Rabbi sex scandal is breaking my heart

By Naomi Ragen, February 18, 2010
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This week's announcement by Takana, the Religious Zionist forum working against sexual misconduct by rabbis and teachers, accusing Rabbi Motti Elon of being a "danger to the public" and demanding he resign from all teaching and rabbinic positions, has Israelis in turmoil.

In the past several decades, no rabbinic figure in Israel has been more prominent than Motti Elon. Son of a Supreme Court Justice and the brother of former Knesset Member Benny Elon, he was not only one of the undisputed leaders of modern Orthodox Jewry, a charismatic and beloved teacher and yeshivah head, but also well-known to the average secular Israeli through his inspiring weekly television and radio lectures.

And so, when he disappeared with shocking suddenness from public life in 2006, many assumed that he was taking a well-earned vacation. However, he failed to return, moving his family to Migdal, a small town near the Kinneret in the Galilee. Takana revealed this week that Rav Motti's disappearance from public life was part of a deal to allow Takana to keep the allegations of sexual misconduct with students private.

Now, however, with Rav Elon once again taking on educational roles in Migdal, the Takana forum felt it had no choice but to go public.

I cannot describe the absolute chaos and furore that has resulted from these allegations. The scandal has pitted modern Orthodoxy against itself in a way that I, personally, have never before experienced. On the one side, there is the deeply respected Rav who, to many, represents the best of the best in Torah leadership. On the other stand, the most respected religious Zionist rabbis, educators, yeshivah heads, attorneys and academics - among them Rav Yaakov Ariel, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, and Rav Yuval Cherlow.

Rabbi Elon has vehemently denied wrongdoing, saying the allegations derived from one "seriously disturbed" student, and adding that the charges constituted "a blood libel, but I am happy that the truth is beginning to emerge".

Some have complained, perhaps justifiably, that these allegations should have been brought to the police. On the other hand, Takana spokesmen said they acted with the knowledge of the attorney-general, and that those filing their complaints are adults who would never have come forward if it involved exposing themselves to public scrutiny.

Indeed, Takana was founded as a noble and much needed attempt by well-respected rabbis to deal with rabbinical misconduct in such a way that would allow victims to come forward without fear of reprisals. The Israeli Charedi world, in contrast, has shown no interest at all in such a forum.

Whatever the outcome of this case, the courage of Takana's members in facing this public storm in order to shelter those who have come forward and those who might be future victims must be seen as a sign of renewal in the religious-Zionist community.

Thus my heartbreak on hearing such allegations is mitigated. From now on, Orthodox victims of sexual abuse will be able to complain openly in the knowledge that they will not face the consequences alone.

Naomi Ragen is a Jerusalem-based novelist

    Last updated: 4:35pm, June 3 2010

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