Statement of Support for Rabbi Marc Gafni and a
Partial Response to Some Voices in Jewish Leadership
This is an expanded version of a letter to the Editor sent to a major Jewish Newspaper.
We, the undersigned, support Rabbi Marc Gafni in clearing his name and moving forward with his life.
Each of us has spend lots of time looking at this story. We each have had, like many thousands of others, a sustained positive experience of Gafni’s goodness, each of us in different contexts. We experiences his genuine care and love for others, his integrity, not to speak of his wildly profound wisdom and commitment to teaching and service.
We have been in touch with some Jewish leaders who have commented on this, including some of those who have written letters to the editor or blog posts. We found the tone of their post and letters to us to be disingenuous at best about their true motives and intentions and often abusive in tone and substance.
We write this rather extensive statement, stating our understanding of all this, to add our voices in support of Marc’s future unfolding which all of us are convinced will be of great service to many people
As we know, in this age of the Internet, anyone who views you in a way that satisfies him or her and vilifies you can get wide circulation. It does not matter if what is claimed is true or not, only that someone has decided to blog it, post it, or offer it to the cyberworld.
Often such stories are given space on search engines, and even picked up by the legitimate media. Efforts to right the record are laborious and often yield no long-term results. Put simply, the slanted or falsified claim, the inaccurate spin, or the angry diatribe can overtake common sense and distort the true chain of events.
Such has been the case with Rabbi Marc Gafni. Gafni, a talented, bohemian and iconoclastic teacher, ran an informal populist movement of Jewish revival, meeting in his home in Israel, on Israel’s beaches and in other informal settings. He conferred no degrees, held no institutional positions, and promised no one the World to Come. He was somewhat of a celebrity rabbi-scholar. Critics and enthusiasts alike acknowledge the depth of his scholarship, what one writer called his “dazzling brilliance”, his vision and his commitment. We and others who know him well experience his goodness, his sincerity, his caring and genuine love for people. We also experience his human complexity.
Gafni was both wise and foolish. Because he worked, traveled and taught virtually around the clock, he tended to become involved with some of the women in his circle.
They were all adult, powerful, self-determined women who became romantically or sexually involved with him at different times. Having reviewed hundreds of pages of documentary evidence, including first-person correspondence between Gafni and these women at the time of their engagements, as well as having collectively had direct contact with virtually all of the parties or their representatives, both directly and indirectly, we have come to the following conclusions:
Their encounters were mutual, consensual and based on affection and attraction and often initiated by the women.
There was never any form of false promise or deception to gain sexual relations.
There was no inappropriate deployment of power.
In short, it is clear to us as well as to all of the five independent professional evaluators who examined this issue in great depth, that there was no sexual harassment or abuse whatsoever. The sexual abuse which took place here was directed at Gafni by men and women who for agendas of their own, used sexuality as a cover to attempt to “take down” a beautiful, complex and important spiritual artist and teacher. This is itself a form of sexual abuse.
In this, we reject the culturally prevalent assumption that in these situations a male leader is necessarily more powerful and the woman who engages with him necessarily powerless. In fact, several leading feminist writers have pointed out; both sides in such engagements often hold both power and vulnerability. (See for example, the writings of Laura Kipnis, Bell Hooks, Cathy Young, and Janet Malcom. We recognize the reality of love, affection, the dignity of feminine desire, the possibility that both men and women can have non-exclusive relationships which are not necessarily wrong. While each of us holds a different understanding regarding marriage and sexuality, we all recognize that there are multiple models which may work for different people at different stages of their lives.
One of us send the following letter to a Jewish leader in this regard. The letter received was domineering and sadly abusive in tone. The response is relevant to our topic so we cite it here.
Dear Rabbi X
May I point out that in your response to our letter, you ignored several of the key points we made. First, we stated clearly that the relationships between Gafni and the complainants were not formed in teacher/student or employer/employee contexts. This is part of what the documentary material makes crystal clear. As a thirty-year feminist and writer on woman’s issues, I am very well aware of what constitutes sexual abuse, harassment, and the use of power for sexual favors. I have experienced it, I have analyzed it, I have written extensively about it, and I have stood against it all my life. Moreover, I am very cognizant of the complex emotions that arise in sexual relationships, and of the many reasons for and responses to the emotional pain that can occur. So, it is neither out of ‘blindness’ or ‘mendacity’ that I say that there was no abuse in Gafni’s relationships with these women. There was no deception, as the documentary material makes abundantly clear. The affectionate, open tone of the correspondence was not the result of anyone’s belief that they were Gafni’s chosen lover.
What you call your ‘ethical position,’ seems to take for granted that women in relationship to powerful men have no capacity for choice. Has it occurred to you that this assumption profoundly condescends to women–even demeans them? Have you any idea how clearly a smart woman–and all the women in this story are smart–sees through male authority? Do you imagine that a woman in a sexual relationship with a teacher is simply a lovestruck victim with no personal power? On the contrary, women enter such relationships with complex motives, which nearly always include some desire for status, some desire to acquire some of the powerful man’s manna, and more than a little desire to equalize the external power differential between them. In fact, the man in such a relationship makes himself as vulnerable as the woman, and in laying himself open to a woman’s intimate gaze always risks dis-empowering himself as an authority. This is not to say that abuse doesn’t happen in such relationships. Of course it can, and does. Abuse also happens in marriages. It happens in families. It happens in offices. Abuse takes many forms, including the verbal abuse that bullies heap on those who disagree with them. I refer, of course, to the bullying tone of your letter to me, which I can fairly say was the rudest and most verbally violent communication I have ever received. In suggesting a dialogue, I was standing in the assumption that as a religious leader you would be able to discuss different perspectives non-violently. You have convinced me that you are not.
The tone of your letter seems, sadly, typical of the attitude that Jung calls ‘shadow projection. The words “frenzy” and “domination” which you project onto Gafni could easily be used to describe well the tenor of your letters, as well as the tone that we and others have observed in your community around this issue.
Part of what Gershon was addressing was this: Key Jewish renewal leaders, when they were Gafni’s age or older, engaged in far more questionable sexual praxis then Gafni has. All have been forgiven. Why is it that only Gafni deserves to be demonized and exiled? Why is it only Gafni whom you refuse to engage in dialogue? Only, it seems, with Gafni have you taken public positions without even considering his perspective–that is to say, talking to him before you took action. Or after?
It is interesting that a woman deeply involved in the inner circles of Jewish Renewal wrote recently to say that she was, in her words, ‘quashed and threatened’ two years ago when she voiced a perspective supportive of Gafni–weeks before these complaints were even made. Perhaps the deeper truth here is that you simply did not want Gafni around.
All of us who have spoken out for Gafni, and who signed the letter I sent you, know Gafni well. To say that he is an abuser is simply absurd. All of us can speak to his consideration, kindness and goodness in a hundred different moments, authentic and far from the eyes of the camera or crowd. That you cannot recognize the human truth that a man’s deep goodness can exist together with his complexity says far more about you then about him.
So, you are right. As long as there is no willingness on your part to recognize the complexity and shadow in yourself, in the women, in spiritual communities, and in the motives of anyone who self-righteously accuses another, no conversation is possible. You can consider this a final communication, and we will not expect an answer.
Still, as happens all too often in contemporary sexual dynamics, a false story line emerged in which Marc was portrayed as someone engaged in a form of sexual harassment.
These assertions were then cleverly linked to reports that had been circulated in the Jewish press and on dis-reputable Internet sites, claiming that Gafni had, 25 and 30 years before, had sexual relations with two under-age women. This is not true. These allegations as reported on the Internet distort both the nature of those relationships and the substance of the engagements. An internationally respected expert in polygraph testing administered three polygraph tests to Marc, supporting the assertion that these two claims are untrue in the manner that they were reported on the Internet and in the press.
In one of the stories Gafni himself was only 19 and just out of high school and the woman was in the first year of high school. The relationship involved no more than mutual teenage petting, and both of them at the time experienced at the time it as a deeply loving relationship. Both, the extent and nature of this relationship as described here has been supported by polygraph.
In the second story as well, there was a very limited one-time contact between the 25 year Gafni and a 16-year-old woman, who according to polygraph, asked Gafni to have sexual relations with her, which he refused. Of course, since he was a youth leader at the time, any intimate contact was wrong on Gafni’s part. But nothing abusive in the sense suggested in the falsified or distorted internet stories took place. The polygraph confirms this. That said, in statements on his website, Gafni has publicly acknowledged his mistakes in these contexts, as well as his regrets in not having been fully transparent to his earlier supporters regarding one aspect of this latter story.
Gafni sought advice on his initial and later decision not to be transparent in this regard, from credible figures in the Jewish community. He followed their advice. His reasons for doing so are understandable, though unfortunate, but not indicative of any sort of pathology on his part. All the psychological evaluations confirm this. He has publicly expressed his regret for that mistaken decision.
All the professional evaluations of Gafni’s character and behavior in this and in any other regard have stated that attempts to portray him as abusive in relationships is unfounded.
One of the most outrageous and vicious manifestations over the last several years has been hate blogs and other ill –informed sources, which suggested that Gafni was accused of rape which is categorically false and blogs which claimed that he was guilt of statutory rape which, as supported by Polygraph, by Gafni’s statements, and by the statements of the woman in question herself, is also categorically false.
Unfortunately for Gafni, it seems that in his world there were enough detractors willing to support the false claims. As provocative and energetic teachers often do, over many years, he had attracted both popularity and envy, both affection and enmity. Apparently he took up too much space for some in the teaching world. One of the evaluators. Dr. Joseph Berke, whose life work is in on the psychodynamics of malice, suggests that hidden motives involving power, malice, and hypocrisy, particularly among certain sectors of rabbinic and lay leadership contributed to layer the sub-text of this story.
The complaints were immediately accepted as true, even though unproven, and a sort of lynch-mob-style hysteria set into motion a chain of events that ended with Gafni being forced into a self-imposed exile.
Now here is the shocking truth. This happened without any attempt, before or after, by former colleagues to even contact Gafni or discover his side of the story. This is the clearest indication that under the cover of sexual politics, cowardice and fear, something very not kosher happened here.
Not surprisingly, some of the very same rabbis and spiritual teachers who condemned him, and who have acted against him behind the scenes, have themselves engaged in unconventional sexual behavior, and made similar mistakes. It would appear that when what one writer called ‘sexual hysteria’ takes over, self-protective fear in many forms overcomes decency, fairness and friendship. All this contributes to an atmosphere that Alan Dershowitz correctly labeled sexual McCarthyism
At this point, the purveyors of several “hate” blogs ostensibly dedicated to “outing” Jewish clerics joined the pursuit and flooded the internet with feverishly slanderous stories, aimed at destroying this man’s reputation As in McCarthyism, which played on our legitimate fear of the evil of communism, sexual McCarthyism manipulates our valid fear of sexual abuse. One blogger, who has built her professional life on a ludicrous claim that Jews in the context of satantic cults, including herself, ritually sacrificed babies, ran viciously libelous postings calling Gafni a “confessed molester”, “predator” and the like. Sadly there is little one can do to sue successfully for internet slander.
So now, we come to reclaim this complex, gentle, audacious and good soul.
The facts of this story are simply put:
To reiterate: Gafni’s computer records, containing hundreds of emails and instant messages between him and the women, at the time of the relationships and afterwards, which had been deleted from his computer, are now recovered, and show that he deployed no form of abusive power over these powerful adult women.
There was never any implied or explicit quid pro quo in any of these relationships.
The correspondence shows the tenor of the relationships to be mutual, affectionate and respectful and often sexually initiated by the women themselves. The women clearly come across as powerful and autonomous.
The polygraph tests mentioned above, conducted by an independent and well-respected international expert, support Marc’s assertion that there was no sexual harassment or the like at all.
Independent psychological evaluators, who reviewed the records of the women’s own first-person accounts of the events at the time, also fully support the simple truth that none of these relationships involved sexual harassment of any kind.
Gafni , for much of his life was a post-conventional bohemian. He did make mistakes in some of his sexual choices through the years. Where possible and appropriate he has asked forgiveness.
Information about all of this, as well as a number of professional evaluations, can be found on his website, www.marcgafni.com under the “controversy” tab. These should be sufficient for all fair-minded people to exonerate Gafni of any suggestion that he is a sexual harasser.
So why has this story persisted?
Gafni chose to leave Israel, rather than fight. He did this for two reasons. First, his computer files had been deleted, apparently deliberately, and he needed to recover them in order to prove his innocence. Secondly, as someone with a commitment to serve his community, he did not want to create a public spectacle by attacking his attackers. Thirdly, he wanted time to do the inner work needed to identify his responsibility in the contribution system that allowed these shocking events to unfold.
In his angst, he penned a letter of remorse that was an outpouring of his devastated emotional state at the time of the explosion. On reflection, it would have behooved him to have waited for a calmer moment, but he was deeply wounded to his core. His desire was to end the hysteria, and he mistakenly believed that he could do so by taking upon himself the responsibility for any problems or “sickness” that had arisen in the organization he had founded.
Gafni has suffered and done profound inner work, validated by objective professional evaluations. He is neither predator, molester, nor harasser. Quite the opposite. He is, in the words of one of the evaluators, “an intensely moral man who is completely reputable.” He is also a complex, loving, good and sometimes naive man, who took the wrong path by involving himself with women he should never have engaged.
Rabbi Gafni has been misjudged, abandoned without evidence by people with ulterior motives, and used as a scapegoat for the kinds of shadow issues that are held in many spiritual communities.
These events were initially distorted in the press reports because R. Gafni, in the early stages of trauma, before his computer files were recovered, refused to talk to the press. In doing so he left an “empty chair” upon which all manner of distortion, mis-information and untruth could be placed.
Gafni has worked effectively and beautifully with thousands of people over the course of his teaching path. He has been and continues to be beloved by many who have into direct contact, with his goodness, warmth and wisdom. Like many strong spiritual teachers he has also, over the course of a life time, developed a band of folks who have attacked and demonized him. A careful examination reveals that almost every one of these people felt at some point, consciously or unconsciously, threatened by Gafni. This may be true because Gafni’s energy exposed their own shadow or it may be because his gifts outshone their own or for numerous other reasons.
There has also been some suggestion that the board that Gafni developed in Israel fired him. This is a fiction. The organization in Israel had not real board. There was a a group of people that were a board on paper only; that had never met, that were gathered to together for one meeting in may 2006. The facts that they were told were largely not true. Sworn affidavits of people present at those meetings indicate that the information provided to the Bayit Chadash inner circle regarding Gafni was simply not true. Tellingly, Gafni was not at these meeting nor was he aware of them. Caught up in fear, self-protection and sexual hysteria, those who should have insured a fair and honorable process, which involved fact checking, checking with both sides and careful investigation, did none of the above. There was no fact checking. Not one person spoke to Gaffing before the decisions were made. There was no investigation whatsoever. The entire process was a sham.
There are those who have written blogs or letters to the editor, which pretend to be objective and speak in high moral tones. Investigation of the writers and the agendas that lay behind their writing, reveal that they have had issues with Gafni long before these appeared and have used and encouraged this set of false claims, to further their own agendas in a manner, which was disingenuous, dishonest and malicious.
Some of these people have attempted to shift the focus from these false claims and attempted to inflict death with a thousand cuts, seeking to demonize Marc’s entire spiritual career. The tactic is obvious and despicable. First support false complaints and allow then to do their damage. Then when that is not effective ignore the ignominy of bearing false witness and simply shift the goal posts and make a new claim.
This attempt is simply not credible and falls apart under any serious examination.
If one chooses a hermeneutic of malice one can always paint a spiritual teacher’s evolution in black terms. If one chooses a hermeneutic of love one can paint the same story in the most noble and human of terms.
Rabbi Gafni has chosen to move on with his life. He has chosen, unless given no alternative, not to counter-attack, despite strong advice to the contrary. In the future, There will be those who see the complexity of his past as a reason to not study with him. Many others, however, will recognize that this difficult journey has served as an alchemical fire that has forged in him new wisdom about life and spirit.
Gafni has chosen to dedicate himself to writing a series of new book, which will share some of his new understanding, to sharing his wisdom as a teacher and spiritual artist as well as to social activism with a group dedicated to fighting genocide, human rights abuses and sexual abuse in the form of human trafficking.
Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Author, Teacher, Director Tree of Life Center
Rabbi Gershon Winkler, Author, Teacher, Director Walking Stick Foundation
Rabbi Avram Davis, Founder Author, Founder Chochmat HaLev Center San Fransico
Sally Kempton, Author, Teacher, Director of Dharana Foundation
Claudia Klefeeld, Artist, Philanthropist
Dalit Arnon, Artist, Student at Bayit Chadash
Brad Satkin, Psychotherapist
Rabbi Sara Shendelman
R. Miriam Maron