Sunday, May 14, 2006

Rabbi Arthur Waskow issues a letter on Marc Gafni

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Vicki Polin has said numerous times "It takes a village to raise a sex offender". I believe she's correct. We have to start looking at our actions and reactions to cases like Marc Gafni, Matis Weinberg, Mordecai Tendler, Shmuel Juravel, etc.

The warnings were there, but as a community we ignored them. It is always so much easier to blame a victim, then to believe that a trusted friend or community leader would or could molest our children, rape our women, or sexually manipulate another.

It's so vitally important that when an allegations is made, that law enforcement in our communities are contacted immediately. It is NOT up to our rabbis to conduct an investigation. They don't have the forensic training to do so.

If an allegation is an old one, then we need to hire an organization/agency like

I know that those who have been supporting Marc Gafni have a long ugly road ahead of them. My hope is that journey will begin by them apologizing to the three women who came forward trying to warn them. Remember Marc Gafni admitted to raping one of them, who was a thirteen-year-old girl at the time. The three survivors did not have to go public. They did so in an attempt to prevent one more person from being sexually victimized.

I also believe that those who attacked Rabbi Yosef Blau, JWB and Vicki Polin need to make a public apology to them too. I personally think that each individual person who attempted to discredit The Awareness Center should be mandated to fund raise at least one million dollars (a piece) for the organization.

You want to end sexual violence in our communities? Put your money where your mouth is and donate money to The Awareness Center!
The following message went today to every one of the thousands of subscribers to The Shalom Report. You can subscribe by clicking to

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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:

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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


Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

I don't want an apology.

I want their resignations.

May 14, 2006 3:42 PM  
Anonymous Empowered Survivor said...

Besides wanting to see them in a court room, I want them to be require to be educated by The Awareness Center on Rape Awareness and Prevention. I also like the idea of them being mandated to fund raise for The Awareness Center.

I personally believe that Saul Berman needs to resign from Edah. The man sickens me. So much for him being a pious, ethical rabbi.

May 14, 2006 4:05 PM  

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