Marc Gafni Abuses Again -- and We Share Responsibility

  • Email
  • Print
  • Share
September 21, 2011

It has happened again.

Marc Gafni, nee Marc Winiarz, nee Mordechai Gafni, the thrice-divorced rabbi who has been, at times, a hero of Modern Orthodoxy, Jewish Renewal, and the Israeli spiritual renaissance, has again been caught having sexual relations with members of his latest spiritual community. Here are some links to what has happened: Integral Options Café, The Jewish Week.

I was not one of the women Gafni had clandestine affairs with during his time he was a Renewal rabbi, though I was certainly aware (and sometimes the object) of his sexual assertiveness and charisma during the time I knew him, from 2004 through 2006. I am remaining anonymous now because I am afraid of Gafni’s reprisals and am terrified of even receiving an email from him wanting to “talk” or “clear the air,” like the ones he has been known to send his victims. But I am raising my voice to my fellow Jews that we have been silent about this man for too long, and now our silence has led to yet more abuse. In this season of repentance, we should be ashamed of ourselves, and resolve to do better.

In 2006, Gafni was discovered to be having three simultaneous affairs with students and members of his spiritual community in Israel, Bayit Chadash. Gafni fled the country, and we thought that was the last we’d hear of him. But in 2008, he reemerged, having claimed to have undergone therapy, and began teaching in non-Jewish spiritual communities.

Those of us who knew Gafni well didn’t buy these claims of healing. We’d been fooled before, after Gafni lied to us to cover up past affairs and whitewash past episodes of assault. We saw the same pattern happening again: a new community in a new place (this time, Utah), new associates who didn’t know him from before, a name change. (All of this, by the way, is based on my opinions and observations, and those of my friends. I may be wrong on some of the facts, but I know I’m right on the primary ones. Certainly, I am not making any kind of legal accusations.) Some of us felt a duty to warn Gafni’s new acolytes that, in many of our opinions, he is a serial sexual predator.

These efforts were met with fierce resistance by Gafni’s new friends, who, despite having never really known him more than a year or two, were sure that he was being maligned. (Right, women who are victims of sexual predators are the real aggressors. Where have I heard that before?) Affiliates of the noted spiritual teacher Diane Hamilton, who posted her half-hearted apology last week, actually threatened some of those people when they tried to tell the truth about Gafni three years ago. Well, Ms. Hamilton, “we” told you so. Your apology should include those of us your friends intimidated. This was not just “your bad” – it was an awful thing, what your associates did. The “women in Israel” did not lie. You were wrong to silence them, and us.

Another time, one of the women Gafni abused tried to stop him from speaking at a well-known spiritual center in California, and was shouted down online by Gafni’s latest band of brainwashed believers. She was called a liar, and worse. This took place in a progressive, integral, spiritual forum – yet it was like something out of The Accused.

And supposedly, there was a letter that rabbis in Renewal and other movements were supposedly going to post, stating to Gafni’s new community that we had been conned by this man before, and that we knew he would strike again. As he now did. Whatever happened to this letter? It was never sent. Last I heard, it was being circulated for signatures. And then it disappeared.

Why? Threats of litigation? Threats of reprisal? Or maybe just cowardice?

Cowardice, like that of the three well-known rabbis who pronounced Gafni kosher way back in 2003 or so. This beit din, which was comprised of three respectable people, made a mockery of their sacred task. They didn’t even talk to some of Gafni’s previous victims, even though one of them is a well-known teacher herself who doesn’t hide this seedy episode from her past. I know they didn’t talk to these people, because I did. They didn’t follow up with congregants in his old congregation, who would’ve told them about Gafni having sex with a congregant there. In fact, they did just about nothing, other than talk to Gafni himself and accept his phony tshuvah as valid. That was an act of cowardice too.

I was one of those suckered by that beit din into believing that Mordechai Gafni had sinned once, but had long since repented. We were told that whistleblowers like Gary Rosenblatt at The Jewish Week were on a witch hunt – even though Rosenblatt was not an accuser, but a journalist who wrote a balanced report on Gafni’s positive and negative attributes. Mr. Rosenblatt, you were right and those rabbis were wrong. You told us so, and we should have listened. Our rabbis told us not to.

And when we found that out, we had an obligation to stop this sexual rodef who we knew would abuse again. Why didn’t we do that? What could possibly have justified our silence?

Should we have publicized the statement of Gafni’s ex-wife, describing Gafni’s weird sexual pathology in horrible, vivid detail? Should we have publicized her statements that she, and not Gafni, wrote most of one of his books? Should we have publicized the statements from another rabbi that he, and not Gafni, wrote yet another one?

Maybe the Renewal community was afraid to act because it is afraid of being tarnished, like the Hasidim were by their opponents, by slanders of sexual immorality. Of course, Gafni is a post-denominational abuser. He has slept with much younger female students in Orthodox, Renewal, and now non-Jewish spiritual communities. And of course, though Renewal has had its share of philandering rabbis, so have all the major denominations. At least no Renewal rabbis are in jail for seducing underage boys online, as one formerly respected Orthodox rabbi now is. But the mainstream media has often fixated on Renewal as if sexual crimes are somehow particular to it. I don’t forgive the Renewal community for failing to act, but I do understand this context.

To be clear: as far as I know, the relationships Gafni pursued at Bayit Chadash, his Israeli spiritual community, were superficially consensual. The women were not raped or physically abused. In fact, contrary to Gafni’s own propaganda, they have never asserted otherwise, except one statement, given in the heat of the moment, that what Gafni did “felt like rape.” No, all three women thought of Gafni as a rebbe, and thus gladly submitted to his sexual advances. If you call that consensual, which I don’t, then the relationships were that. And for all I know, the two women in his most recent spiritual community likewise “consented,” inasmuch as seekers can consent to sex with their gurus.

But that doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for failing to warn his new community loudly and clearly that the man was not to be trusted. Maybe he’s a sexual predator, maybe he just has a lot of sex, I don’t know. But we do know that this is the same pattern we’ve seen over and over again. We all knew it would happen again. Now it has.

It certainly seems that Gafni will never teach in the Jewish world again, baruch hashem. But it’s a wide spiritual world out there, and I assume Gafni will again resurface. For this reason, I am calling on my spiritual sisters and brothers to pull that collective letter out of mothballs and create a non-anonymous letter warning any and all future spiritual communities that Marc Gafni is not trustworthy in these matters. Individuals like me are too afraid to do so openly, because we are alone. But if we joined hands together and acted as one, we could ensure that this man does not abuse again and perhaps do some tshuvah ourselves.

ZEEK is presented by The Jewish Daily Forward | Maintained by