Monday, June 12, 2006

Charisma and its Dangers: Mordechai Gafni as Nazirite

by joellen
Tikkun Magazine
June 12, 2006

I like Rabbi Waskow's comparison of Gafni to a Nazirite (Samson was one).

In recent weeks, the Renewal world has been in an uproar over allegations that Mordechai (Marc) Gafni abused his role as a Torah teacher and chevra leader by making sexual advances to his students and staff. (For newspaper stories on the allegations see,7340,L-3252738,00.html and . For the most positive spin on the situation see ; For the most negative spin see Levi Ford's "background history" of the Gafni scandal at ; the awareness center site includes almost everything written about the Gafni scandal.)

<>For many, these allegations have raised the spectre of Shlomo Carlebach, one of the founders of Renewal, whose predations on his female disciples were exposed by Lilith magazine (Vol. 23.1, Spring 1998—available at Nor is Renewal alone in facing these issues. The Hasidic world, which also embraces charismatic leaders, has recently grappled with similar failings on the part of its rebbes. Rabbi Jill Jacobs and others have suggested that the problem lies in part with our desire to embrace charismatic leaders. <>

This past week, Renewal Rabbi Arthur Waskow used the parsha (the weekly Torah reading in Jewish communities) to approach the question of charismatic leadership. The reading was from Numbers 6, on the role of the Nazirite. The Haftorah (reading from the prophets) was on Samson, mainstream Judaism’s most famous Nazirite (tho Jesus of “Nazareth” may well have been a Nazarite too).

Here is part of Rabbi Waskow’s drash. I like the openendedness of the questions. I invite you to respond here or on Waskow’s blog. You can read it all at (if the link breaks, go to Home>Torah>Commentary>Parshat Hashavua>The Nazirite in us all: Ego, Anokhi, Samson & Abuse)

Waskow: According to the Torah’s rules, anyone can choose to become a Nazir for a limited time, abide by its rules, and then give up the status. Samson does not choose, he is made a Nazir for life, and he breaks many rules of community. We asked: What is the Torah teaching us by affirming the Nazir consecration on the one hand and juxtaposing it to Samson?

Samson twists the holy specialness of the Nazir into destruction -- in a way loosely analogous to the experience of a charismatic Torah-teacher who becomes a sexual abuser and ultimately damages those around him and destroys his own consecration. So here is where our explorations became especially connected in content to our recent on-line conversations.

Trying to understand the role of the self, its value, and its danger in these stories, we talked about three versions of “I”: “ani,” the plain everyday unconscious “I”; “ego,” (Latin) the self-obsessed “I”; and “anokhi,” the “I” of expanded consciousness that called the universe together when “Anokhi” spoke at Sinai. Through this Anokhi, every “I” can become not domineering but an awesome holographic fractal fragment of the awesome Whole.

So today, do we throw out not just the Nazir label but the role itself -- in which people can choose to become spiritual adepts -- because that role is risky? Do we try to keep it but set the kinds of strict rules and boundaries that Naso describes? Do we just let go and take our chances on destruction? Do we learn to let our “I” become a Nazir in the sense of becoming a fractal fragment of the universal Anokhi?

<>If we choose the Anokhi approach, is Ahavah Rabbah ("expansive love”) a crucial part of this? Is there a sacred, boundaried role for sexual energy, for eros, in embodying Ahavah Rabbah? If so, how do we use sacred boundaries to channel that energy into sacred pathways?


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