Monday, July 07, 2008

Abusive Gurus -The Return of Marc Gafni [Updated]

Kind of like a bad dream.

Readers new to this issue might want to go back and review the initial situation before reading Gafni's recent defense (here and here -- follow the links). It's worth noting that after talking with Gafni at the time, Ken Wilber felt he was guilty of the accusations (also worth noting is that Wilber's response from that time is now gone, so there are only his quotes on other blogs).

Please also keep in mind that Gafni subsequently fled the country and changed his name before resurfacing in Utah.

Posted at Jewschool (hat tip to Avi at Tikkunger)

Sex Abuser Mordechai Gafni is Back

Remember Mordechai/Marc Gafni? He was the guy who fled Israel two years ago to avoid charges of sexual misconduct and possibly rape after he was–once again–found to be using his charismatic rebbe-hood to exploit his female students and followers. It’s a pattern that had been going on for some time, with some of his past victims decidedly underage at the time of the abuse. (He was famously quoted in the NY Jewish Week as saying, in response to one woman’s claims that he had “repeatedly and forcibly sexually assaulted” her that “she was 14 going on 35…”) (The NY Post has some graphic accounts of abuse by some of his victims; Reb Zalman revoked his smicha; Gafni, when the story broke, wrote a letter to Aleph pleading mea culpa and referring to himself as sick–just as he was sneaking to the States and disappearing.) 

Well, he’s back, like a bad penny–this time in Salt Lake City. Failed Messiah reports that he’s now in bed with a new age magazine called Catalyst, which has come to his defense. Evidently he’s been writing for them for a while under a pseudonym, and now Catalyst is coming out in support of Gafni, painting him as the victim of “sexual McCarthyism”; Gafni, for his part, is now denying his guilt with a bunch of New Age pablum: 
“Sexuality creates wounds…but if we learn to live wide open even as we are hurt by love, the divine wakes up its own true nature…I believed that what we were doing was sharing love, and that therefore there was nothing ethically, and certainly not legally, wrong. I still believe that.” 
According to the Catalyst article, he’s started to teach and has a couple of book contracts going (and, according to other sources, may be operating under the name “Marc Israel.”) He’s clearly positioning himself for another rise to guru-hood, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t continue his pattern of exploitation and abuse. He must be stopped. 
ETA: It looks like Gafni himself (or one of his supporters) wrote his Wikipedia page, and so, needless to say, it’s in need of some correcting–it’s nauseatingly sympathetic, and notably absent of links to news sources explaining the “allegations of impropriety” against him. Anyone want to have a crack at it? 


Anonymous said...

these sort of guys always go back to what they know. amrit desai simply went to florida and opened up another yoga center/ashram after he was booted from kripalu. and having just clicked over to put the link here, i see that he's teaching at omega institute this summer. that's some f-ed up stuff. . . how does a man who's morally corrupt, who rapes women, and lots of them, get hired as a spiritual teacher at one of the leading holistic centers in the country??? is it that they weren't convicted in a court of law? were the women all paid off?

Bendz said...


a lot of people lives like him :(

Pschic power

Hokai said...

The story at the Catalyst is certainly interesting, worth reading (pdf here). I'm sure we'll hear more on this, whether Gafni is indeed guilty as charged.

Anonymous said...

Danya comments posted here and on the jewschool site are embarrassment to truth and integrity.

That jewsschool ran them and they were reprinted here is simply disgusting.

Gafni was never accused of rape.

Gafni as his website shows very

clearly never had - with any of the women in israel

{who falsely accused him of sexual harassment}

anything other then fully mutual relationships based on affection.

there are on Gafni's sites evaluations from some of

the most credible people in the world and

polygraph attesting to this. And as far as underage

goes - the two stories as told on the web have been

refuted by Gafni and his refutation as his website

shares was also supported by Polygraph. In one

case Gafni himself was 19 and the girl was in the

first year of high school -not exactly the picture

that Danya gives us - and according to polygraph

they had a limited encounter that for both of them

was at the time a love relationship. But liberal Dan

from Jewschool does not really care much about

truth for he is friends with some of the people and his core ethical principles go to shit - as he hides

behind his website. The list of people that has

looked at this whole thing and decided that Gafni

has been railroaded and that a big fat injustice

happened here is pretty impressive. None of these

people would risk their professional reputation

unless they were very very sure. But Danya or

whoever is really writing is so righteous - that she

can talk untruth with such passion that we are

reminded of yeats in the second coming

the best lack all conviction

while the worst are full of passionate intensity

Shame on you Danya

and shame on Dan S from Jewschool - that you should post this crap as well

what happened to your liberal commitment to could you label your string of posts

"Abuser is back" Rabbi Gershon Winkler is right -

this is Sexual McCarthyism and it stinks to high heaven!!

JackAllen3 said...

To begin: After reading the Gafni article in the catalyst, then actually spending a few hours looking through the polygraph tests and professional evaluation in the Controversy section of Gafni's website, I find myself sickened by some of the comments on this post and, if fact, the title of the post itself.

In the Catalyst article: the author's state that they spend months going through hundreds of pages of files showing evidence of Gafni's innocence. The article even stat4es that by releasing that evidence to the internet, he'd be dragging the women, as well as their names and identities, into the public debate, making them targets of the same type, if oppositely motivated, of attacks that he's gone through on the internet.

He also talks about moving forward and turning the other cheek, letting bygones be bygones. I find that inspiring.

As a non-Jew reading this story and then seeing the internet attacks continue, as they do in this post and its comments section, I am sickened and disgusted.

Popular and controversial religious leaders always seem to attract these type of attacks and Gafni is behaving with a degree of decorum that I would find impossible to match in the same circumstances.

His refusal to take revenge on the women who did this to him is noble and progressive.

Take the time to look through his website and actually read the documents that Gafni has provided instead of attacking from a position of ignorance and false anger.

There are far too many actual offenders to spend time attacking one who can prove he's been set up. Feminism and crimes against women are serious. This sort of attack, falsely accusing someone like this, weakens the position of women's progress and makes real victims more vulnerable when they try to fight back against abuse.

Sarah said...

Your site sent me to Gafni’s home page, where I read the statements by him and others. While I don’t know the whole history behind these stories, I do know that my contacts with Gafni’s teaching over the years have been largely positive. Reading his website brought up many interesting questions and speculations. Obviously he is defending himself. Why not? Why wouldn’t anyone in his position try to defend himself—that is, publicly respond to those who want to write him out of the teaching world? Seems to me that anyone reading the website without prejudice would agree that he seems to have a more then reasonable case for that defense.
I say that we owe it to him, as we would to any human being, to hear what he has to say, not to jump to conclusions based on incomplete information, even if ‘authorities’ stand behind those conclusions. Incomplete information is incomplete information, and a man has the right to speak on his own behalf, and to enlist others to speak for him, without being attacked for it. Instead of jumping to attack him for speaking up for himself, and to attack Rabbi Winkler for defending him, wouldn’t it be better for this community to allow some balanced dialogue on this issue?

Gafni is a rare type of teacher, and one who often gets penalized in the public forum. To use Neitzche’s old polarity, he has a Dionysian-style presence, which means that in his teachings and public meetings, a great deal of ecstatic emotion was generated. The Dionysian religious style can be easily misunderstood, and is usually suspected by those who are more Apollonian, more formal in their approach to religion. It is always suspect by those in power, simply because it is so impossible to control. Dionysian energy cannot be ‘owned,’ either by the person it flows through or by the powers that be. I can easily imagine that people around Gafni, at first enjoying the rush that his energy produces, may have ended by wanting to distance him, perhaps with personal motives, perhaps out of fear.
To continue, Dionysian energy can get that teacher into trouble, as it did with the original Dionysius. Dionysian teachers often have what a psychologist would call loose boundaries, and a tendency to take their spiritual ecstasy into more personal encounters. That means that in their lives there tend to be situations that lie outside the boundaries of the conventional. This seems to be Gafni’s case, and he has already paid dearly for these mistakes.
My point is this: a distinction needs to be made between mistakes made in the arena of sexuality and relationship, and actual sexual abuse. It seems obvious to me, that Gafni’s history is one of mistaken experimentation, not a story of abuse. I highly doubt that Gafni ever sexually harassed anyone. His response on his site has the ring of truth. Yes, as a woman, I can read between the lines here, and pick up the all-too- familiar disjunction between female bonding needs and male ‘flow.’ No doubt the guy had too many girlfriends. Dicey for a rabbi, admittedly, but not all that unusual, and probably part of an inbuilt tension he’s fielded all his life—a Dionysian guy in an Apollonian religious context. From his writing on the website, it looks as if he is coming to terms with all this in a genuine way.
Obviously there are many questions and issues for discussion here. But to draw the conclusion, as some people on this blog seem to be doing, that this man deserves to be shunned and hounded out of town, investigated in the city where he lives (and where those who know him seem to have experienced his behavior as exemplary) is not just overwrought, but scary.

For myself, I look forward to hearing the teachings that come out of all this—Gafni’s and, yes, others. And I don’t want to be told that I shouldn’t listen to the teaching because the teacher is imperfect. Hasn’t anyone heard of the wounded healer?
Sarah Goldman