Rabbi Chaim Druckman, one of the most prominent rabbis of the national-religious
movement, has responded to Rabbi Mordechai Elon’s conviction for indecent
assault by force against a minor by employing him as a teacher in the Or Etzion
Yeshiva where Druckman serves as the rosh yeshiva. This has sent shockwaves
through the religious-Zionist community, and also poses a serious challenge to
the Bayit Yehudi political party.
Naftali Bennett, the head of Bayit
Yehudi, ran on a platform which highlighted religious reform. A charismatic
personality, he communicates well with secular Israelis and has even succeeded
in projecting himself as a trendy liberal. But until now, due either to
inability or unwillingness, he has failed to confront the tough issues of
Bayit Yehudi cannot remain on the sidelines in relation
to such a fundamental issue as sexual misconduct within the rabbinic community.
If it does not respond appropriately to this latest imbroglio, it will
contribute to its own demise.
It is not my intention to provide a
detailed analysis of the tragic Elon issue. Rabbi Elon was one of the leading
and most charismatic rabbis within the religious- Zionist movement. His weekly
Torah television presentations were widely popular. He was at one time head of
the renowned Yeshivat Hakotel, headed the Horev School and was considered a
candidate for chief rabbi. To this day he retains numerous followers who insist
on his innocence.
The Elon case was drawn to the attention of Takana, a
forum of prominent rabbis and respected religious laymen established to deal
with issues of sexual abuse within the national-religious sector.
by the evidence presented to them, Takana confronted Rabbi Elon who allegedly
confessed to a number of incidents which occurred in schools and hotels. Takana
sources claim he expressed contrition and undertook to move to Migdal in
northern Israel and to cease all public engagements.
However, Rabbi Elon
subsequently reneged on his commitment and resumed contact with young
As a result, Takana reported him to the authorities and he was
arrested. The court was only presented with two cases because most parents
declined to press charges in order to protect their children from public
Rabbi Elon was convicted on two counts of indecent assault by
force against a minor, for which he received a suspended 15-month prison
sentence and probation for three years. He was also required to perform six
months’ community service and pay a NIS 10,000 fine.
verdict, Rabbi Elon claimed that the allegations against him were false and
displayed no remorse. His fervent supporters went so far as to accuse Rabbi
Aharon Lichtenstein and Rabbi Dov Lior, rabbis from opposite ends of the
national-religious spectrum, of conspiring with other rabbis to destroy Rabbi
Elon out of envy of his high public standing.
Rabbi Druckman also came to
his defense. An Israel Prize winner, former MK and cabinet minister, the
spiritual leader of the Bnei Akiva youth movement and head of its network of
yeshivot, he is one of the doyens of the religious-Zionist movement.
Rabbi Druckman did not merely disagree with the findings of the court. He
defiantly proclaimed that Rabbi Elon would continue teaching at his yeshiva, Or
It is noteworthy that he had previously been questioned by the
attorney-general for having defended the convicted pedophile Ze’ev Kopolevitch,
former head of Jerusalem’s Netiv Meir Yeshiva High School who was convicted of
indecent acts against his students.
For Rabbi Druckman to defy the
findings of the courts and his own colleagues – even if he is personally
convinced of Rabbi Elon’s innocence – repudiates respect for the rule of law and
Indeed there are many who question whether a person
convicted of sexually abusing minors or enabling others to do so should retain
the title “rabbi.” If the same rabbis were found to be transgressing Shabbat or
kashrut, surely their titles would be removed. Is sexual abuse of innocent
children considered a lesser affront to Judaism? Rabbi Druckman’s behavior
demonstrates that a rabbi who is deeply respected for his learning and piety is
not necessarily qualified to deal with broad communal issues – especially so if
he lacks an understanding of worldly affairs.
Many have condemned Rabbi
Druckman’s decision to invite Rabbi Elon to continue teaching at his
state-funded hesder yeshiva, describing the act as a chillul Hashem – a
desecration of God’s name – and urging him to reverse his decision.
number of distressed parents who claim that their children were abused have
created a Facebook group “Supporters of the Victims of Rabbi Elon” that states
that “those who deny sexual violence, commit sexual violence.” World Bnei Akiva
co-chairman Daniel Goldmann has publicly supported efforts to pressure Druckman
to sever his relationship with Elon. So far there has been no movement in this
Sexual abuse in Jewish religious institutions has emerged as
one of the most tragic issues of our generation.
Fearing scandal, rabbis
in the past were often inclined not to report such cases to the authorities,
thus enabling pedophiles to continue preying on children as they moved on to
other religious educational institutions.
The question must also be asked
whether Takana itself did not err by failing to immediately report the case to
the authorities. Making an informal agreement with a man they consider to be a
sexual predator may have resulted in other children being molested.
the political party claiming to represent the religious- Zionist community,
Bayit Yehudi cannot simply bury its head in the sand and ignore this issue. It
is obliged to demand that Rabbi Druckman, who is considered the spiritual leader
of their youth movement, Bnei Akiva, distance himself from a convicted sexual
Yet, when pressed to comment in a radio interview, Minister
Bennett merely responded: “I think a man convicted of this should not be
teaching. Certainly not for a period of time.” Really? Does Bennett believe that
a person convicted of sexually abusing minors should ever again be permitted
access to them? Only Bayit Yehudi MK Uri Orbach responded appropriately, saying
that convicted sex offenders “must not be permitted to teach young people... And
that first and foremost we have to stand behind the victims.”
religious Zionists, the Rabbi Druckman/ Rabbi Elon issue is a litmus test of
Bayit Yehudi’s willingness to stand up and be counted. They are understandably
asking: “How can a religious-Zionist party seeking to promote Jewish values
remain silent when one of its leading rabbis adopts such an outrageous stand and
openly defies the rule of law?” If Naftali Bennett cannot get his act together
and display leadership on such an issue, there is little hope that his party
will fulfill its mandate to bring about the religious reformation that he
promised and Israel so desperately needs.
The writer’s website can be
viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at