Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rabbinic abuse

This horrifying story about Mordechai Gafni, recently fired spiritual leader of "Bayit Chadash" in Israel, gives more details about his abuse of teenage girls in the United States, quite a while before he went to Israel and changed his name from Marc Winiarz. A series of postings on Jewschool, starting with Gafni Strikes Again on May 12 outlines the charges against him. The case has also been covered in the Forward and in Haaretz.

More information from a Ynet article:
Since the 1980s' Gafni – also known as Marc (Mordechai) Winyarz – has been accused of molesting teenage students as a young rabbi with the now-defunct Jewish Public School Youth organization, and of plagiarizing influential rabbis such as late Yeshiva University rector Rabbi Joseph Dov Soleveitchik and Shlomo Carlebach. One former colleague who experienced Winyarz's sexual advances first-hand says he had a magnetic charm, but was entirely unpredictable and manipulative. "He simply couldn't control himself," she says.

As a rabbi in Boca Raton, Florida in the late 1980s, Gafni was censured by the South County Rabbinical Association for ''denigrating'' other congregations, for "undermining" the work of the local kosher food authority and for raiding other synagogues for members. The censure was eventually revoked. And Rabbi Shlomo Riskin says Gafni's was the only ordination he has ever revoked. Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat and one of Modern Orthodoxy's leading spokesmen....

In a 2004 interview with New York Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt, Gafni admitted committing statutory rape as a young rabbi, but dismissed the allegations because he was a "stupid kid and we were in love.... She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her," said the rabbi. But unconfirmed reports attributed to that victim paint a rather less flattering picture of their "affair":

"(There he was) in my room, standing over me at my bedside in only his underwear. I had not even heard him come in the door. He lay down next to me and began touching me again, like he had previously. I said, 'Mordechai, no, this is wrong.' It was as if he didn't even hear me. I just shut down and let him do what he was going to do. He continued fondling me, took off all of my clothes and his. He positioned himself on top of me ready for intercourse.

"'When did you get your last period?' he asked. What a weird question. I wasn't sure of the answer. I just made something up. 'That's no good.' He replied. 'You know I could get you pregnant.' He seemed disappointed as he lay beside me. Mordechai took my hand and forced me to help him climax. I had never done anything like that before. I had never even seen a man naked. He ejaculated all over me. I felt horrible. When he was finished he stood abruptly.

"Get cleaned up and come upstairs," he ordered and left the room. But by the time this interview was published, the New York State statute of limitations had expired, and Gafni was never prosecuted.
I haven't commented on this case before because I've never met Gafni, attended Bayit Chadash, and have only a slight connection to Jewish Renewal. But this is a truly disturbing story, one unfortunately with many echoes in other parts of the Jewish and Christian worlds.


  1. FYI: you can find a lot more articles about Marc Gafni on The Awareness Center's web page:

  2. also to learn more about Rabbi Yehuda Kolko go here: