The religious-Zionist community is still in shock about Rabbi Moti Elon, the yeshiva head accused of molesting young men who approached him for advice. In synagogue yesterday morning, our rabbi drew some conclusions about how we could prevent similar incidents in the future.
- According to sociologist Max Weber there are three types of authority: traditional, legal-rational, and charismatic. Charismatic authority is the most powerful, yet the most unreliable and dangerous. Both children and adults need to think critically and even a bit cynically, to prevent being misled by a charismatic leader. No one, no matter how talented, spiritual and sincere, is perfect.
AddeRabbi has an excellent post on charismatic rabbis and teachers.
- The input of women is critical for discussions about complex issues within our community. Women are members of the Takana forum to prevent harassment and abuse by leaders in the religious-Zionist community.
- Young people with questions about sexual identity are at risk for emotional problems and suicide, particularly in a religious community. The young men who accused R. Elon had asked for counseling on this issue. But homosexual tendencies should be handled within the family, with professional advice and support. One of the congregants mentioned that R. Elon had often spoken out strongly against homosexuality. Ironically, his actions may now give Orthodox homosexuals “permission” to come out.
- All institutions should publish written rules meant to prevent harassment and abuse, including keeping a door open when a teacher meets with a student, and prohibiting physical contact. He said that in order to correct a serious problem, it’s often necessary to go to the opposite extreme.
A note on the last point: The problem with rules is that charismatic leaders have a way of convincing people that rules don’t apply to them. Guidelines need to be publicized widely and universally enforced.
Afterward I approached the rabbi to ask about Takana’s delay in publicizing the events. He explained that when the Takana forum received the first complaints, it worried about libel. The complainants insisted on secrecy to protect R. Elon, whom they continued to admire.
By forcing him to resign from all official positions, the Takana forum minimized R. Elon’s power and influence and no new incidents came to light. About a year ago, R. Elon broke the signed agreement and began seeing people individually (this contradicts Takana’s statement: see below). Our rabbi is not sure whether the initial secrecy was the correct approach.
Update: According to Takana’s own statement, there were reports all along that he was holding private meetings. Yet no action was taken for three years. The statement does not mention new complaints from that period. Lurker’s translation and emphasis: “R. Elon did not abide by the restrictions that were placed upon him, and in particular, in the realm of personal relationships. The disclosure [to the public] came only after, throughout the years, R. Elon was warned multiple times that if he does not act within the framework of the restrictions that were placed on him, we would be forced to publicize the matter.”
Takana’s existence, and taking on this challenging case—its first one—are a step in the right direction. In the past complaints of abuse and harassment were ignored or denied. I still believe that the events should have been publicized earlier to empower victims who had not yet come forward and prevent future incidents. Admiration for Rabbi Elon and concern for his family (who, of course, were also victims) took precedence over the need for the public to know.
We as a community are not yet dealing effectively with issues of harassment and abuse.
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