The sad story of Rabbi Moti Elon took another troubling twist last week. The once highly popular rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem, whose Torah teachings on radio and television attracted wide audiences beyond the Orthodox community, was sentenced by a local district court on two counts of indecent assault by force against a minor.
He had been accused in recent years of sexually abusing his students. And even after being reviewed and warned by a group of highly respected Torah scholars who make up the Takanah Forum, a watchdog group dealing with rabbinic abuse in the Orthodox community, he had violated their call for him to cease contact with young men. At that point the forum members reluctantly alerted the authorities, and they in turn brought Rabbi Elon to trial. He was convicted in August. (See Opinion piece, “Defying The Court, Protecting The Sinner,” online at thejewishweek.com.)
Beyond the sorrow, though, this week there was frustration and anger in the religious Zionist community when Rabbi Elon was given a surprisingly light sentence — six months of community service, three years probation and a fine, but no jail time. What’s more, Rabbi Elon insisted he had done nothing wrong, and won the continued support of Rabbi Haim Druckman, the spiritual leader of the Bnei Akiva network of schools in Israel and rosh yeshiva of Orot Etzion, who continues to allow Rabbi Elon to teach in the school despite strong complaints from families there.
“This is a sad day for religious Zionism,” said Aliza Lavie, a member of Knesset who chairs a committee dealing with abuse. But she also noted that it marks a new awareness of the dangers of sexual mistreatment. “If a few years ago the prevailing assumption in the national religious community was ‘with us this doesn’t happen,’ today it is clear that the phenomenon of sexual harassment exists in the religious community as it does in any other sector and that it can happen to anyone,” she said.
Yet some leaders in that community, and particularly Rabbi Druckman, don’t seem to have acknowledged that reality. American officials of the worldwide American Friends of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva should lend their voices to those who call for Rabbi Elon to be removed from the classroom. To allow him to continue — a now-convicted predator serving as a rebbe and ethical guide — is to recreate a scenario in which he took advantage of students in his charge. To ignore the ruling of the court is immoral, if not illegal, and in opposition to the Jewish value of pursuing justice and protecting our children.