May 18, 2006

Rabbi Fired Over Sex Claims, Defenders Offer Mea Culpa


May 19, 2006

An Israeli-based spiritual institute has fired its main rabbi over sexual abuse claims, less than two years after several prominent American religious figures rallied to defend him against earlier allegations.

At least five female students and staff members have come forward to accuse Rabbi Mordechai Gafni of luring them into sexual relationships through intimidation, psychological manipulation and deception. Late last week, Gafni, an Orthodox-trained rabbi who has become a star of the New Age-style Jewish Renewal movement, was dismissed from his position as the head of Bayit Chadash, a center on the Sea of Galilee that he co-founded six years ago.

Gafni subsequently issued a public apology for having "hurt people I love," and said that he would seek in-patient treatment for what he called "a sickness."

A number of prominent American rabbis who publicly backed Gafni when allegations surfaced in the fall of 2004 have said that they now regret their previous support. Among those voicing regret are Rabbi Saul Berman, the leader of the liberal Orthodox organization Edah; Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, an Orthodox author best known for his accessible books on Judaism; Rabbi Arthur Green, dean of the rabbinical school of Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., and former president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, leader of Congregation Nevei Kodesh, a Jewish Renewal community in Boulder, Colo., and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia and a leader of the Jewish Renewal movement.

Posted by kshaw at May 18, 2006 06:00 AM