Israel’s national-religious/Modern Orthodox community is in an uproar this week following a published report accusing the charismatic, widely respected Rabbi Mordechai “Moti” Elon of sexually molesting teenage boys.
The accusation was made public Monday, February 15, by an organization that seeks to fight sexual abuse by rabbinic authority figures. The organization, Takana, said that it had confronted Elon four years ago and pressured him to withdraw from educational or pastoral work. Israel’s attorney general agreed at the time to let the matter be kept out of the courts and handled privately within the rabbinic community. Takana spokesmen say the accusations were made public this week because the organization learned that Elon had returned to teaching and spiritual counseling, in violation of the agreement.
Takana is a public forum whose members include some top rabbinic leaders of Israeli modern Orthodoxy, including Rabbi Yuval Sherlow and Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein.
Elon is one of Israel’s best-known rabbis, a popular lecturer, writer, former dean of the renowned Yeshivat Ha-Kotel and host of his own weekly television program, often touted as a future chief rabbi. He is as famous for his family lineage as for his own work: His father, Menachem, is a former deputy chief justice of Israel’s supreme court. One brother, Rabbi Benny Alon, is a former Knesset leader of the pro-settler National Union party and a minister in Ariel Sharon’s cabinet. Another brother, Ari Elon, teaches and writes on progressive Jewish religious thought.
Elon has publicly denied any wrongdoing, calling it a “blood libel,” and many of his former students and colleagues have rallied to his support since the charges were made public. However, the Takana organization claims that Elon confessed to the allegations when he was first confronted four years ago.
Takana also reported this week that additional alleged victims have come forward since the affair broke and complained to the Takana organization of past abuse by Elon.
Coincidentally, a group of prominent Israeli Orthodox rabbis published an open letter this week declaring that the biblical ban on homosexual behavior does not justify intolerant treatment of individual gays and urging more open attitudes toward gays within the religious community.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).