Hundreds Flock to Show Support for Embattled Rabbi

Religious forum says new harassment complaints have come to light against Mordechai Elon.

Hundreds of supporters gathered at the home of Rabbi Mordechai Elon yesterday morning to show their support for the embattled rabbi, who had been accused the day before of inappropriate sexual behavior by a forum of senior religious figures.

The crowd that assembled at Elon's home in the small community of Migdal, by Lake Kinneret, included former students and friends. Haim Cohen made the trip from Katzrin in the Golan Heights.

"I've known the rabbi for 15 years," he said. "He advises me and instructs me. My life is molded by the rabbi. He guides my path."

Cohen expressed shock at the accusations against Elon. "I feel sad and hurt. The rabbi loves all his students. He kisses them and give them warmth and love. He even hugs and kisses me. It never had a sexual connotation," he said.

Takana, a forum dedicated to preventing sexual harassment by prominent religious figures, is the group that exposed the allegations. Yesterday, it received additional charges against the rabbi from former students of Elon and their parents.

As Elon entered the synagogue in Migdal yesterday, Haya Frommer couldn't stop the tears from streaming down her face. Two years ago, she left Jerusalem for Migdal "in the rabbi's wake."

Frommer was joined by 300 other students, along with other residents of Migdal and the surrounding area. All had come to hear their rabbi speak.

"A little light casts away much darkness," Elon said. "Now we must know how to use it. Let's not be dragged into hatred.

"I took silence upon myself, and I call on you not to let anyone enter into this slander. The truth will find its way faster than we think."

"The honor of restraining oneself from desecrating God's name is a great one. It falls upon me and I'm willing to accept it with love," he added.

Only human beings

"Rabbis are human beings," said Rabbi Avi Gisser of the West Bank settlement of Ofra. Gisser's appearance marked the first time a top religious Zionist rabbi has come out in defense of Elon.

Meanwhile, Takana officials convened yesterday to try to come to terms with the firestorm they sparked by exposing the allegations against Elon. The group's director, Yehudit Shilat, confirmed to Haaretz that she had received additional complaints, which the organization was investigating.

While some former students derided the charges as a "blood libel," many members of the religious Zionist community cast scorn on Takana itself.

The organization was founded in 2003, and included rabbis from all the different streams of religious Zionism. The forum's web site states that its "operational model, which has been presented to the attorney general, is not an alternative to state authorities."

Takana, it says, "is at the service of victims only when they don't want to - or for personal reasons cannot - complain to the police, but still wish to have justice served."

Complaints received by the organization are examined by a small staff, which according to regulations is comprised of two men and two women.

The forum was established in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal at Bar-Ilan University that rocked the religious Zionist community. The women's organization Kolech fought for the dismissal of the lecturer charged with harassment, but as a result of its activity, Kolech itself suffered significant criticism from the religious Zionist camp. A decision was then made to assemble the forum from a diverse collection of rabbis, psychologists, social workers and educators from across the religious Zionist spectrum, and in 2003, Takana was founded.