Daily Israel Report

Rabbi Moti Elon and the Takanah Forum

Religious-Zionist public grapples with the developing story of Takanah Forum and Rabbi Elon.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 2/18/2010, 12:53 PM / Last Update: 2/18/2010, 4:18 PM

An unprecedented situation occurred Monday night when the Takanah Forum released a statement to the general media accusing Rabbi Moti Elon of immoral behavior and of having violated the terms of the agreement it had consequently made with him.

Takanah Forum is a council formed in 2003 to deal with issues of non-criminal sexual harrassment within the religious-Zionist community in a discreet Halakhic [Jewish legal] manner, following the passage of a Knesset law against such harrassment in 1998.  It includes rabbinic personalities such as Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein of Yeshivat Har Etzion, Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira of Yeshivat Ramat Gan, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of Yeshivat Elon Moreh, and Rabbi Yuval Cherlow of Yeshivat Petach Tivkah, and public personalities and academics Prof. Yedidya Stern, Mr. Benny Lehman, and Malka Pietrokovsky.  Rabbanit Yehudit Shilat is director of the forum.

Rabbi Elon – arguably the most well-known and dynamic religious-Zionist rabbinic personality in the country, who gave a weekly class in Torah lessons on national television and headed Yeshivat HaKotel – was accused of having taken improper physical advantage of two youths who came to him for counseling on personal issues.

Some four years ago, Rabbi Elon took abrupt leave from his many public duties and lectures, and moved to the northern town of Migdal. It was said at the time that health issues required that he take a break from his intense schedule.

He now says that the truth of the events of the past years will “come out sooner than is thought,” and that he now has the opportunity to “fulfill yet another Divine command: that of rejoicing even while suffering.” Referring to his “exile” to Migdal, Rabbi Elon said this week that he did “illogical things” several years ago, implying that the time had now come to defend himself. He called upon his many loyal students not to besmirch other rabbis. Many of them came to support him in Migdal after the media release.

IDF Army Radio reported that a youth prayer session was gathered at the Western Wall to pray on Thursday morning, in light of the crisis this accusation has caused. Educators are using the issue, without taking a stand on the personae involved, to remind students that if something improper is suggested by even a respected figure, it must be rejected.

Several of the Takanah forum's members gave media interviews in which they said that Rabbi Elon had acknowledged to them, several years ago, that he had “overcome his problem” and that it would not be repeated. However, they said, they learned a year later of another complaint, regarding actions that allegedly took place concurrently with their discussions of the first one with him.

The forum explained in a written report issued on Wednesday:

“We acted out of great awareness of three factors: Primarily to help the victims and prevent future cases of this nature; our obligation towards Rabbi Elon, as towards anyone who is the subject of such complaints; and the important status of Rabbi Elon in both the religious-Zionist public and Israeli society in general, his wide-ranging Torah teaching, and the many acts of kindness and charity that he did during his life… A mini-panel of five – Rabbi Lichtenstein, Rabbi Ariel, Mr. Benny Lehman, Prof. Stern, and Mrs. Yehudit Shilat – heard the first complaint and met with Rabbi Elon… After the second complaint, they decided that he must leave his position as head of Yeshivat HaKotel, suspend his public appearances, and leave other public positions. In the course of time, it became necessary to expand the panel dealing with the matter...

“The new members heard a full and detailed report on the entire process, gave their backing to the original members, and signed the letter demanding that Rabbi Elon adhere to the demands made of him. For years, there were disagreements between the forum and Rabbi Elon as to whether he was doing so... Unfortunately, he did not fulfill these obligations.”

“We are well aware that this news has caused great pain and grieving, and we hope and pray that our actions will be for good and will find favor in the eyes of G-d and of people… The purpose of Takanah is not to replace the law-enforcement authorities, but rather to supplement them in cases where, for whatever reasons, the authorities cannot act – for instance, when the complainants do not want to go to the police, or when the acts are not technically criminal in nature…”

The Forum  explained that it publicized the incident at this time because of “growing fears that we had no other way to protect the public from possible future harm." It was also implied that others might publicize the story first, which they felt would lead to even more damage than actually occurred.

The Takanah Forum’s abrupt announcement was greeted in the religious-Zionist public with a large measure of criticism. Charges were raised that the rabbis should have found another way to deal with the unproven suspicions against Rabbi Elon other than by “ruining his life” and “causing a desecration of G-d’s Name.” The theoretical fear that students might be harmed by him, despite the many thousands of students he counseled constructively over the years without incident and who continue to love and venerate him, was said to be outweighed by the clearly predictable negative results that in fact occurred as a result of the publication.

On Thursday afternoon, the Forum members issued a statement that its actions had achieved the desired goals, and that they view the matter as closed. Not everyone agrees.

Arutz-7/Israel National News, on its Hebrew and English sites, will not publish readers' comments on this matter, in order to uphold the honor of all sides involved.