Thursday, October 14, 2004

Maariv Profiles Mordecai Gafni

Four years ago, in their Friday weekend magazine, they profiled me. Now they profile Mordecai.

I suspect it is the same mocking tone but I can't read Hebrew well enough to know.

Maariv article is out on Mordecai Gafni. It makes him look bad. The reporter Sari Makover is clearly creeped out by him.

She starts the article with Judy's complaint (from the Gary Rosenblatt article). She says how old she was (below the age of consent) when he walked in and did various things to her.

When Sari Makover visited Gafni's house, there were five women sitting on the floor barefoot meditating. She hestitatingly sticks out her hand to shake his hand. He says, 'Why have a handshake when we can have a hug?'

Gafni says that he believes it is good for people to marry and divorce. He used to deny he was married three times. After being corrected numerous times, he's turned divorce into a mitzvah.

It's good to fall in love. It's good to marry. It's good to divorce. Different souls are for different people at different times. He quotes Rebbe Nahum of Bretslav -- sometimes love is right for a minute. I'm sure the good rebbe had Mordecai Gafni in mind when he said that.

Mordecai says Rabbi Blau has a vendetta against him and his critics are jealous of him.

The article says rabbi Mordecai Gafni is trying to be a media star and has political ambitions but now has to face sexual harassment stories from his past. One of his defenses is that he likes to take chances for love. Therefore, he's going to hug people and do whatever he needs to do, because he's taking chances for love.

It appears that Mordecai has developed a theology of eros to defend his sexual indiscretions. Reminds me of Jacob Frank.

Maariv article says that Mordecai Gafni's third wife, his present wife, lives in San Francisco. It sounds like a marriage of convenience.

Gafni says that R. Blau and Vicki Polin are traveling around the country saying bad things about him. I believe R. Blau and Vicki have met only once.


A translation of the opening of the Maariv article on Mordecai Gafni:

Ways of Pleasantness

Charismatic, Media-Savvy and Original, he Loathes the Religious Establishment and is the leader of the "New Home" Congregation. He is Unabashedly Politically Ambitious. He is also a great advocate of petting and touching, all out of brotherly love, of course. For the first time, Rabbi Mordechai Gafni steps up to address the many unresolved episodes from his past that attribute him with sexual abuse and sexual harassment, from which he has managed to escape uncharged but not unhurt. "I believe that every person should decide where to take risks. And I prefer to take risks
with love."

By Sherri Makover-Balikov

Rabbi Mordechai Gafni, the God-fearing leader of the "Bayit Hadash" (New Home) Movement, receives me in his bohemian-elegant beit midrash in Jaffa,; he sits ensconced among colorful embroidered cushions, barefoot, meditating young ladies and crystals. I greet him modestly with "shalom" and tentatively extend my hand. Gafni the altruist is deeply offended. "Why shake hands, sweetie? Come, give me a hug," he says, and embraces me with great emotion, drawing me to him in paroxysms of affection.
From deep among the folds of the ADMOR (term used for Chassidic leader - here it is used cynically) Gafni's vest, I wonder: What is better, a hidden Tzaddik who speaks to women from behind a curtain, or a cheerful blue-eyed rabbi who gives out hugs for the sake of heaven?
We sit opposite one another, across an antique wood table laden with Chassidic tracts brimming with spiritual insight. But even from a distance the pious rabbi makes sure that I feel comfortable, so from time to time he places a hand on my shoulder. How fortunate I am - he even occasionally pats my head, which is humbly engrossed in my paper (for writing).
SMB: "With all due respect - this is not the way a rabbi behaves."
MG: "According to Halacha, hugging a woman without sexual intent is a legitimate option. Not all rabbis agree with me but modesty is always an interesting subject for debate. In my opinion, when a woman wears close-fitting charedi (ultra orthodox) garb, and her dress clings perfectly to her ass, it's as if the woman is broadcasting "fuck me" - despite her modest dress. On the other hand, a man can hug a woman according to halacha if his sexuality emanates from a deep pure place and flows naturally."
SMB: "Halacha allows hugging women?"
MG:"I know with 100% certainty that there are orthodox rabbis who shake hands with women, even in Israel. I won't name names, I will only say that they are among the greatest rabbis. I have seen some of them give hugs to women. I hug all men and women in my community, and I communicate the same love for an old woman of 97 as I would for a young lady of 18. I am not prepared to live in a world without hugs.
"In the charedi world all sexual energy is illegitimate. All erotic meaning is unacceptable. However even the Chassidic masters said that swaying during prayer is a mating gesture, a sexual gesture. Is it chutzpah to say this? The Baal Shem Tov himself said that prayer is mating. I am not saying that prayer is sex, I am only saying that prayer is an experience of complete presence, one that can only be achieved via the act of love. Both in prayer and in making love one achieves a situation of being completely inside and feels the other. [The individual can] leave narrow egocentrism and love another."
SMB: "That is how you feel when you pray?"
MG My entire congregation feels this way when they pray. We sit in pairs, men across from women, with no regard for marital status, and we start to read the words of the prayers. Then we look deep into each other's eyes and we feel great love. This is not a sexual act. It is an act of love between a man and a woman in prayer. In Bayit Chadash prayer is an erotic experience.
"I am not saying that you should get carried away. Even by us there are limits. I have heard of a religious movement that has nude cross gender mikvah bathing. This won't happen in our community. We all remain clothed, and all physical touch is a caress of love."
SMB: "Even this small (touch) is foreign and strange to the orthodox world."
MG: "I know, I know. But I believe everyone needs to decide where he will take
his risks. I prefer to take risks in love."
Why Are People Telling Stories about Him?
Perhaps Rabbi Gafni has taken his risks for love too far, for indeed, the reason for our meeting is the recent wave of persistent publicity tying him to harassment of a sexual nature. It should be said at the outset that two of the central episodes occurred around twenty years ago, and according to Gafni's statements and documents, they may well be the result of persecution by a group of people who envy his success. But it is very hard to justify (or, clear) the Rabbi who so gushes with love when his most pronounced behaviors are characterized by hugging and touching and his main topics of conversation revolve around sex, eros and erotica. In any case, as Gafni's successful Torah community expands, these episodes have emerged, and today they have began to bob to the surface once again, threatening to sully the
reputation of the man whose students consider him a great scholar of Torah and Halacha.
"There are people who say, 'Gafni has gone too far in loving his fellow man,'" says the blushing young leader of the community, bubbling over with sorrow and rustling documents that attest to his innocence. "There are those who try to invalidate me out of jealously and pettiness, and because you can't invalidate a person for their ideas, they say 'Rabbi Gafni is an egomaniac, there are stories about him and sexual abuse.' In order to destroy the Bayit Hadash Congregation and distance me from he Rabbinate, they dredge up these old episodes all over and each time add new, piquant
"We have no problem whatsoever with Rabbi Mordechai Gafni's success," says one Rabbi who presently resides in the U.S. (the name is withheld by the editor). "We have a very serious problem with the testimony of women who have been hurt by him. I have known Gafni for over thirty years, and we were once friends. Even when he was very young, all sorts of rumors surrounded him involving women, and especially young girls upon whom he put his rabbinic authority to ill use, harassing and abusing them sexually, but there was never any proof. Every complaint was explained away by documents Gafni presented to testify to his innocence.
"Several years ago, it became public knowledge that Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who was until that point considered a highly successful figure on the New York educational scene and who had worked with youth, had in fact been harassing girls for thirty years. A Jewish Week reporter succeeded in interviewing several of Lanner's victims and exposing this serial abuser. Lanner was fired, formal complaints were lodged with the police, and Rabbi Lanner is presently in prison. Immediately after this case came into the public eye, women were empowered, and began talking openly about other rabbis who abuse women. The first on the list was Rabbi Gafni.
"Three women approached Vicki Polin, an activist in the Baltimore Jewish community who assist charedi victims of rape and sexual assault, and lodged complaints against Rabbi Mordechai Gafni. Polin sought out Rabbi Yosef Blau, Mashgiach Ruchani at Yeshiva University, and we all spoke to these young women and helped them in their recovery. At the end of the process, we all understood that Rabbi Gafni had destroyed their lives.
"After this, I kept my distance from Gafni. Earlier, I had asked to meet with him and speak to him. We sat together for five hours. Gafni had begun to establish himself in Israel and maintained contacts with many women and girls as a Torah authority. I was afraid for them. But Gafni insisted that Vicki Polin is crazy, and that the girls who complained were in love with him and turned against him because he had rebuffed their advances. He went so far as to compare himself to our forefather Joseph the Tzadik who withstood the enticement of Potiphar's wife. He carried on al along, shouting at the top of his lungs that everyone was jealous of him and his success in Israel.
"I said to him, 'Mordechai, listen. There are a lot of rabbis who are successful in Israel and people are not jealous of them. Why is that only about you there are these ugly stories?' He had no response. At one point in our conversation, I looked at him and said, 'Gafni, you need help. You are a sick person.' He, of course, did not accept what I said, so I backed away from him and disengaged."
The first episode took place 23 years ago, when Gafni was 20 years old. "I fell in love with a 14 year old girl," he reconstructs. "There was an incredible spiritual connection between us. She wrote me a letter describing her gentle and beautiful love. We were young and did nothing wrong except for a little fooling around. You know, some kissing and tits. We broke up after a year. I was not yet a rabbi then, and I never heard from that girl again.
"Five years ago, when the Bayit Hadash Congregation began to develop and gain public recognition, suddenly I was told that the girl was spreading lies about me, saying that I took advantage of her sexually when she was underage. A group of people who don't care for my ideology and the (spiritual) path of Bayit Hadash is publicizing these stories. When I was asked to respond, I said that to the best of memory, I was young and foolish and in love, and she was old beyond her years, and still I didn't do anything bad to her, and I have never in my life assaulted a woman, not sexually or in any other way."
"I was 13 and Gafni was 20," says the girl in a phone conversation from New York. "I was a little girl and didn't understand much. Gafni offered to help me with Talmud studies. Then he began to tell me that I am very special and he likes me. He also warned me not to tell anyone about his love, because they would all think that I am crazy and imagining things.
"One month later, he asked my parents' permission to sleep at our house. He said he wanted to go to a shul in the neighborhood. At night, he came into my room and woke me. He began to touch me and forced me to touch him. I started to cry and pushed him away, but he was much stronger than me. He said that if I told anyone he would hurt me and my parents.
"He did it every week for eight months. And every Shabbat morning he would pray intently and tell me that I should repent for what we did at night, because he also had prayed and repented. He didn't have sex with me because he was afraid I would get pregnant. At a certain point he was offered various shiduchim (arranged marriages) and he told me he was going to get married and all his problems would be over. Then he left me. Only years later I found the strength to tell some of my friends what had happened to me. With their help, I wrote a letter to a well-known rabbi who was friendly with Gafni in Israeland told him what had happened. But the rabbi has not answered my letter to this day."

Me writes:

A very interesting article in the Sofshavua (end of week) magazine supplement of the Friday Maariv. It seems Gafni intitiated this article to tell his side of the story. He does not come off well at all.

He basically claims everyone is jealous of his success.

Includes 2 huge giant color pictures (one is a 2 page photo spread, the other is the cover) that Gani posed for specifically for the story. I'm not sure what look Gafni was going for in these pictures. The cover has sitting in a chair arms and legs crossed with just a plain light bulb hanging from a wire in a completely empty blue room. He's wearing a white shirt and vest. He's not smiling. The 2 page spread has the same picture from his left side (no light bulb).

I don't know what he was going for, an intellectual look or the scary cult-leader in a blue prison cell look. I think he achieved the 2nd very well.

I would point out, as no one else has, that Gafni is also on the cover of the Friday Maariv (both the Israeli and international editions), he's right centre on the top cover under the Maariv header. With a caption for the article in the Sofshavua (end of week) magazine.



The Fondler
Rabbi Mordechai Gafni loves to hug and touch his flock.