Friday, December 16, 2011

Tikkun - Zvi Bellin Recounts His Experience as Marc Gafni's Student in Israel

In my efforts to bring awareness to the integral community of the dangers Marc Gafni poses, I have often tried to include men in the discussion as well - the issue as I see it is not about sex, it is about power and control. The women who have related their stories to me have made this point, as well.

For the most part, however, the only visible victims (Gafni seriously dislikes the use of "victim" for the people he has used/abused because it automatically makes him a perpetrator, by definition, and he is seriously invested in not taking responsibility for what he does) have been the women he has slept with. Many others have also pointed out that men are abused as his students, as well, but this is the first time I have seen a personal statement by one of his former male students.

The fact that the article appears on the Tikkun website adds considerable weight to the account - Tikkun is one of the finest progressive Jewish magazines available.

In his article, Zvi Bellin does not mention Gafni by name - he is referred to as "the Rabbi" and in one section Bellin discusses the emphasis Gafni placed on Lashon Harah (Speaking about Others) as something that must never happen in his community. Essentially, Gafni demanded a vow of silence as a way to prevent the members of the community from discovering his actions. It's significant that all these years later, Bellin still does not name Gafni directly.

I have no issue with naming Gafni as the subject of the article, nor does one of the commentors.

It's a pretty long article and I really want readers to go there and read all of it, so I am only posting a snippet from the beginning and some pieces of the more important passages.

[UPDATE - The old link does not work - I have no doubt Gafni pressured Tikkun to remove it. Bellin put the article online at this link.]

“Asseh Lecha Rav”: A Journey Through Clergy Abuse

by: Zvi Bellin on December 13th, 2011 

Several years ago I thought I met the Rabbi of my dreams. He identified as Orthodox and also purported a deep spiritual life. He appeared warm and accepting and he seemed to understand my struggle to figure out how I can blend Judaism with the needs of my personal spirituality. 
And here are a few of the key passages:
I was loved and supported by this community. I grew in my ability to have presence in a group and to be a community facilitator. While my relationship with the community members was nurturing, I began to have serious doubts about my Rabbi’s behavior. 

First there was the emphasis on secrecy in the community. The Rabbi taught that as a spiritual community we should restrain from Lashon Harah (Speaking about Others). While this is a valuable ethic to have within any community, I later realized that the Rabbi used this teaching to ultimately discourage members of the community to talk about their relationship with him. The degree of secrecy felt like a dark shroud, where I was cautious to share valid concerns fearing that he would find out. 
* * * * * * *
Second, the Rabbi always put his vision first, regardless of how this might impact the well-being of those around him. I was able to see now how the Rabbi used tactics of manipulation to coax people to work for him. Even if these relationships turned sour, the Rabbi seemed to be unrelenting. This involved bartering a community member’s technical services for a conversion to Judaism that would never come, and sustaining a toxic working relationship with a community member that involved frequent shouting matches. Additionally, the Rabbi showed no concern for his own well-being. He seemed to work constantly through the night, obsessively checking e-mail and working on publications. 
* * * * * * *
Related to this last point, the Rabbi seemed to try to usurp power from other community leaders by openly disrespecting them in front of their community members. For example, when an elderly Eastern meditation teacher came to our community center for a debate, the Rabbi made him wait more than a hour before greeting him. He was not necessarily doing anything of dire importance, simply working on emails and publications. When confronted by the teacher’s students about his behavior the Rabbi casually dismissed their concerns. On another similar occasion the Rabbi was angry that another community leader was given the same kind of chair that he sat on because it made them look like equals.
* * * * * * *
The last point of major concern for me was that the Rabbi’s past was littered with accusations of sexual misconduct. The Rabbi mostly denied that the stories were true and tried to discredit them by defaming the people that told these stories. On a few occasions, the Rabbi was unable to counter the claims and admitted to his wrong doings, though shifted the blame to the victim. He often talked about the danger of getting stuck in the role of victim. I now speculate that his rants against victimization was his way of minimizing the hurt he had caused other people.
* * * * * * *
Finally, the silence was broken and his sexual escapades were revealed. The Rabbi, facing legal charges, decided to flee to the United States.

There was much concern for the women that the Rabbi had hurt by the larger Jewish communities that supported him over the years. Their stories were documented and the Rabbi was banned from teaching in most of the Jewish world. Though I was not manipulated into having sex with the Rabbi, I experienced psychological manipulation and after-effects from my contact with the Rabbi. As I spent time away from the community, I slowly became aware that I was being controlled by my teacher. The Rabbi would read my e-mails and respond to them as if he were me. I learned to talk like him and think like him and took on his work ethic, working many days from 8am to midnight. I think it was my need for attention and love that was the tool he used to keep me engaged in his vision. And, of course the fact that I admired his deep teachings and stated relationship to Judaism. Towards the end of my term working with him, I increasingly second-guessed my own thoughts and concerns about him. I was not able to trust my own power of reason when it concluded that my hero was a dangerous person. I began to discredit my mind in order to stay in his favor and not to rock the boat of my own fantasy. Luckily, I had a conversation with a friend who broke through and gave me permission to listen to my gut and heart.
Gafni's seriously messed up behavior is documented here in ways I have not seen before, although many of us know that this is how he operates (as described by the female students whose stories have been given more importance). Manipulation and control are seriously detrimental to everyone, as Bellin describes here.

I hope all current and potential students of Gafni read this article and question their motivations for working with him and whether or not doing so is the best thing for their spiritual growth.


Joe Perez said...


I'm reluctant to get into another back and forth with you on Marc Gafni because I know your mind is made up and heart is hardened against the man.

I would simply ask of your readers to exercise discernment. This is much ado about nothing, and anyone who reads the piece careful can see that for themselves. What it plainly recounts are events that seem pretty ordinary to me, the sort of usual politics and personality conflicts that happen in just about any religious community. But they are twisted through a poisonous hermeneutic of hate for the man, written by a man who is best friends (I have heard it said) with the two women who have made provably false complaints against Marc in Israel and coordinated their efforts with this hit-piece in an ongoing attempt to smear him. They've sure pulled you into their web of maliciousness.

First, there is the issue of "secrecy." I have personally experienced Marc to value very highly containing containers of trust and trying to ensure the emotional safety of everyone involved. This much is true. The same sort of thing is done in 12-step meetings and all the men's work containers I've been involved with. Perhaps Marc took it overboard, maybe not. It's pretty ordinary, and only when painted with this prism of hostile suspicion does it begin to sound sordid.

Secondly, there is the allegation that he always put his vision out there for people to hear, and that he is very persuasive and persistent, or "unrelenting" as the man puts it. I've experienced Marc's persistence first-hand, and I just pushed back and he respected every difference of opinion I had. Marc is incredibly respectful and honoring of differences, and even when he disagreed he did so lovingly and kindly. Frankly the author of the article sounds emotionally weak and stuck in a victim mentality, suffering from the Weakling archetype as we say in the men's work community. How else do you explain that he felt "abused" by a man stating his views firmly, and now he seeks empowerment by self-righteously exposing him with this sort of weak soup of complaints.

Thirdly, there is the allegation that Marc disrespected other people in front of his congregation. Big wup. What priest, minister, or rabbi hasn't done something like that which could be painted in a negative light by someone who is disgruntled? Really! Is this ALL the guy has on Gafni? Is this the WORST he can say about the man? Listen to the stuff people say about him, and if you strip away the "Poor me. I've been abused because someone had a strong personality and wanted a container of privacy" schtick and it's really not bad, nothing unusual that you couldn't find in any religious community anywhere with a handful of vocal disgruntled people.

Joe Perez said...


Fourthly, the author of the vicious attack says what I think is the real truth. He has heard rumors and allegations of supposedly terrible things Marc has done in his past, and this soured his whole experience with him. This is false. He is best friends with the two women and obviously coordinated this with them. He probably got Tikkun to run the piece on the promise of doing it without naming the rabbi, and then one of the women pipes up to give Marc's name, because they're on a crusade against him.

Okay, I hear the guy. Narc's been on the receiving end of some incredibly nasty and vitriolic things written about him on the Internet mostly by ex-lovers and one or two documentedly mentally unhinged women.

Marc probably would not speak ill of these women publicly, though I kind of wish he would. He tries to stay above this sort of thing because engaging these crazed people will just throw fuel to the fire. I will say frankly I have looked into their history and they are sick. You are aiding and abetting them.

I could go into the reasons why you are doing so, as best I can guess, and why they are doing so, but this reply has already gone on longer than is merited by the article. There's nothing interesting here to see, except a great postmodern example of Internet gossip blogs and rumor mills at their worst. Very sad and unfortunate, not so much for Marc Gafni, but for everyone whose reputations are susceptible to this sort of grotesque attack.

~ Joe Perez

Link to Marc Gafni's point of view and documents from others who have reviewed the material on the false allegations:

Malka said...

Thank you for posting this, Bill. I've known Gafni for about ten years and every point Zvi made rings true, resonating perfectly with my experiences, as well as with every person I know who's studied or taught with him.
There is good reason why this man has hundreds of enemies and not a single long-time friend or follower (really, how disturbing a record is that for a spiritual teacher?); everyone who is initially enamored by his charisma becomes inevitably disillusioned once the disturbing truth of who he is emerges.
I'm sure Gafni is frantically trying to downplay the significance of this article, likely framing Zvi as yet another "crazy" and "jealous" perpetrator of "malicious" false complaints against him (his favorite words). Actually, the article comes across as incredibly sane and credible.
At this point, with the weight of evidence so stacked against him from so many credible people over so many years, the only "craziness" would be in believing Gafni's version of events.

Anonymous said...

Joe Perez: Gafni has left a trail of destruction behind him now for over 30 years! 30 years of victims in multiple communities! Starting from inappropriate sexual activity with minors in his twenties, through the destruction he left in Boca Raton as a congregational Rabbi (sleeping with married congregants!!!), through his multiple failed marriages and abandoned children, sexual and financial improprieties at Minad (they took out a public ad severing ties with him!) and other places of employment, the abuses that took place at his little community in Jaffa that led him to flee Israel, on to the current violation of seducing a woman seeking counseling while going through a divorce, can this all be 30 years of persecution from "postmodern examples of Internet gossip blogs and rumor mills at their worst"? 30 years of abuse, in many different settings (from Orthodox Rabbi to New Age "guru") in multiple countries? An Israeli journalist sent to cover the story wrote that he tried to hit on her during the interview and started touching her inappropriately!!! 30 years of this!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Joe. How long have you known Marc Gafni? A few months maybe? And how much time have you spent talking to former students of his? Obviously not much, to make a statement like "I will say frankly I have looked into their history and they are sick." What exactly does "sick" mean? And does "looking into their history" mean actually talking to them and to people who know them well, or does it mean allowing Gafni to sway you into believing his distortions and lies?

Before you continue embarrassing yourself, you may want to start acting like a real journalist and get more information from the other side. Talk to some of the many people who previously did the task that you're now the only one duped enough to be playing: discounting the continuous and widespread accusations against Gafni and attempting to discredit his numerous accusers. Talk to Saul Berman, Joseph Telushkin, Arthur Waskow, Zalman Schachter, Kelly Bearer, Robb Smith, Diane Hamilton, John Dupuy, Tami Simon, Gabriel Cousens, Gershon Winkler, Rocky Anderson, Mary Lanier, so many others...all seriously disillusioned former supporters. Talk to his former Bayit Chadash board members and community members, to his many ex-wives and sexual partners, before you continue to defend someone on issues that you clearly know nothing about.

The one point I will concede is that, yes, Zvi Bellin's article is actually relatively mild...that is, compared to the much more serious abuses experienced by so many others from this man. But your attempts (undoubtably incited by Gafni operating behind-the-scenes) to belittle Zvi's very real suffering demonstrate a disconcerting lack of compassion and lack of awareness of the psychological and spiritual damage caused by abusive religious leaders.

It's over, Joe; the karma has hit the fan. There's actually nothing you can do that will change Gafni's downward trajectory. My advice to you? Walk away. Take it from the many who've been there long before you...this is not someone you will want to be associated with in the long run.

Joe Perez said...

Sorry but I will not reply to anonymous attack/comments from persons who are almost certainly one & the same as the two women who have been pursuing this awful Internet vendetta for all these years. From what I can tell, a substantial amount of the anti-Gafni hate comments are spread by one or two individuals posting under multiple aliases, trying to disguise their identity.

Whatever the case may be, there's nothing in these allegations that warrants more of my time on this blog, and in time I'll take up this topic again but in my own forum not this one.

Anonymous said...

When I first heard that Marc Gafni had re-invented himself in the New Age community and was now married and expecting another child, I gave my prediction to an acquaintance who also new Marc Gafni as to how long he would last before self-destructing again. My time frame was that he could hold out until the child was at least 2, but not past 5 years.

I was wrong. Apparently, he couldn't even last through the pregnancy.

Anonymous said...

Throw and duck out. Nice one Joe.

Anonymous said...

Joe, that's false. I'm the first anonymous of the two, and am a male, and trust me, having been around Gafni for many years, there are hundreds of people who know of the full history, just walk into the Yeshiva University lunchroom, or anywhere in Katamon (Jerusalem), and you'll hear tales of Gafni. Zvi Bellin is certainly not one of the "one or two" women, and neither are any of the rest of us. See the reality, a 30+ year trail of destruction left behind as his personal "soul print".

Anonymous said...

bravo wiiliam that you keep reminding everybody about this "spiritual" conman.
these kind of snakeoil peddlers need to be esposed as hard as possible as often as posible till they stop their irresponsible behaviour. where there is smoke there is fire and where there is 30 years of smoke trail their is a big fire . thats for sure. keep up the good work, willie

Anonymous said...

Folks, everyone should leave poor Joe Perez alone. Marc Gafni's lack of integrity has been indisputable for years, but people like Joe are on their own journey. No matter how obvious the many facts and testimonials are, he won't wake up from his delusion until he's ready.

For Joe, from the book "The Guru Question," words of wisdom said by Lee Lozowick to Mariana Caplan (to whom they also apply!):

"You will attract the experiences you need. You will learn what you need to learn. If you need to learn to be deceived by a charlatan, a charlatan will deceive you. You will learn something and you will go on."

May we all learn what we need to learn...with minimal suffering!

Thank you, William Harryman, for your ongoing clarity and commitment to this important issue.

Zvi Bellin, Ph.D. said...

Thanks everyone for the comments and support. I only wanted to comment one point that Joe raised. I did not mention Gafni by name in the article because my point was not to further defame him. He is already ruined in the Jewish community and why "beat a dead horse." The article is about what we can learn from this experience.

Joe Perez said...

P.S.: I just re-read my comment and noticed that it was written without editing and is not my finest demonstration of spelling or subject/verb agreement. Apologies to the English teachers of the world.

Rabbi Michael Lerner said...

I am the editor of Tikkun magazine. I have no idea that this was about Marc Gafni, nor was this some plan to hurt Gafni or anyone else. We posted this as a general comment on teachers and their manipulations, though as Perez rightly points out, the charges stated in the article could have been used against many many other teachers in valuable traditions. In publishing this article, we continue our tradition of publishing a wide variety of perspectives, and I hope Perez posts his response on the Tikkun website's Tikkun Daily blog, so that his perspective can also be heard. In no way do we mean to endorse the articles we send out on that blog--Tikkun's perspective can be read only in the editorials in the print magazine and in the column on our website called Editorials and the column on our abiding perspectives.

Joe Perez said...

Zvi, are you not close friends with the woman who posted a comment on the article using a pseudonym, the woman who named Marc Gafni and linked to defamatory material?

Are you honestly suggesting that you did not coordinate your article with her, and had no knowledge of her intent to defame Gafni by name? Did you request that comments naming him be removed from the article?

Surely you knew that your close friend would add Marc's name as a comment as soon as your article was published. Your claim that you did not name his is literally true, but you cannot be absolved of moral responsibility on a technicality.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I am the person who identified Marc Gafni by name. Contrary to what Joe Perez has been told by Gafni, Zvi Bellin is not my "close friend." The truth is, I have never met or spoken to or ever had any contact with the guy. I stumbled upon his article while reading the Tikkun blog and felt morally obligated to identify who was clearly being discussed.
I would not have done so if Marc Gafni had taken even a tiny bit of responsibility for his unethical behaviors, or if he wasn't still trying to attract followers through deception and seduction. Even though he is, as Zvi mentioned, "ruined" in the Jewish world, and I would add, in the Integral world and far beyond, he is still dangerous and should be kept from vulnerable students as much as possible.
Gafni continues to discount and frame his scandals as being just about sex and "consensual relationships"; Zvi's article contributes a valuable tool for limiting future harm by demonstrating, as Bill points out, that Gafni's abuse is really about power and control, causing suffering well beyond the many women he slept with.

Joe Perez said...


I don't know who you are. Your name is "Anonymous." On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog (as they say).

I am biting my tongue so as not to indulge this completely empty article of Zvi's with more attention. But in conclusion, it has not escaped my notice that the anonymous haters on the comment boxes cannot defend the false sexual allegations as true, nor has there ever been any compelling evidence of any notable sexual impropriety, and so notice how the haters handle this. They change the subject to the allegation that this is really about power and manipulation. They can't prove any of the sex charges, so they turn to Gafni's strong personality, persistence, charisma, and dynamic leadership style ... and say it's abusive and manipulative.

Read Zvi's piece closely, see for yourself how utterly empty it is, and how truly pathetic it is that he has signed his name to a piece charging a Rabbi of "abuse" because of such horrible crimes as keeping some guests waiting longer than Zvi thought was polite. It's ridiculous.

~ Joe Perez

William Yenner said...

Hi Bill,

I've read "A Journey Through Clergy Abuse" by Zvi Bellin with interest. I noted that Michael Lerner seemed to take a more positive response to the expose of Gafni in this recent post than he did in an earlier criticism written by Be Scofield and posted on Tikkun, which mentions Andrew Cohen, Marc Gafni and several other "integral" teachers. That post lasted only a few hours before Lerner removed it.

Here's the link to my coverage of that episode:

Though Lerner states that "we continue our tradition of publishing a wide variety of perspectives", it looks like the tradition hasn't always been consistently applied.

William Yenner
December 21, 2011

Dafna said...

Dear Joe,

My name is Dafna, and I am one of the women you are mistakenly referring to. We have never spoken or met, and I would really appreciate if you would kindly abstain from posting conspiracy theories about my or other people’s involvement in this, and speaking ill about them in public.

I am indeed a dear friend of Zvi’s, and I do share his perspective and much of his personal experience.
With this said, I am sorry to disappoint you: there is no evil networking, no teaming up, to destroy Mordechai.

This article was about Zvi’s personal experience, not about defaming Gafni.
Zvi did not share or coordinate this article with me or anyone else.
I first read it, as you did, when it was published.

I also didn’t leave any anonymous comments or mentioned Gafni’s name.
To be more exact, I’ve abstained (as many others did) all these years from speaking publicly about him.

I am very glad and proud that Zvi shared his experience and extended the conversation from its limited focus on sexual abuse towards women, to what it is really: power and spiritual abuse.

Joe, no one is investing any energy or time in “destroying” Gafni.
I am sorry to say that he does a pretty good job of that, all by himself.

The person responsible for this constant deep pain and mess in Mordechai’s life is Mordechai.

I feel sorry and sad that after all these many years; instead of taking responsibility for his actions, apologizing, and receiving help, he is still haunted by the same paranoid and narcissistic conception(which is also used as his main defense), that evil and jealous people are trying to destroy him.

I spent years defending Gafni, exactly like you are doing right now.
And nothing that anyone said to me, could convince me otherwise, or move me from my firm position.
It took me many years and much pain to gain clearness.

None of the people, who shared about their painful experiences of Gafni, are crazy or evil. They do not speak out with the intention to humiliate him. They are all good and decent people, who were once his closest friends, who cared and loved him, and who tried for years and years to help him and defend him in hope that he will change his ways.

I bless you Joe, that your journey will be shorter and less painful then mine, and I wish Mordechai many healing blessings and that he will seek much needed help.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Zvi for your truth-telling and poignant article and Dafna for your eloquent and caring response.

Anonymous said...

" I would simply ask of your readers to exercise discernment. "

Its time that Ken W exercise discernment. Da Free John, Andrew Cohen, and now and yet again, Gafni.

As another commenter put it,

"Anonymous said...
Bill, I appreciate your exposing Gafni for the fraud that he quite apparently is. Wilber's endorsement should come as no big surprise. This is the same naive intellectual who raved that Adi Da was the most advanced spiritual leader of all time, and who has more recently raved about the "bad boy"methods of Andrew Cohen. Wilber, like most people who write about spirituality, wouldn't know the real thing if it were standing in front of him (mostly because the real thing does not write books or give talks bragging about how spiritual it is).

To Gafni's supporters, I ask a simple question: forget all the philandering, the overwhelming evidence that he is as much a slave of his desires as the next person. What has he ever done that indicates to you that he is so spiritually advanced? And don't say, "I can just feel it when I see or hear him". By that standard, there are thousands of not millions of gurus out there, every one as advanced as Gafni.

Let me also take this opportunity to give appreciation for your blog. I'm both a neuroscientist and long-time spiritual practitioner, and find much here of interest."

And, Gafni was discussed on Integral Options back in 2006

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

This brought to three the number of troubled powerholders whom Wilber had endorsed.

In June 2006 Ken's mature response to concerns and criticisms was his infamous Wyatt Earpy tirade.

Which had the effect of diverting attention away from the discussion of Wilber's blind spot in endorsing and excusing this triple gem of three abusive gurus.

If AQUAL cannot keep Wilber's own vision clear--how can the rest of us get any benefit?

Its time for what someone has termed 'devotional enabling' to end.

And high time to retire the paradigm of rude boy guru and also take the crazy wise alibi out to trashbin where it belongs.

Cruelty is cruelty is cruelty and nothing can redeem it except to name it for what it is and cease to rationalise it on "spiritual" grounds.

And Joe is a man, and unless he states otherwise, never lived under the authority of Gafni.

Likewise the three gurus Ken has endorsed--Ken never lived under their authority either, but sang their praises from a safe distance.

Jared said...

I posted the following comment below on Marc's site, and found that it has been deleted. I have no dog in this fight, but have been following it with interest. My entire post is below:

This is a pretty remarkable article. To point out only one line:

"I do not believe it is fair to ask a teacher to share the details of his or her romantic life, particularly if they are single, or even if they are in a marriage which will inevitably have years that are more challenging, with the mistakes that many human beings make occurring along the way."

So it's okay for a teacher to have affairs? Because, reading between the lines here, that seems to be what you are saying. I'm not personally involved with this controversy in any way, but I've been following it with interest because I used to have a spiritual teacher that was accused of abuse.

Why is Marc involved with so many women? This, to me, is the crux of the matter. Whether he intentionally abused or hurt them seems like it's probably in the eye of the beholder.

It sounds like, in the least, he got involved with many women and left a trail of hurt feelings in his wake. I don’t understand why he can't see that even if these relationships are fully mutual, that it's simply not a good idea to be involved sexually with a bunch of people.

This goes for anyone, but especially for spiritual teachers or people in positions of power. Why run the risk of creating a trail of karma that could harm your life's work? Maybe it's time for Marc to look at why he consistently seems to need to be sexually involved with many people.