Pursue Justice - Within the Community

As is customary in these parts, the Rabbi Mordechai Elon affair very quickly became the Takana affair. The public debate has shifted - as Elon's supporters wished - from shock at Elon's alleged sexual misconduct to a discussion of the legitimacy of Takana, an umbrella group of religious Zionist organizations aimed at combating sexual harassment by religious figures.

Two main contentions have been raised against Takana, which examined the allegations against Elon and recently revealed them to the public. The argument that the group lacks the adequate tools to examine such matters is practical, while the other claim - that in a properly functioning country it is improper to set up an independent tribunal alongside the official law enforcement system - is a matter of principle.

The practical argument seems stronger. A group such as Takana does indeed lack the ability of the police to obtain evidence. But this case is not about a physical assault that can be proved with physical evidence, but about sexual harassment complaints. The police would also probably have difficulty finding clear-cut evidence in this case.

Moreover, either side could have gone to the police had it felt the process did not do it justice. The fact that nobody did so shows that both sides believed this process was better for them.

How, then, can either party (in this case, Elon) now claim that "natural justice" has been impaired?

As for the second contention, the counterargument is that the criminal process is not a goal in itself, but a means to three ends: punishing the offenders, halting the transgressions and deterring potential perpetrators. Had Takana not investigated the allegations, would any of these goals have been achieved (either in this case or in similar ones)? Probably not. The complainants would not have gone to the police for fear of being publicly exposed. This fear is common among sexual assault victims, especially in the religious community, and even more so when the complaint is against a dominant religious figure.

Takana's course of action, by contrast, facilitates sanctions for those who did wrong, increases the chances that they will put a stop to their actions (because they know they have been exposed and are under surveillance) and, to a certain extent, helps deter others.

Are not these partial achievements preferable to failing to deal with the issue in the first place? Or must the formal standard be maintained at all cost, regardless of the situation's complexity? In such a case, many would simply forgo the criminal procedure. In other words, had a group like Takana not existed, or if the criticism leads to its being dismantled, would the sexual assault victims be better off or worse off?

One could say a community-based course of action like the kind represented by Takana has advantages over the criminal procedure. Going the criminal justice route requires quite a bit of exposure, and is also formalistic and technical - a difficult ordeal, especially when it comes to delicate issues like sexual assault. In such cases, community action has a better chance of doing justice while treading carefully to preserve the dignity of all concerned, as apparently was done in this case.

Those who support going through the courts should acknowledge that there are certain procedures that work better when they are conducted within the community. Perhaps we should adopt the principle that in delicate issues like sexual assault, the state will officially authorize a community-based tribunal for those who are interested. In such a case, the equivalents of judges would receive their authorization from the state, which would also be able to assess their suitability. Such a tribunal would be subject to Israeli law, but would be able to go about its business with the proper sensitivity and discretion.