Elon’s lesson

Pursuit of justice, even against a highly respected rabbi, should not be confused with an attack on Judaism.

Rabbi Moti Elon 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Rabbi Moti Elon 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Judaism contains an infinite reservoir of inspiration, wisdom and faith for Jews and non-Jews alike. It has given humanity the Bible from which both Christianity and Islam emerged. Some of the most profound and influential Western thinking about morality, the good society and the purpose of life have been derived from the Bible and its commentaries. Its impact on the founding fathers of America is well documented.
Even the more inclusively Jewish Talmud and its commentaries has been shown to have had a crucial impact on the thought of men such as John Selden, one of 17thcentury England’s foremost jurists, and others.
And, of course, for many Jews, Judaism is the sine qua non of their very being that encompasses faith, practice and cultural identity.
But like any religion, Judaism, when confronted with scandal within its ranks, sometimes operates according to a warped and ultimately self-destructive inner dynamic in which secrecy is maintained and reputation is protected even if the worst of injustices are performed.
Not unlike the ongoing sex scandal that has been rocking the Catholic Church, the case of Rabbi Mordechai “Moti” Elon, one of the most charismatic spiritual leaders in the religious-Zionist movement, is a painful example of this phenomenon.
Within the religious-Zionist community – as with other religious communities Jewish and not – incredible pressures are brought to bear against the victims of sexual harassment to discourage them from filing police charges against spiritual leaders like Elon, out of a belief that this somehow protects Judaism’s good name.
Self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish religion’s reputation sacrifice the welfare not only of those who have suffered sexual abuse but also of those who might suffer it in the future. In a cruel distortion of Judaism’s message of justice for the weak, the Torah is marshaled to protect the criminal and blame the victim.
Young men and women who dare come forward to complain about sexual abuse are accused of transgressing the Torah’s prohibition against slander, while the revered rabbi or teacher who shamelessly exploited his student’s confidence is transformed into the victim of a witch hunt. While shame plays a central role in discouraging victims of sexual abuse from going public, in tight-knit, relatively insular communities this is especially true. And this fact is not overlooked by those who use shame to intimidate victims.
In short, the ends justify the means – out of a misguided desire to prevent the desecration of God’s name (Hilul Hashem), crimes are covered up. In the process, a much larger desecration is committed.
To combat this self-destructive dynamic, a group of religious Zionist rabbis and educators formed the Takana Forum. Only by providing a discreet alternative to a standard police complaint, could the problem of sexual harassment in the religious-Zionist community be properly treated, the members of the forum believed.
Seven years ago, after hearing the testimonies of Elon’s victims, the Takana Forum concluded that Elon had to be exiled from formal education. At the time, his abrupt departure from his position as dean of the capital’s Yeshivat Hakotel was explained as a result of work-related stress. But the limitations of the forum’s policy of discretion and taking care of things behind closed doors soon became apparent. Ignoring the Takana Forum’s ruling, Elon gradually returned to teaching.
Indeed, the tremendous pressure to protect the reputation of Elon and, by extension, the entire religious-Zionist community, nearly prevented justice from being done.
Ofir Sagi, the state prosecutor in charge of Elon’s case, told Army Radio on Thursday about the difficulty of finding victims willing to testify against the rabbi. In the middle of the trial, one of only two victims who were willing to bring charges against Elon pulled out. We can only guess what methods of intimidation were deployed.
“Wednesday’s conviction will, one hopes, send a message to other victims not to remain quiet,” Sagi said. We pray Sagi is right.
The beauties of the Jewish religion are apparent to all who have experienced them. Pursuit of justice, even against a highly respected rabbi, should not be confused with an attack on Judaism. It is, instead, the ultimate affirmation of Judaism’s underlying ideals.