstrated so I shall most certainly apologize.

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