Yet another prominent Orthodox rabbi has been charged with sexual abuse. This time it is Rabbi Mordechai Elon, one of the foremost rabbinic leaders of the Israeli Orthodox movement and former rosh yeshiva at the flagship Yeshivat HaRav, where last year a Palestinian mounted an assault which left several students dead. The result was that students of the yeshiva and other far right Jews went on a rampage and tried to burn down the home of the family of the perpetrator of the attack. Elon’s brother is Benny, a former MK for a far-right pro-settler party.
At one time the rabbi was so renowned he’d hoped to be named chief rabbi. Alas, that hope is all but dashed as he was charged several years ago with abusing boys at his yeshiva:
Takana, a rabbinic forum established in 2003 to clamp down on sexual misconduct by Orthodox educators, went public February 15 with allegations that Mordechai “Moti” Elon had taken advantage of his influence over male students and performed “acts at odds with sacred and moral values.”
The panel later said that two people, whose complaints alleged acts from about 25 years ago, had been under 18 at the time. More recent alleged acts involved students of Elon who were 18 or older. Since its initial disclosure, the panel reports having received one more complaint of an alleged underage encounter…
What is unusual about this case is that a splinter group of the Orthodox community is taking the position that the entire prosecution is an attempt to destroy rabbinic authority and the Orthodox movement. It calls for refusal to cooperate with state authorities (or to deal with the charge through a beyt din).
One of the leaders of this group is Rabbi Shalom Aviner, rosh yeshiva of Ateret Cohanim, one of the most extreme of Israeli yeshivot. It is preparing the religious and priestly rite for establishment of the Third Temple, a development which could cause a holy war if the point is pressed too intensely. Aviner is known as an enthusiastic supporter of extremist settler politics, having called Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein “a saint.” He declared that anti-Occupation Israelis who refuse army service should be executed. He called settlement evacuation a ‘illegal crime.’ Ironically (when you read what I’m about to tell you), Aviner has also suggested that women would be justified in killing a man who is raping them. No word though on how they would do so unless he plans to provide them a weapon during the assault. This advice shows the rabbi’s complete ignorance of the circumstances of most rapes:
“In either word or deed, fight him off. Yell out loud so that everyone can hear you. If he touches you, slap him. If he attempts to do worse, and there is no other choice, you can kill him…yes, kill him,” Rabbi Aviner wrote.
In many cases, such resistance might lead to the victim’s death or severe beating. One shudders to think what the rabbi would think of a woman who did not resist out of such fear.
Rabbi Aviner also calls for all Orthodox Jews to report any sexual abuse, which at first glance is quite an advance over the traditional approach, which has been to hush such charges up and avoid them like the plague. But in light of what I’m about to tell you you’ll find it odd that he suggests one enormous loophole:
“If the beater or the abuser is aware of his problem and is willing to receive the proper therapy, and in addition meets his commitment and goes to therapy, and is supervised by responsible elements, only in such a case there is no need to report…
So, all the abuser must do to avoid civil punishment is go to therapy. You’ll note there is no mention by Rabbi Aviner of the necessity of the abuser refraining from abusing once he is in therapy. The reason why this distinction is important is that Aviner has become the leading defender of the non-cooperation movement regarding the Elon case:
“I am telling everybody — keep silent,” the head of Jerusalem’s Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, told the Forward. He said that the affair must not be allowed to undermine the rabbis’ authority.
No word on how Aviner squares this approach with his earlier pronouncement urging reporting abuse to civil authorities. Apparently, Elon’s agreement to pursue counseling convinced Aviner that reporting him was a sin. But the Takanah rabbis disagreed strongly:
The[y] were very clear about why they chose to make the sexual-abuse allegations public now, several years after they themselves were made aware of them. When they were first informed about the charges, the rabbis said, they tried unsuccessfully to persuade the complainants to go to the police. In 2006, they also approached the attorney general at the time, Menachem Mazuz, who felt unable to probe the matter without the complainants’ cooperation. The current attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, has now told police to look into the allegations.
Stymied on the law-enforcement front, Takana rabbis said they demanded in 2006 that Elon cease face-to-face teaching, counseling and other rabbinic activities; he agreed. That year, he retired from his post at Yeshivat HaKotel and moved to the Galilee. But the forum rabbis say that Elon failed to honor his commitment, leaving them, according to a statement they released, with “no other way to protect the public from possible future harm” than by going public. The final straw was that the forum believed he had resumed counseling young men on sexual matters.
This points out the weakness of the Takana Forum. It is entirely voluntary with the only threat or sanction the rabbis can use being public exposure. Rabbi Elon has exposed this weakness and Rabbi Aviner is further undermining it. What he doesn’t realize is that he is harming Israeli Orthodox Judaism far more by endorsing impunity than a civil prosecution of Elon would.
Why might Aviner take such a position? Well, it turns out he’s likely to have his own sexual skeletons rattling in his closet. Several websites whose goal is to track and report Jewish sexual abuse report Aviner himself has been accused of improprities with women he has counseled:
Back in 2002, serious allegations were made against Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of sexually harassing women both verbally and physically.
…In 2005, two women accused the Aviner of creating emotionally intimate relationships with them. These relationships included his expressions of his love for them during regular late-night phone conversations, extracting details from them of their sexuality and promoting an unhealthy emotional dependence on him.
…Like in many other cases, those who tried to speak out where shunned and made to look as if they were crazy.
One wonders what the good rabbi would say if he sexually abused the women, would they have the right to kill him? You can see how insane the situation is.
What’s “crazy” is a religious community that bestows any respect on one of its leaders accused of the very crimes about which he makes moral pronouncements. Only in such an insular environment can such a person not be viewed as hopelessly self-interested and suffering from an insurmountable conflict.
Not to mention that Aviner should be an embarrassment to his allies in the settler extremist movement. Yes, the man is innocent till proven guilty. But does that mean he needs to placed on a pedestal and his views about Baruch Goldstein or sexual abuse need to be honored as if they were halacha l’Moshe mi’Sinai (“the law according to Moses on Sinai”)?