Takanah and Elon: Where Was Pity for Victims?

keep secretIn recent days prominent rabbi Mordechai (Moti) Elon, founder of the religious Zionist outreach organization  Mibereshit, has been accused of sexual harassment of young men in counseling situations. The religious Zionist forum Takanah (mentioned in the case of the founder of Megeirot) learned of the allegations several years ago. In its statement, the first anyone heard of the story, Takanah reports on a deal with the rabbi to leave Jerusalem for the smaller, more isolated northern town of Migdal. Elon also agreed to stop counseling.

Lurker explains why covering up harassment and molestation is a bad thing. Takanah was formed to protect the past and future victims of sexual abuse and harassment. Instead they protected the powerful rabbi. As Lurker writes:

By engaging in this sort of “not in my backyard” cover-up, the members of Takana showed that they have learned nothing whatsoever from the many similar cases of rabbinic sexual abuse that have preceeded this one. Habitual sexual predators always repeat their pathological behavior. The people who bear the brunt of the responsibility for Elon’s victims over the last four years are the committee members themselves.

Not at all surprsingly, other victims are now starting to come out with their stories:

New harassment claims against Rabbi Elon

As someone who closely followed the Baruch Lanner scandal for two decades, I find this entire scandal nauseatingly familiar:

  1. The shameful cover-up to protect the sexual predator and the community.
  2. The inevitable recidivism of the predator.
  3. The publication of the facts only after the cancer has metastasized into something too outrageous to ignore.
  4. The victims who finally find the courage to speak up only after (and because) the scandal has become public knowledge.
  5. The cruel demonization of the predator’s hapless victims.
  6. The crowds of blind groupies living in group denial, ready to defend the predator regardless of the facts or the cost for future victims.
  7. It’s the same story every single time — Lanner, Kolko, Weinberg, Gafni, et al. — and now Elon.

The members of Takana thought that if they tried to handle the problem “quietly”, then it would just “go away”. This, in spite of the fact that this irresponsible approach has never worked, and has proven itself a tragic failure repeatedly. The end is always the same. The Takana members bear no less guilt than Elon himself.

It’s like reliving the same awful horror movie over and over again.

Muqata also linked to a (Hebrew) transcript of a talk by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein. Unfortunately, R. Lichtenstein has to defend Takanah against complaints by Elon’s defenders. Yet Takana was right to publicize the story, only it took too long. In the transcript R. Lichtenstein seems proud of how Takana kept the story secret for four years despite the best efforts of reporters:

We wanted to ensure privacy because of human dignity and the principle of secrecy, not a concept invented by “Takana” but an element of basic human respect. In another place [MiI: I’m not sure what is meant here], there aren’t reporters right under your nose searching for information. And yet, we managed to keep the secret for four years! And people are wondering how it was possible? A man in the street, the press knew nothing.

Keeping secrets is not a good thing when it protects molesters.

I found this passage especially disturbing:  (my translation and emphasis):

There was a story involving two incidents and we debated and debated, and the whole time, we were hoping it would straighten out. After the first stories and a “shmitah” passed [MiI: a sabbatical year (7) since the first incident occurred—it was reported to R. Lichtenstein 5-6 years ago.], we hoped that the man accepted responsibility, and surely now he is interested in overcoming these tendencies and understands that it affects his situation and standing.

At that stage we took a soft approach in terms of the steps we wished to take so that the phenomenon would not spread and so that there would be a touch [Heb: nima] of sanctions, and pass on the message, “and your camp should be holy.” We hoped so much. Who wants to get dirty with such a thing? Who would be interested (in announcing it)? Mercy for a man on a personal level. Imagine how much one must pity a man that should not be pitied. All this time, we hoped.

I understand this mercy for their colleague. But where was the mercy for the victims? All these years the victims suffered in secret, thinking they were the only ones. They probably thought they had imagined it, or blown it out of proportion. The silence of Takana led to the abuse of new victims.

Think what pain could have been averted if Takana had warned the public three years ago. Elon’s reputation should have been the least of Takana’s concerns.

My husband pointed out that Takana was still a young organization, not yet mature enough to take on a powerful and influential figure like Elon.

I hope that next time, it will be.

Update: Police: Evidence Supports Abuse Trial for Elon

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whatmegsaid/ / CC BY 2.0

 

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Comments

  1. I checked with my wife. interesting post, hard to believe.

  2. MIL – I have to disagree with you on this one. I originally thought as you did, but then I read the message posted by Takanah on their site. They were silent in order to protect the victems.
    In addition, the sexual misconduct carried out by Rav Alon took place between consenting adults. It is misconduct, because Rav Alon was their Rabbi. Unfortunately, it is not illegal for Rabbis to have a sexual relationships with their disciples. It is just immoral.
    I feel sick about the whole thing.
    tHIS IS A link to the Takana site.
    http://www.takana.co.il/megera.asp

  3. I saw that and linked to it in the post. But Takana’s secrecy didn’t end up protecting the victims. The victims who didn’t complain, and the yet-to-be victims, were harmed. Takana doesn’t elaborate on how their secrecy was intended to protect the original complainants. They did not have to identify them.

  4. It’s the opposite.

    Before Takana, victims could either go public or keep quiet. With Takana, victims still have the choice of going public, and I understand that they’re encouraged to do so. But Takana offers them the option of not going public, for example if they are concerned about the publicity or concerned about grey areas in law that might cause them problems, and Takana can offer them another option.

    I think that Takana deserves our praise and support.

    • Dov, the victims didn’t have to go public. Three years ago, Takana could have made a similar statement to the one they made this week where no names of victims were mentioned. If Takana had reliable information back then, they should have issued a warning.

  5. I think that Lurker has been too harsh on Takana. If they had gone public after only one complaint, then the public would not have believed them – especially if the victim refused, or didn’t have grounds, to make a complaint to the police. People believe them now because there has been a number of victims.

    Also there is a learning curve here. Takana is doing its best to deal with the problem – and perhaps in the future they will have a more definite protocol to follow.

    It is very easy for someone on the outside, without the responsibility on his shoulders, to criticize.

  6. We don’t know the entire story, but Takana does. Perhaps 3 years ago going public would have in itself exposed the victims and now time has granted them anonimity. I trust some of the Rabbis in Takana to make sound judgements on this matter.
    I know from working in Hospitals that the hospital often has to protect the patient’s privacy and thus cannot defend itself from allegations. It may be the same with Takana.

    • Ariela,
      How do you know Takana knows the truth. Are they prophets? Only G-d knows the truth. Do you the “truth’s facts? Did they disclosed them to you or to the public? Please send them to me! We will make big bucks of it! I promise I will give you 50:50 of it!!
      Here are the facts that are so bothering in this so-called Elon’s trial.
      Allegations: Rabbi Mordechai Elon was accused of molesting two teenagers’ boys – each 17-year old – back then in the years 2003 and 2005. As of to date these “boys” are 26 and 22 years’ old respectively. The police claim they have enough evidence to prosecute the Rabbi and bring him into trial.
      Here are the questions and lacking evidences in this case:
      1.Rabbi Elon did not plead guilty to any of these allegations. Fine! Can we prove it? Of course not! Only G-d knows what the truth is and what really happened between the Rabbi and the boys that he candidly or not candidly tried to guide.
      2.The “boys” are not minors anymore! Their names and pictures should be disclosed both to the court and to the public! Why? Because we are not dealing with a military trial case, this is a social-political trial and not a Top Secret Intelligence’s trial. We the public and the media and above all the Justice Court have the right to hear first hand their accusations and see their faces. Why not! They should not in any case be ashamed of it. They should be proud of disclosing a case of a minors’ abuser and bringing justice first to themselves if harmed in any way and to others if at all.
      3.Did the police perform a DNA test (anal or other types in this case) in the victims? If yes, the results should be disclosed both to the court and to the public. Remember Monica? It worked for her, why not in this case?
      4.Did the police perform a “lie detection test” on both the Rabbi and the victims? If yes the results should be disclosed both to the court and to public. If the police and other law enforcement forces in Israel did not do it. It is still not too late!
      5.Did the law enforcement agencies from both sides perform a psychiatric evaluation on the Rabbi and the alleged victims during the time of the accusation? Also, did they perform any type of background psychiatric medical records related both to the Rabbi and the alleged victims? That should not be difficult in a country as Israel in which everyone is entitled to a “Health Insurance plan” and the mental health records in this case are of crucial importance to find out about the truth.
      In conclusion, Rabbi Motti Elon is a prominent religious and political figure in the Israeli society. He is very well aware about the prohibition of homosexuality according to the Torah and that this is not a minor sin as it is categorized among the most severe ones called Toevah i.e., abomination (Leviticus. 18:27-30). Whether or not the Rabbi is guilty of the crime and/or assaults he is accused of, we do not really know. The reason is because as of today the facts in this case as disclosed to the public are extremely vague with no substantial proof against the severe allegations made against Rabbi Elon. All the above mentioned questions and so much more information are to be answered in order to bring this case into justice. Rabbi Elon has gathered during his public and non-public life as Rabbi, teacher and political figure media, many students and followers. Strikingly enough, no witness (other than the alleged victims) stood up to witness against him as a minor abuser and/or as a person with homosexual tendencies. Putting it in the “Gashash Hahiver’s words “Af Ehad Lo Kam” or as King Solomon wrote in the Proverbs 14:25, “A true witness saves lives; but a deceitful witness speaks lies”. May the true witness in this case please stand up! We are dealing about saving lives, this is no simple matter and as the Talmud states “He who saves a single life saves the world entire”.
      Yael

  7. WBM, whether or not the public would believe them isn’t the point. If one young person would have hesitated to go to be counseled by Elon, they would have done their job. Takana’s role is to stand up to public opinion. At any rate they did not give this as a reason. I am responding to what Takana and R. Lichtenstein said. They gave their reasons for acting as they did, and they are not valid.

    Ariela, I’m repeating what I said to WBM. Takana is not claiming to have hidden reasons. They are sharing the whole story except for personal details. If what you suggest is true, they should have said it. I can only respond to their own statement which appears to be sincere.

    Miriam Shaviv on the topic: http://www.thejc.com/blogpost/the-rabbis-were-wrong-try-and-protect-rav-elon

  8. I think something is being missed in this conversation. Takana agreed to keep the whole thing quiet on condition that R’ Elon agreed to move up north and stop counseling and meeting in close quarters with youth. Assuming the story of the harassment is true, if he had kept to the “bargain” of taking himself out of education and counseling, then other youth would not have been endangered. It’s because he stopped keeping to his side of the agreement that Takana went public – in order to stop further instances of harassment.

    It would seem that Takana has indeed upheld its intention: to save further victims of abuse, while saving the reputation of the perpetrator.

  9. It is not fair to portray it as just a question of protecting a colleague. There is his innocent family also. There are numerous students who now feel a great sense of despair and many who could end up going off the derech. If there was even a slight chance that the problem could be corrected without going public it is not completely outrageous to give it a try. All the time keeping a very close watch of course.

  10. Annie:
    That is my point. It’s unrealistic, to put it mildly, to expect the perpetrator to keep up to his side of the agreement. The stakes are too high.
    Shimon, I’ve thought about R. Elon’s family. I feel sorry for them. But the victims have to come first. And they also have families. You mention a slight chance he would keep the agreement. Yet based on many similar incidents, there is a good chance that he was incapable. The cost of Takana’s judgment being wrong was too high.

  11. nothing was fixed says:

    I think that they thought they were doing the right thing. Unfortunately, in every case we’ve ever seen, covering these things up has just given the perpetrator the opportunity to commit the same misdeeds again and again.

    As someone who has been a victim of abuse from someone in a position of power, every time I hear a story like this, it makes me more convinced that I was right not to try to go to the higher-ups, because it would have just been covered up anyway, and I would have ended up being mistreated and scrutinized.

    • For the sake of saving future victims, it’s worth it to come out. In order to stop the perps, the potential humilation of victim blame and denial, it’s worth it to say the names of the perps, to openly and publicly identify the evil. Even though denial will hit, for a brief moment suspicion has been aroused, and then at least there is truth in the world for a few seconds.

  12. In any case, it is going overboard to call it a cover up. The intention to keep it quiet, even if wrong in hindsight (and possibly in foresight) was an attempt to find what they honestly thought to be the best solution.

  13. Why are some beating up on Takana?
    Thank the al-mighty that it is out in the open at last.
    Take the ball from here and run with it. Get parents involved in monitoring their children’s teachers, friends’ parents. Teach your children about ‘personal privacy’ and if anyone touches them below a certain place on their bodies to come immediately and tell you. There are things that can be done to create a soft barrier of prevention. It’s of utmost importance to speak to the children and create an atmosphere of love and trust so they will come to you right away. Unfortunately this includes the very young.
    The truth is like a beacon of light on the darkness of perversion. No one should be afraid of the truth. The more it comes out in the public the more protection will be created.

  14. I see that you have all decided that the Rabbi is guilty.
    Perhaps the alleged victim bears a grudge? Perhaps Takana has an agenda?

    Have you not heard of Innocent until proven Guilty?

    • SW, there are actually several victims. At least. And Takana claims to have evidence, and ta confession. At any rate, you don’t need the same degree of proof to warn the public, as you do to put someone in jail.

  15. Mother in Israel. You have hit the nail on the head. Yes, the members of Takanah meant well and showed some courage, but they still worried too much about finding an off-the-record solution at the expense of potential victims.

    In fairness to them, they are operating within a religious world that runs from the truth in these matters and penalizes those who speak the truth.

  16. Rav Shapiro, a Takanah member, gave an interview to Besheva. He explained that Takana’s job is to deal with cases that the police cannot. He even said that their first preference is to direct victims to the police, but in this case it was not possible.

    I think Takana was right for making publicity a final recourse. They tried to solve the problem quietly, and only when this proved unsuccessful did they come forward publicly, and I think this was the right move.

  17. SW wrote “I see that you have all decided that the Rabbi is guilty. Perhaps the alleged victim bears a grudge? Perhaps Takana has an agenda? Have you not heard of Innocent until proven Guilty?”

    According to the Takana forum, Rabbi Elon admitted to them he was guilty. Therefore, we have to decide whether to believe R’ Elon, or 25 Jewish leaders, Rabbis, and lawyers that span the entire Religious Zionist spectrum. One of the 2 groups is therefore lying. You can take your pick who you believe.

    I seriously doubt that such a diverse group of people could actually conspire against R’ Elon in the form of an “agenda”. R’ Levanon has nothing to do with Kolech women — and Takana is the only forum I see them together on. And good for them. Now if only Takana would warn the public on-time.

    BTW: There are 10-15 other “open cases” currently with Takana. Is that a good thing? Maybe they should make those cases public?

    Shavua tov. Hoping for a simpler “parashat hashavua” this coming week.

  18. Jameel wrote:
    “BTW: There are 10-15 other “open cases” currently with Takana. Is that a good thing? Maybe they should make those cases public?”
    If they are sure of the facts, yes, and if by not publicizing them they are putting the public at risk.
    Thanks for your comment.

  19. It is heartening to see that I am not the only person in the JBlogosphere who believes strongly that protection of future victims ought to be the primary consideration in a case like this.

    Unfortunately, as you demonstrate all too well, this was not Takana’s primary consideration. Or at least, not until now — after countless young people fell victim to a sexual predator over the course of several years, during which Takana maintained its silence. Those victims could have been saved.

    One important correction, that I believe people need to be made aware of: You wrote that R. Elon has been “accused of sexual harassment of young men in counseling situations”. Halevai that we were talking here about “only” harrassment. Unfortunately, the actions of R. Elon (which he admitted to Forum Takana) are much more serious. As R. Yuval Cherlow said in this interview, what Elon’s did is “far more severe” than sexual harrassment, and that the nature of his actions are unambiguous, and “not subject to interpretation” (3:24). The second official statement from Takana (“We are speaking of the most severe acts, that are not subject to any other possible interpretation.”) made it quite clear that they are speaking about Elon having sexual intercourse with vulnerable young men who had placed their trust in him. And if there are any remaining doubts, they will cetainly be dispelled by this transcript, published in Maariv, of a recorded interview between the Takana Forum and a close friend of one of the people who was sexually abused by R. Elon. In the interview, the nature of the sexual acts in question are discussed, and they are referred to explicitly as “???? ????” (homosexual intercourse).

    Yasher koach for writing was is true and necessary, even though it is not pleasant or popular.

  20. Ariela: I originally thought as you did, but then I read the message posted by Takanah on their site. They were silent in order to protect the victems.

    Let’s clarify things a bit. Takana, accoding to their own explanation, remained silent in order to protect the people who had already become victims so far. On the other hand, their silence for four years allowed many other people to become victims, who would not have become victims otherwise. Takana’s silence certainly did not protect those victims at all — quite the opposite.

  21. westbankmama: I think that Lurker has been too harsh on Takana. If they had gone public after only one complaint, then the public would not have believed them…

    You misunderstand my position. I never said that Takana should have gone public after just one complaint.

    Let’s review the chronology, as per the information provided in Takana’s official statement:

    The first complaint about R. Elon was received by Takana 5 years ago. In the course of investigating the incident, a Takana committee met with Elon, who acknowledged that he had committed the acts in question, but also gave assurances that it had happened a long time before, and that he had not done anything like it for a very long time. I am not saying that Takana should have revealed Elon’s behavior at this point.

    About a year later (i.e., 4 years ago), however, the committee received a new complaint about a long series of even more severe acts perpetrated by Elon. It then became clear that the second set of incidents had occurred during the very same time that Elon had been meeting with the committee a year earlier, deceitfully assuring them that he no longer did such things.

    In other words, at this point — 4 years ago — it had become incontovertibly obvious to Takana that Elon was a recidivist sexual predator and a compulsive liar.

    And it was at that point (4 years ago) that the duty first fell upon Takana to warn the public of the danger posed by Elon. Unfortunately they did not do this, and chose instead to keep it secret, in return for a promise from Elon to abide by a set of severe restrictions that the Forum imposed upon him. I.e., a promise from a man who had already proven himself to be a baldfaced liar, in the matter of the very issue under discussion.

    According to the Forum’s statement, throughout the 4 years that followed, they received frequent reports that Elon was not abiding by his promise. But in spite of this, they chose to keep the truth a secret for this entire period.

    Had the Forum publicized the danger when they first discovered that Elon was a serial sex offender, they may well have saved many victims from his clutches. Because they negligently chose not to do so, they bear the brunt of the responsibility for the personal tragedies that resulted.

  22. annie: Assuming the story of the harassment is true…

    Once again, we are talking about much more severe actions than “mere” harrassment.

    annie: …if he had kept to the “bargain” of taking himself out of education and counseling, then other youth would not have been endangered. It’s because he stopped keeping to his side of the agreement that Takana went public -– in order to stop further instances of harassment.

    According to Takana’s statement, they received constant reports over the course of 4 years that Elon was not keeping his side of the agreement. And for that entire time, they did nothing more than simply issue more warnings to him. For 4 years, as Elon continually violated the terms of the agreement. Takana took that long until they finally decided to act upon the fact that Elon wasn’t abiding by the rules. And during that time, many more people were victimized as a result.

    annie: It would seem that Takana has indeed upheld its intention: to save further victims of abuse…

    For 4 years, they failed to save further victims of abuse.

  23. Shimon: If there was even a slight chance that the problem could be corrected without going public it is not completely outrageous to give it a try.

    At the cost of how many additional victims?

    Shimon: All the time keeping a very close watch of course.

    According to Takana, they did exactly that. And what they saw was that Elon was continuing to meet privately with young men, in violation of their agreement, all the time. In spite of this, they did nothing at all about it until last week.

    Of what use, exactly, is “keeping a very close watch” if your “watch” reveals a disaster in progress, but you do nothing to stop it?

  24. SW: I see that you have all decided that the Rabbi is guilty. Perhaps the alleged victim bears a grudge?

    Did you read Takana’s statement?

    (1) There have been multiple victims, not just one.

    (2) Elon admitted to the Takana committee that he committed the acts in question.

    SW: Perhaps Takana has an agenda?

    Of course they have an agenda — they are quite up front about it: To protect the religious public from sexual harrassment and abuse at the hands of religious leaders.

    Or are you trying to suggest that the members of Takana are all involved in some sort of vast conspiracy against R. Elon?

    Do you seriously imagine that R. Yaakov Ariel, R. Aharon Lichtenstein, R. Avi Gisser, Rabbanit Yehudit Shilat, R. Elyakim Levanon, R. Yuval Cherlow, and Prof. Yedidya Stern — who represent a strikingly broad cross-section of the most distinguished dati leumi leaders, all the way from left-wing Modern Orthodox to Chardal — have all gotten together to cooperate in a giant secret plot to lie about and destroy R. Moti Elon?!

    The very notion is more absurd than can be expressed in words.

  25. david: I think Takana was right for making publicity a final recourse. They tried to solve the problem quietly, and only when this proved unsuccessful did they come forward publicly…

    Sorry, this is just plain wrong. The attempt to solve the problem quietly proved itself a failure over and over again, across a period of 4 years. This is not my own theory; it is written explicitly in Takana’s own official statement.

  26. Amitai Blickstein says:

    Rabbi Shlomo Riskin related a similar incident that came to his attention. As he told it, the rabbi in question was immediately suspended (after the 2nd complaint? I can’t recall that detail), and sent to counseling. After more than a year of counseling, with the approval of his psychiatrist, the repentant rabbi returned to education, but of the non-problematic gender and age-group, and continued psychiatric checkups. He has been a stellar educator since.

    The point is that even going public is an indirect way of getting what we *really* want from these predators – that they get **psychiatric care**, and are removed from their positions of temptation. But IF a predator can be rehabilitated, MUST we destroy his reputation and life, and those around him? While I suspect that sometimes the answer may be Yes, nevertheless, those conditions would be quite rare, it seems to me.

  27. saramaimon says:

    1. While everyone should have a chance at rehabilitation, except someone who has been caught lying about it. Even once. To truly rehabilitate oneself requires brutal honesty with oneself and others. a person who lacks that is NOT a candidate for rehabilitation.

    2. Publicity need not ruin peoples lives. We need to eliminate the taboo, which will have a quadruple effect: 1- Allow victims to come forward, B- Lend more credibility to their statement (because in part it’s the taboo factor that makes it difficult for them to be believed) C- allow people to speak up against the offender in a timely fashion, and last but not least D- ENABLE THE COMMUNITY TO REACCEPT THE OFFENDER IN A CLIMATE OF PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE, AND COMMUNITY WIDE SUPERVISION.

    Thus the more we talk about it, are open about it, the less likely we are to ruit the offenders life, and thus the less inhibited we will be about doing what needs to be done.

    (In my opinion thoug, community reaacceptance should occur only AFTER punitive measures, and not in place of them.)

Trackbacks

  1. […] 2010, well-known religious Zionist rabbi Mordechai (Moti) Elon was accused by the religious forum Takana of forcible sexual acts on young men who approached him for counseling. Last December, Elon was […]

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