Culture, Israel, Justice, Religion, Sex & Gender

Yossi Abramowitz and Jacob Ner-David on Gafni/Bayit Chadash

The following piece was posted today on Yossi Abramowitz’s blog. There’s what to be said about it, but I still feel hesitant to comment on any of this awfulness. I’ll leave it to you.

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Renewing Bayit Chadash
Jacob Ner David, my friend, asked me to serve on the Board of Directors of a wonderful non-profit that is transforming the spiritual landscape of Israel by making Judaism lively and accessible in untraditional ways to secular Israelis. Their festivals attract tens of thousands and teachings reach even more.
I’ve been a symbolic member of the Board of Bayit Chadash and an annual contributor, happy to lend my name and networks. I share their pain and sorrow that a personal crisis spilled over to affect real people and the institution as a whole.
The greater the person, the greater the Yetzer, the energy that the evil inclination can dominate. There is a fine line, Wiesel teaches, between the prophet and the madman and what happens when the prophet needs help? The spiritual leader of Bayit Chadad is one of the great teachers of Torah in our age; we must say that because it is true. He is a genius and a soul. But there are multiple truths. Below appears an excerpt from an email from Bayit Chadash co-founder Jacob Ner- David.

I am so sorry to be the bearer of such news, I am still in shock, as is Avraham, but we cannot afford just now time for personal reflection — we need to tend to those who have been wronged under our “watch,” and to salvage as much as possible of the work of the past 6 years — so much of it a positive and enriching experience for literally tens of thousands of Israelis. I speak in the name of myself and Avraham, as well as the staff and key activists of Bayit Chadash here in Israel, when I say that what has been created is an incredible, dynamic, and transforming movement in Jewish life here in the Land of Israel.
Last night we had a meeting with the students of the core programming of Bayit Chadash — dozens and dozens of people, who came together for several hours — and almost to a soul, all demanded that the work we all started continue. Perhaps under a different name, with great humility for the pain suffered by so many, but not to let it all be sacrificed.
(Our friend–Yossi’s words) is sick, and we pray that he receives the treatment he so desperately needs — but he did play a fundamental role in creating a wonderful community here in Israel. I saw it with my own eyes last night, and received the inspiration I needed not to “give up.” I call upon you, as partners in having helped create the reality of Bayit Chadash, to remain committed to the vision of transforming and re-newing Jewish life in Israel for the sake of a Jewish future here and around the world…

4 thoughts on “Yossi Abramowitz and Jacob Ner-David on Gafni/Bayit Chadash

  1. on gafni:
    i recently attended a shabbaton in the states with gafni as teacher.
    throughout the weekend, i became increasingly and inexplicably more depressed and alienated from him, the teachings and “judaism.”
    i am not a newcomer to judaism or to renewal so his style and content were not anomaly for me at all.
    but there was something markedly different about his approach and, more so, about his energy. it made me feel dark and alone.
    i had no previous knowledge of the old allegations against him, let alone the new ones.
    but had i known, i never would have paid my hard-earned money and taken an entire weekend to sit at his feet. i want my money back.
    while the women affected/victimized by his abuses are suffering on a much deeper and more immediate level, i think it is very important to recognize the effect this news as well as gafni’s entire way of being has on every woman (and, i hope, every man) in the renewal and broader jewish worlds. there is enough for women to contend with in our search for identity and belonging in a jewish context. crap like this only sets up more obstacles; it does not create openings. when i read that we should recognize all the wonderful and charismatic things gafni has done despite what has come to light of late, it makes me gag. since when are we a “means justify the ends” people? why should we view what he has done as “good” when perhaps it was not even he who did any of it as it was all done in a disguise? leaders are accountable to their followers on every level, even those unseen. they agree to that when they willingly take on positions of leadership.
    it’s not only that he is “sick,” as his letter states, but he has acted irresponsibly to the entire jewish people by presenting himself to the world as a lie.

  2. This is a story about a Rabbi who has been evicted (or left in very strange circumstances) from four communities/ organizations, has gone through two divorces, done a 180 degree turn politically and spiritually, has been the subject of warnings in the press and communities were warned of his past sexual indiscretions. Yet, the people who support and hire him have the audacity to say things like “I’m also devastated by what see as my gullibility, to be taken in by a brilliance that had a dark center.” or “I am so sorry to be the bearer of such news, I am still in shock, as is Avraham, but we cannot afford just now time for personal reflection — we need to tend to those who have been wronged under our “watch,” and to salvage as much as possible of the work of the past 6 years — so much of it a positive and enriching experience for literally tens of thousands of Israelis.”
    Gentleman the writing was on the wall multiple times in different languages and you chose to ignore it! If you worked at a for profit company you would be fired. Fired for incompetence, for failure to contact references, for being incredibly stupid, for opening the company up to lawsuits, for talking risks that no one should take, for teaching that the end justifies the means (taken in by a brilliance….! he did so much for unconnected Jews….).
    The two men who led Enron to the gates of hell were sent to jail last week; for ignoring the obvious, lying, covering up and a host of other crimes. Maybe Rabbis should be subject to the same scrutiny that business leaders are. These former supporters were playing poker with people’s spiritual lives in the name of G-d. Their response is to offer cheap apologies on the internet. These Rabbis and supporters should be fired, ostracized and ignored. They are accountable for Gafni’s actions and Gafni is responsible – I think they should all pay for their stupidity and moral incompetence.

  3. As one who has known Gafni since his Florida years, I can attest that his charlatanism truly knows no bounds. His politics and religious hashkafa is a mere tool of self-aggrandizement. Whatever “market segment” appears open and growing, he’ll be there. Having lost all credibility in the mainstream Torah community, his latest epiphanies were merely ways of maintaining power. He often told me personally that being a Rebbe was the best job around. To his “credit”, he came very close to establishing his own Chasidut.
    When I knew Gafni (Winyarz) he claimed to be a conservative Republican. He was proud that his approach was strictly “halachic.” His knowledge of Western philosophers (Nietzsche, Sartre…etc.) is akin to a college sophomore that has access to an anthology of quotations. He is the very definition of a pseudo-intellectual (which is not to deny that he is not very, very bright). Under cover of “enlightenment” Gafni permits himself a great deal of leeway in ethics and halacha. Moral relativism is not a considered opinion but a psychological modus operandi. It is sad how much currency personal charisma has amongst otherwise intelligent people.
    I shall not discuss specific indiscretions except to say that these were known in Florida and he was involved in egregious improprieties almost from Day One. The idea that he chose aliyah is disingenuous. He was run out of town. There is not one supporter of Winyarz who has not been betrayed. Is Winyarz a great speaker, charismatic, creative—yes. Is he a trustworthy and ethical man–NO.
    At the end of the day, there are no “do overs” when it comes to sexual assault. The fact that he was in a position of trust makes it particularly heinous. How much does he really respect “the feminine” when you examine his behavior? It is typical of a fraud that he “loves women” in the abstract (as a theological construct) but despises them as sex objects in practice.
    Those rabbis who stood by silently knowing all these things in advance should be deeply ashamed. They empowered this man. No—Gafni (Winyarz) is not a new “Rebbe” but closer to a Jewish Jimmy Swaggart or another disgraced televangelist. He must be put away and unable to attract the well-meaning gullible spiritual seekers (his target market0!

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