Rabbi Mordechai Gafni Accused Of Rape, Fired – The Chofetz Chaim Was Wrong

JewSchool’s Dan Sedarski, AKA Mobius, reports Rabbi Mordechai Gafni (previously known as Mordechai Winiarz), an admitted sexual predator who fled the US after allegations of abuse surfaced, has been fired from his Israeli pulpit for – alleged sexual abuse and rape. Gafni, a man I met once years ago and immediately filed in my "creep file, " has lived under the protection these past few years of the leaders of the Jewish Renewal Movement and of the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy, including Rabbis Saul Berman (of Edah), Joseph Telushkin, and others. Victims’ advocates are calling for the heads of these rabbis. Is this justifiable?

I think that depends on the individual circumstances. But I do believe the following: These rabbinic backers of Rabbi Gafni all cited the Chofetz Chaim and claimed the laws of lashon hara did not permit publication of information related to Gafni’s crimes. This is a common assertion in the rabbinic world. The Chofetz Chaim’s code of speech, as well intentioned as its author clearly was, ends up protecting powerful abusers and criminals, while at the same time oppressing victims and the powerless.

A point from recent history. Rabbi Mordechai Willig excoriated relatives of Rabbi Baruch Lanner’s victims, silencing some and damaging all. He did so based in large part on the Chofetz Chaim. Lanner was eventually exposed, arrested, tried and convicted – no thanks to Rabbi Willig and the other OU leadership who protected Lanner to the end.

This pattern repeats itself, because, as critics of the Chofetz Chaim told him, your codification – no matter how technically accurate – lends itself to this exact type of abuse. The Chofetz Chaim did not understand this, much as he did not understand the need for Jews to leave Europe. (In fairness, note the Chofetz Chaim died in 1933, years before Kristallnacht. But a secular leader like Ze’ev Jabotinsky did see the danger that early, and did urge Jews to flee.)

Along with the removal of any of Gafni’s backers whose actions warrant removal, we should ‘remove’ the root cause – the Chofetz Chaim itself. Our society’s first job is to protect its weakest members. If only rabbis would busy themselves with that holy task, rather than spend copious amounts of time cozying up to the rich and powerful. If only …

The Chofetz Chaim was wrong.

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25 Comments

Filed under Crime, Israel, Jewish Leadership, Modern Orthodoxy

25 responses to “Rabbi Mordechai Gafni Accused Of Rape, Fired – The Chofetz Chaim Was Wrong

  1. Yochanan Lavie

    I knew Lanner from NCSY and one of his schools. He was a creep. I have also heard disturbing things about Sholmo Carlebach, who I like. The charedim, center Orthodox, MO, it seems like the rabbinate is rotten to the core, regardless of ideology. That, plus personal negative experiences, is leading to question the whole enterprise.

  2. Nigritude Ultramarine

    When I was a bochur, my rosh yeshiva, zt”l, told us not to think that the Chofetz Chaim arrived at his madrega overnight. It’s mashmah that the laws of loshon harah as explained by the Chofetz Chaim is not for everyone.

  3. Nigritude Ultramarine

    >That, plus personal negative experiences,
    >is leading to question the whole enterprise

    Sadly, I am too. I have not always been a big fan of Shmarya and his blog, but I do believe he is a well-intentioned individual who’s just applying a bit of “tough-love.”

  4. B”H
    Shalom everyone!
    Shmarya I studied Chofetz Chaim he lists many exceptions when it’s permited or in fact a mitzvah to publicize bad behaviour. The fact that people choose to misinterpret Chofetz Chaim do defend their innaction due to their personal desire to avoid getting involved is their fault not his.
    Besides that, suppose it would be true that Choftez Chaim’s interpretations of the laws of shmiras haloshon are too restrictive what is the point of this post?
    How is it not a loshon horah with no toeles unless you’d provide an alternative source people can learn?
    Gut Shabbos!

  5. K Popper

    Rav Willig asked for mechilah from the family and apologized in a very public forum. Your comments are out of line. Otherwise, though, a good post.

  6. Shemras Halashon

    An important article that argues that even the Chafetz Chayim would agree with publicizing this information-Let Them Talk: The Mitzvah to Speak Lashon Hara by Rabbi Mark Dratch– can be found at:
    http://www.jsafe.org/pdfs/Lashon%20Hara%20and%20Abuse.pdf

  7. Lawrence M. Reisman

    The comment that “The Chofetz Chaim did not …understand the need for Jews to leave Europe. Is wrong. In 1929, he told Rav Elchonon Wasserman that a churban was coming that would make WWI look tame by comparison, and that the only safe place was Eretz Yisroel. Of course, by the time he made that comment, the first British White paper was in effect, the Jewish Agency had control over all entry permits to Palestine, and Orthodox Jews were being kept out to the greatest extent possible.

  8. And a record of that comment was made by whom? Publicized where?

    Or is this one of those “historical events” suddenly remembered just as ArtScroll was about to publish a book on either man?

    Please.

  9. Lawrence M. Reisman

    Shmarya asks about the comment I attributed to the Chofetz Chaim. I read it in the JO back in the early 1970s, when ArtScroll was still a printing firm doing wedding invitations, and no one had even conceived of ArtScroll biographies.

  10. Mobius banned me on Jewschool. I guess, I’m not helping the Jewish Renewal’s spin and damage control. So here are my deleted comments. Apparently, attacking Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s veracity gets my comment deleted.

    Here’s the deleted post in response to low-life Waskow’s non-apology statement.

    When will the Jewish Renewal leadership ever learn that the truth can never be silenced?

    see: http://jewschool.com/?p=10581 comments for Mobius’ ban

    Waskow is a %#^&#@#3 liar:

    1) Two groups in the Renewal movement, Aleph and Elat Chayyim, looked into the allegations against Rabbi Gafni and found “no evidence of wrongdoing,” according to Rabbi Arthur Waskow. (The three women said they were never contacted.) And that’s an investigation?

    2) I heard rumors that the Jewish Renewal folks attempted to “investigate” the claims made against Gafni several months ago. Rabbi Pam Frydman Baugh headed this “investigation.” I’ve been told by a reliable source that Rabbi Baugh spoke at length to one of the three survivors named in the Jewish Week article, and attempted to silence her. The survivor was told NOT to tell any one of what happened to her, for fear it would contaminate the Jewish Renewal investigation. I was curious, what kind of forensic training or experience does Rabbi Baugh have, or any of the other members of the Jewish Renewal’s tribunal? How many other cases of alleged abuse have they handled? What were their outcomes? I guess I should also ask the same question regarding the honorable Rabbi Saul Berman?

    3) Here’s a response to Telushkin, Berman and Firestone by someone who claims to have been a victim of Gafni. SWG writes 10/5/04 on Protocols:

    As one of the victims of Mordechai Winiarz/Gafni, I am writing to express my outrage at the supporters of Gafni who, without ever having spoken with me or the other victims referred to in Gary Rosenblatt’s article (Sept. 24) claim that all the allegations were explored and found to be completely unsubstantiated.

    First, none of the three of us were ever contacted by any agency or by Gafni and/or any of his followers for the purpose of conducting any sort of investigation of what occurred many years ago. It’s outrageous that they claim that they delved into every allegation and spoke with numerous people and rabbis and completely exonerated Gafni. Who do they think they are?

    The fact that Gafni is a charismatic and effective speaker and writer is irrelevant when serious charges of rape/ sexual abuse of minors and sexual abuse/harrassment of a young adult are the issues. His own quotes in Rosenblatt’s article are his own worst enemy. And, whether or not “teshuvah” has been sought by Gafni is for G-d to determine–not Rabbis Berman, Telushkin, and Carmi(?).

    When I sought help from various rabbis in the Orthodox community after my and another young girl’s experiences, I was shocked at the vigorous attempts of rabbinic “leaders” to quash our attempts to pursue a true investigation. A well-known rabbi in Lawrence said, “Sometimes the bigger person is the one who can just let things go.” The woman sexually assaulted by Winiarz when she was 13 attempted to contact Berman many times. He refused to take her calls and has never spoken with her. Kudos to Gary Rosenblatt for his courage and willlingness to explore this ugly issue which exposes the hypocrisy of so-called “rabbis” and defenders of Winiarz/Gafni.

    4) And let’s not forget this Jewish Renewal morality misfit who libelled Gafni’s survivors as rodfim , he needs to be tossed out from the rabbanute and public life as well.

    By Rabbi Arthur Green
    Although I am not a regular reader of The Jewish Week, a New York colleague sent me your column regarding Rabbi Mordechai Gafni (”The Re-Invented Rabbi,” Sept. 24). It makes me wonder whether journalistic honors and awards are as rescindable as rabbinic smicha seems to be.

    I have known Rabbi Gafni for several years and think highly of his abilities as a creative teacher of Torah. As a trusted friend, I also know how he struggles with a personal history that includes some genuinely bad deeds done when he was quite young, some 20 years ago. He has been relentlessly persecuted for those deeds by a small band of fanatically committed rodfim, in whom proper disapproval of those misdeeds combines with jealously, anger at his swerving from Orthodoxy, and a range of other emotions.

    Perhaps this rabbi should be made to confront his past more fully. A bet din before a mutually accepted rabbi would be the right setting for that. But the public press? Who set you up as ruler and judge over us? Is this responsible journalism?

    Rabbi Gafni has more or less been assassinated in the Jewish community. None of his explanations will mean much against the whispering that will accompany him forever, thanks to your article, within the confines of our extended gossipy shtetl. You have taken it upon yourself, on erev Yom Kippur, to drive a man away from Jewish life. In the absence of anything like a “smoking gun” evidenced in present or recent conduct, I find this journalistically and Jewishly abhorrent.
    Rabbi Arthur Green
    Newton, Mass.

    Who do these Jewish Renewal leaders think they are?

    We know who and what they are …. garbage. The human refuse that protects child molesters and sexual predators.

    Keep your Kabbalistic “Chesed (overflowing lovingkindness)” … to yourself. This is about evil and those who protected it at the expense of the vulnerable.

    I want justice. I want all of you morally challenged garbage OUT of the leadership of MY community. You have no integrity, no decency and now you have been demonstrated to be unfit for the title of Rabbi which you have completely soiled.

    Damn you Waskow. Damn you Green.

    Damn all of you who protected Gafni.

  11. “Shmarya asks about the comment I attributed to the Chofetz Chaim. I read it in the JO back in the early 1970s, when ArtScroll was still a printing firm doing wedding invitations, and no one had even conceived of ArtScroll biographies.”

    Agudath Israel’s house organ is not exactly an unbiased source.

  12. Schneur

    1. Why attack the Chafetz Chaim, even secularJews of his day admitted he was a truly ethical person.
    2. The person who is really guilty is the chief rabbi of Efrat Shlomo Riskin , he rehabbed Gaffni, gave him a new name and identity and launched his career in Israel.
    3. Some of Gaffni’s defenders have their own problems in the “grey zone”. And I do not refer to the orthodox rabbis you name.The mashgiach ruchni of the famed baranowitz yeshiva in White russia Rav Lubachevski HY”D once said that you need not find merit if you see a person climbing in a window in someone’s home at night. You need not say that the person is trying to fix something etc. rather call the police -he is obvioulsty aburglar !. In our case too when we see a serial sexual predator it behooves the rabbinic community to “police” him. I am only aware of 1 rav who is firm about this and that is rabbi Yosef Blau the mashgiach at YU Kol hakavod !

  13. Reuel

    Shmarya,

    “The seal of God is truth.”

    So.

    Can you provide a quote, from anytime, anywhere, corroborating your assertion that Saul Berman was among those who “…cited the Chofetz Chaim and claimed the laws of lashon hara did not permit publication of information related to Gafni’s crimes”?

    Or does the truth thing only apply to other people?

  14. He and Rabbi telushkin signed a letter defending Gafni that said this. It was circulated widely.

    So.

    Do you just accuse those you do not like or do you check it out first?

  15. Warren

    Could you provide more info on contemporary critics of the CC’s codification of the laws of LH? thanks

  16. There’s actually a gloss in, if I remember correctly, Yorah Dayah, that mentions this. I just can’t remember the exact citation. There are also haredi sources that mention this. Unfortunately, I can’t give you exact citations.

  17. Reuel

    Shmarya,

    The entire text of that letter is still online in several places. It says no such thing.

  18. Send me a copy please.

  19. First line of the letter:

    “Words can elevate and words can destroy.”

    And this is a reference to what, exactly? Weight control?

  20. Reuel

    Shmarya,

    My friend, if you are in a hole, it is wise to stop digging. Admit that you made the accusation without checking the text of the letter and move on. We all make mistakes. Even Saul Berman makes mistakes.

  21. No mistake on my part. “Words can elevate and words can destroy.”

    Yup. Not talking about lashon hara. No, no.

    You’re delusional.

  22. Hman

    Several years ago, Saul Berman, a notorious leftist gave a talk at Ramath Orah on the upper west side. He spoke about how we should approach war from a halachic perspective and used the Rambam extensively and if my memory does not fail me, solely as his source.

    To make a long story short, having studied the subject two days in depth, prior to hearing this ‘shiur’ I could not believe what I was hearing.

    I can not go into details here about how I caught him off guard, however, he attempted to wiggle out of it by stating that he holds like the sifrei when the Rambams psak is not in accordance with it. When I pointed out that in another area of the ‘shiur’, a matter of grave importance, that he openly went in accordance with the Rambam against the sifrei, he blushed and said, “I guess I should be more consistent shouldn’t I?”

    The morally bamboozled are capable of obfuscation in many areas. I am just amazed that they are so willing to expose themselves in public.

  23. franji

    “The morally bamboozled are capable of obfuscation in many areas.”
    Reb Hman
    What morality are we talking about here?
    that reflected by the colour and the size of the sombrero?
    Have we not learned that our religion is dependent on pursuing the commendments as we received them? not on morality. Morality is as yourself would put it, “a leftist” scam! no?!. 🙂

  24. Hman

    I believe that anyone who deliberately and with full knowlege distorts Torah concepts to me morally challanged. Therefore, if someone such as Burman has the capacity of distorting the truth within the area of halacha as he does, it does not phase me that he would be equally bankrupt regarding this matter.

    The morality that we are talking about is the ability to be honest. So the commandment that I would hold Burman and others to would be ‘distance yourself from falsehood’.

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