(photo credit: REUTERS)
In June 2017, The Jerusalem Post published an editorial titled “Crime and no punishment.” In it, we argued that Moti Elon, once a promising and prominent National Religious rabbi turned convicted sex offender, should not be allowed to return to an educator position and reopen a yeshiva in Jerusalem where he could teach young students.
What prompted the editorial was news that Elon had opened a yeshiva in Jerusalem called “Beit Va’ad U’Midrash” and that he was once again meeting with and teaching young men. We also took issue with the support he was receiving from another rabbi, Haim Druckman, an Israel Prize laureate, former member of Knesset and dean of the prestigious Or Etzion Yeshiva.
Sadly, we could not have been more right. This week, news broke that Elon, a convicted sex criminal, was again abusing his position of power and had allegedly sexually assaulted a young man who had come to seek his counsel. The young man reportedly presented documentation of the assault in meetings with a group of rabbis, among them Druckman.
The Elon saga has been going on for years alongside the immoral cover up by rabbis and supporters who refused to come to terms with the news that the rabbi they held in high regard was a sex offender. In August 2013, Elon was convicted on two counts of indecent assault by force against a minor. He never served jail time and was instead given a six-month commuted sentence, which he served through community service, three years of probation and a NIS 10,000 fine he was ordered to pay the victim.
Elon denied the allegations, never admitted to his crime and never apologized to his victim. But, he also did not appeal his conviction in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, a sign possibly that he himself understood the evidence against him could not be refuted or overturned.
It is impossible to know, but had rabbis like Druckman taken the court’s decision seriously back in 2013, this young man might not have fallen victim to Elon’s new alleged sexual offenses. Druckman has a history in protecting sex offenders. In the 1990s, he allowed Ze’ev Kopolovich, rosh yeshiva of the prestigious Netiv Meir high school in Jerusalem, to continue teaching even as reports came to his attention that Kopolovich was sexually assaulting students. This went on until the rabbi was finally arrested and convicted.
Also then, earlier action by Druckman could have spared the pain of additional victims. Education Minister Naftali Bennett took an important step this week, saying Elon should not be allowed any further contact with students. We agree, but we would urge Bennett to consider an additional step – calling on Druckman to step down from his leadership role as the head of Bnei Akiva yeshivot in Israel. A man who has repeatedly supported sex offenders should also be held accountable.
The Elon case shows once again how much work is still needed within the Orthodox community to purge sex offenders and prevent them from repeating their crimes.
Elon’s misconduct was first handled in 2003 by the Takana Forum, a group of rabbis, educators, law professionals and therapists, which works to prevent sexual abuse.
The forum ordered Elon to relinquish his post as head of the prominent Yeshivat Hakotel and to withdraw from public appearances and community leadership roles.
At first, Elon agreed. He moved to a small town called Migdal near the Kinneret and agreed to refrain from holding private meetings with young men seeking his counsel.
But when rabbis like Druckman started to come out in his defense, he began to reemerge. Druckman’s defense continued even after Elon was convicted. In 2013, Druckman said he believed the court was mistaken in convicting Elon.
“I don’t believe there is anything in his Torah lessons that is not kosher, there is no reason not to learn from him or listen to Torah lessons from him,” the rabbi told Arutz Sheva at the time.
The Orthodox community needs to learn a lesson from this experience. Sex criminals are rarely one-time offenders and while every person is innocent until proven guilty, once a rabbi is convicted by the courts, there should be a zero-tolerance policy on allowing him back into public life.
The old rabbinic boys club needs to come to an end.
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