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.