It’s not a very pleasant topic, but it’s one that I think needs addressing: Rabbi Elon, an extremely influential Orthodox Zionist Rabbi in Israel, being accused of sexual harassment.
The investigation is being led by Takana, an Orthodox rabbinic forum created in 2003 for the very purpose of trying to prevent sexual misconduct among rabbinic educators. Takana knew about the claims a couple years ago, but tried to get the complainants go to the police, and then struck a deal with Elon that he would stop with his face-to-face teaching and counseling, and he retired from his position at Yeshivat HaKotel. And now they say he has refused to honor their deal (they think he has been counseling a young man on sexual matters), and for that reason brought it to light right now.
There’s an interesting article in The Forward about the tensions this scandal has caused. Some members of the religious community believe that the scandal should be dealt with within the religious world and away from the watchful mind of the media (some Rabbis say he should have been summoned to religious court), while others celebrate the fact that years ago such an inappropriate thing would have been kept hidden from the community and now it is not.
And this whole thing (as well as the allegations aimed at priests and other religious figures) has certainly dealt a blow to religious figures’ authority: can you imagine living your life in awe of a figure who has inspired you to live a better life, and finding one day about the unspeakable things he or she has done? Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz wrote about Elon’s impact on his spirituality and the charisma that he brought to life, and how that charisma made him so caught up in Elon and his words, to a point where he lost some part of his identity. And he closes by saying something that I find incredibly poignant:
As a father, the only lesson I can impart to my children from my years close to Rabbi Elon is while they have a duty to respect their teachers, never suspend your critical faculties toward figures of authority; do not become dependent on objects of admiration; and beware of charisma, as if from fire.
We should not let anyone, even people we believe to be moral and righteous, become so idealized in our minds that we lose our capacity to question them. It is a brave thing that Takana is doing, persuing such an important figure in the Jewish community, because it is one of the hardest things to do. But holding the very people we expect to need to remind us of moral standards to our moral standards is the very core of what justice is.