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New-age Rabbi Gafni Accused of Sex Crimes

Three female members of the international spiritual community Bayit Chadash (New Home) filed complaints of sexual exploitation 10 days ago against its leader, Rabbi Mordechai Gafni.

The three, students of Gafni who also worked with him in the community, accused the spiritual leader of using his authority to take advantage of them.

Bayit Chadash is a self proclaimed "neo-Orthodox" spiritual-cultural Jewish community founded by the 44-year-old Gafni.

The host of a Channel 2 television show, Gafni has also written several books and is renowned for his research work.

The three women, along with another woman who decided not to file an official complaint, claim they were manipulated and sexually exploited by Gafni. They told the police Gafni swore them to secrecy after having sex with them.

The affair was accidentally revealed when two of the women discussed their respective sexual relationships and realized both had been sexually exploited by Gafni.

After discovering that two other women had had similar experiences, the four approached Bayit Chadash leaders and informed them about the encounters.

The women then were referred to the organization's lawyer, to whom they gave detailed depositions, and the police.

The three separate complaints were filed at the beginning of the month. Gafni fled Israel a few days later to the United States.

Bayit Chadash leaders decided to dismiss Gafni's employment after conducting a detailed investigation into the matter.

"We must inform you that official complaints against Rabbi Gafni have been filed with the police," the leaders wrote in a letter sent to hundreds of members. "He is charged with sexual offenses against women in our community. We unanimously agree that under the circumstances, we must recommend to the organization's committee to terminate Rabbi Gafni's employment. It has been decided that he will be removed.

The situation is extremely serious because of the involvement of women from within the community. We will not tolerate this kind of behavior between a rabbi and a student, or between an employer and his employees. We have no doubt that the women are truthful. Rabbi Gafni does not deny the accusations. We feel cheated."

Gafni wrote a remorseful letter to the members of the community Tuesday saying he understands he is ill and must undergo treatment. He added that he takes full responsibility for hurting the women, and regrets having done so.

Rabbi Jacob Ner-David, a leader of Bayit Chadash, said he hopes that Gafni gets treatment, but even if he does, he will probably not return to the community.