Rabbi Mordechai (Motti) Elon on Tuesday insisted he would keep silent in the face of allegations of inappropriate behavior made against him by a rabbinical forum that works to prevent sexual harassment in the national-religious sector.
“I believe that out of this crisis only a great joy will arise and have therefore decided to remain silent,” Elon told students and supporters at the northern moshav of Migdal on Tuesday, responding to allegations that he may have committed “acts in contradiction to the values of sanctity and morality.”
The Takana forum posted an announcement Monday warning that Elon was dangerous to the public and demanded he step down from all rabbinical, teaching and community responsibilities.
The organization referred to the statement as “painful and sad,” but said the issue must be brought to a resolution.
The rabbi had relocated from Jerusalem to Migdal some four years ago, citing health reasons as the explanation for the unexpected move.
“Meaning to prevent desecration of God’s name, I did illogical things,” Elon said Tuesday, referring to his decision to leave Jerusalem and move to the North.
Elon has denied all of the allegations against him and said they derived from one “seriously disturbed” student, adding that the charges constituted “a blood libel, but I am happy that the truth is beginning to emerge,” he said.
The incident has brought media attention to Takana, an organization that deals with complaints of sexual harassment by teachers or administrators in the religious school system.
The organization’s Web site refers to Takana as “the forum for treatment and prevention of sexual harassment by teachers and authority figures in the religious sector,” and says it was founded by a broad group of religious community leaders in 2003 “to create a framework to deal with sexual harassment by teachers and authority figures within the religious community.”
The organization states its guidelines are not meant to replace the authority of the state, rather that it helps victims who, for personal or other reasons, feel uncomfortable going to the police.
The forum says it first informs every complainant of the legal options against the alleged attacker. It says that for many members of the community, submitting a complaint to Takana is seen as a way to report the crime and deal with it, without worrying about the reaction of the religious community.
Rabbi Avi Giser, a member of the secretariat forum of Takana and the chief rabbi of Ofra, told The Jerusalem Post
Tuesday that Takana serves as a way to address complaints of sexual abuse or harassment for a community in which reporting such acts creates a new set of problems.
“I don’t think there is a difference in the rates of claims of harassment in the religious community versus the secular community, but there is more pressure [on complainants] in the religious system,” Giser said, saying that in additional to communal pressure, relations between students and rabbis makes getting to the bottom of complaints more difficult.
“The big difference is in terms of the relationship between rabbis and students. The rabbi is viewed as a highly respected figure and there is often a lot of fear that prevents people from coming out against him. There is also sometimes a sort of innocent belief that some people have that tells them that if the rabbi does something, it’s okay.”
Giser, who refused to comment on the allegations against Elon, denied any insinuation that Takana functions as a means of keeping complaints about harassment in the religious sector “in-house” to confront such issues without police involvement or media attention.
“The reality is the exact opposite. Our initial advice to any complainant who comes to us is to go to the police,” he said.
Giser said the majority of complainants contact the organization specifically because they can report what happened without it going to the police or being made public.
Giser said the organization “tries to provide victims support and look into the allegations, and if we believe the accused party is someone who could be a danger to children we work to extract them from this situation.”
Meanwhile, in view of criticism aimed at Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz for not ordering a criminal investigation against Elon in 2006, when he was allegedly informed of the affair, the Attorney-General’s Office made public a letter sent Tuesday to Yehudit Shilat, the head of the Takana forum.
According to Raz Nazri, who served as Mazuz’s senior aide and continues to serve Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein in the same capacity, in June 2006, Bar-Ilan University Professor Yedidia Stern, a member of the forum, asked for a meeting and told Mazuz about “a specific matter involving a senior rabbi.” Stern did not name the rabbi at the time.
It is not clear from Nazri’s letter exactly what Stern told Mazuz. Afterwards, Stern met with Mazuz and the state attorney and “related the facts” to them in person and, later in a letter.
On July 6, 2006, in a letter to Takana, Mazuz told the forum that “we expect that in any case in which a suspicion arises during the procedures conducted by Takana that a criminal act has been perpetrated you will submit a statement, as detailed as possible, to the attorney-general.”
Mazuz went on to say that in such circumstances, Article 270 of the Penal Law allowed for the possibility that the Takana procedures would continue and the attorney-general would not launch a criminal investigation.
This, he continued, would depend “on the contribution that the forum makes in the struggle to reveal and handle instances of sexual harassment.”
In the specific case of Elon, continued Nazri, the attorney-general decided to let Takana continue handling the matter, partly because of the organization’s work and aims and partly because “we estimated that we would not be able to achieve anything by taking the criminal course, primarily because of the complainaint’s firm refusal to lodge a complaint with the police or cooperate with a police investigation, as you explained in your letter.”
Mazuz also informed Takana that because Elon may have committed similar acts that the forum did not know about, he would consider letting the police know about the allegation against him. The attorney-general did so in October 2006.
Two months ago, continued Nazri, Takana informed the attorney-general that Elon had allegedly violated the conditions that the forum had set down and was worried that the rabbi might have sexually harassed others. At the same time, it asked the attorney-general to guarantee that it would give legal backing to Takana if the forum published its suspicions against Elon and in response, someone who regarded himself as a victim of Elon’s actions sued Takana for not publishing the suspicion against him in 2006. This, the attorney-general refused to do, wrote Nazri.
“We reiterate, as we did on more than one occasion in writing and in our discussions with you, and as you agreed, that in situations of this nature, where a criminal act is suspected, one should first try to persuade the complainant to file a complaint with the police in order to investigate the matter and handle it ‘in the optimal way’ via the responsible authorities,” wrote Nazri.
But he added that the attorney-general understood this was not always possible.
Nazri concluded by stressing that in the event additional complaints against Elon surface, Takana “must notify the police immediately.” Jonah Mandel contributed to this report.