Rabbi Mordechai Elon
Rabbi Mordechai Elon Photo by Orel Cohen
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Four years after abruptly and inexplicably leaving his post as head of a prestigious Jerusalem yeshiva, Rabbi Mordechai Elon is set to return to providing spiritual guidance to the throngs of followers who have earned him a reputation as one of the leading rabbis of the religious Zionist community. Haaretz has learned that Elon, suspected of sexually exploiting students over several years, has forged an agreement with the rabbi of a major Tel Aviv synagogue to lead weekly Torah sessions there.

In February, the rabbinical forum Takana, a watchdog aimed at preventing sexual exploitation, said on its website that its probe showed Elon had committed "acts that contravene the values of sanctity and morals" and had sexually taken advantage of students at Jerusalem's Hakotel and Horev yeshivas.

Last week, however, Elon won the backing of Rabbi Shlomo Dichovsky, a leading ultra-Orthodox figure, widely viewed as a bridge between that community and the religious Zionist camp. Dichovsky said he had acceded to a request from Elon's students to let him teach at Heichal Meir, his expansive synagogue in central Tel Aviv.

Elon's students said he intends to begin leading the sessions within a week or two.

Dichovsky's endorsement is the most significant rabbinical display of support Elon has received since the scandal erupted. Dichovsky is an esteemed Torah scholar, a veteran Rabbinical High Court judge and was the candidate of former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak to sit on the nation's highest court.

Though Dichovsky has yet to meet with Elon, he heaped praise on the latter in recent meetings with his students and criticized the Takana probe. Last week, Elon visited Heichal Meir and met with synagogue authorities and students.

The weekly Torah session was the initiative of his Tel Aviv-based students, who had asked him to resume the regular lessons he had led at Bar-Ilan University, his long-time educational home, where he drew hundreds of young followers.

Students said Elon had agreed to Dichovsky's request despite the advice of Roni Rimon, the disgraced rabbi's strategic adviser, to stay away from public appearances for the foreseeable future.

Dichovsky has said in private conversation that he has serious doubts about the allegations against Elon and, though he admires the rabbis who comprise Takana, he questioned whether they followed the rules of religious law in pursuing their investigation.

Dichovsky identifies himself as ultra-Orthodox, but in recent years has come into conflict with more conservative Haredi factions over rulings seen as too lax. These included a ruling allowing women denied a get (permission to divorce ) to remarry and another decision against the annulment of conversions. Dichovsky heads a professional committee appointed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman that is charged with designating powers between rabbinical and civilian courts.

Elon left his educational and public positions in 2006 without offering any explanation. Leaving his family and prestigious post in Jerusalem, he moved to the isolated Galilee community of Migdal, where a devoted coterie of followers continued to heed his every decree.

Takana said that former attorney general Menachem Mazuz had been aware of the allegations against Elon in 2006 but declined to investigate. Mazuz's successor, Yehuda Weinstein, said he would be looking into the allegations, and three months ago Channel 2 News reported that Weinstein would soon announce he had discovered no basis for criminal charges against Elon. That announcement, however, was never made, and the case remained virtually forgotten.

Should the Elon file be closed, it would be an embarrassment for Takana, even though the forum did not accuse Elon of criminal acts, but only of "abusing authority."

Takana expressed disappointment that students who had complained of Elon's conduct over the years later refused to cooperate with the authorities. The rabbinical figures said that should the attorney general close the file, they would pursue the case, possibly through a lawsuit.

Elon has not commented publicly on the allegations against him. He set up a website offering followers his weekly Torah sessions in Migdal.

An official response from the Takana forum was not available yesterday. But Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a Takana member involved in the Elon probe, told Haaretz, "The first obligation contained in the Torah and religious law is the one applying to the wounded; the question of Rabbi Elon's qualifications is secondary. That's the starting point from which Takana operated. The forum's mission and public role is, first and foremost, to care for the victims - that's what we do." Cherlow added: "I very much respect Rabbi Dichovsky, and I imagine he knows all of the details" [of the suspicions against Elon]. Elon's adviser Rimon said he "is at home in Migdal and has yet to decide on the matter."