Too Harsh Treatment for Elon

Rabbis might not have been as quick to condemn their fellow cleric were it not for his alleged homosexuality.

Would the treatment that the religious Zionist Takana panel meted out to Rabbi Mordechai Elon, including the publication of serious allegations, have been so rigorous had it been discovered that an important rabbi was sexually abusing female students and not males? One member of the group who was asked this question said that "the forum handles all kinds of cases, this is a fact, but it could be that the intensity would have been lower. That's understandable. You don't expect this kind of thing from a rabbi, especially with people who were his students."

More than a week after the affair hit the headlines, the question of what Elon did exactly is still up in the air. I don't mean detailed descriptions - the panel rightly kept those to itself - but the accusers have not clearly convinced the public, and especially Elon's flock, that every aspect of the scandal it has created belongs in the public domain. Takana members are sparing with the details but generous with headline-making phrases like "protracted sexual relationship," "acts of great gravity" and "more than mere harassment." This leaves the public no choice but to believe that such respected public figures would not have dared to sling such mud at a rabbi like Elon without solid factual grounds.

Nonetheless, it has not been established whether Elon is "a public menace," as the Takana rabbis have declared, because he is a criminal offender or because in their eyes he is liable to trample ethical principles. Second, it has not been established what internal community codes he has breached, and third, it's not clear to what extent he "abused his authority over his students".

It's easy for the rabbis to explain Elon's responsibility when the person involved is a minor and a direct student of his, which is apparently the substance of one of the complaints. It's harder to explain this responsibility when the people are adults who were not direct students of his. And it would certainly be difficult for the police to see it as criminal behavior.

In the background of this affair is the controversy in Orthodox society over the dilemma concerning homosexual relationships, in particular the attempts by Orthodox gay men and women to meet with rabbis and receive guidance, "permission" or acceptance of their way of life. It's clear that this is also the implicit background of the Elon case both because he had advised young people with "contrary tendencies" and is alleged to have taken advantage of that counseling. Also, he is now "suspected" of being that way himself.

The rabbis strongly deny the claim that they came out against Elon because he is, apparently, a homosexual. They say they do not address "the purity of the camp, but only cases of abuse of authority." However, it's clear that they did deal with this matter. This emerges from what Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, the head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva and apparently the senior member of the panel that investigated the case, told his students last week.

He said that "I do not want to go into details. It's a matter of complaints about acts and behaviors that are not appropriate in a world of holiness and morality ... not between him and her, but between him and him. It's difficult to describe to you the sorrow and distress .... Since the first stories, seven years have gone by, and we had hoped that the man accepted responsibility and that surely now he was interested in overcoming these tendencies and had understood that it affected his situation and status. At that stage we acted gently regarding the steps we wanted to take so that the phenomenon would not spread and so that there would be a note of sanction and to convey the message of 'therefore shall thy camp be holy.'"

There are acts the Orthodox community cannot tolerate even if they are perpetrated by a rabbi in his own private space. But if what the Takana rabbis are talking about here are Elon's "tendencies," they should make that clear. They may have acted courageously by coming out against a rabbi with considerable influence in their community. Now they must also act with honesty and responsibility and persuade the public that the actions they attribute to him are indeed "grave."