I write about the great tragedy of someone I greatly admired and will miss very much – Rav Mordechai (Motti) Elon. This past week he has once again been accused of acting in a sexually inappropriate way with a young student who recently came to him for counseling, and the very esteemed Rabbis who have dealt with it have let it be known that the evidence is incontrovertible, and was admitted to by the perpetrator.
This is so personally painful to me on both on a national and personal level.
On a national level, it is painful for two reasons. First, it is an enormous Chilul Hashem when respected Rabbis abuse their standing and power with young people for their own personal vices. In this case, we are dealing with a Rabbi who is extremely loving, caring and sensitive, who has charisma that is off the charts, and who easily gains the confidence of many through his wonderful personality, charm, humor, incredible scholarship and wisdom. When this is misused and abused, it rightly causes horror in the eyes of all who expect the highest level of propriety and morality from a celebrated religious figure and unfortunately reflects badly on the Torah and Hashem who they have claimed to represent. The victims of this abuse are in a particularly difficult quandary; they greatly fear that they will be mocked, ridiculed and attacked if they dare to tell the truth about a beloved public figure, who they are in essence “ruining” for his admirers.
there is no one who more consistently took my breath away with the majesty, depth, profundity, and beauty of Torah than he.
Secondly, it is such a tragic national waste and loss. I have had the great privilege of hearing beautiful Torah from many great Rabbonim and Torah teachers over my sixty years, but I can honestly say that there is no one who on a regular basis took my breath away with the majesty, depth, profundity, and beauty of Torah than he. Week after week he would not just give a good shiur, but he hit it out of the park and blew me away. As an incredible Talmid Chacham and master orator, he was on track to be a great Rosh Yeshiva (He already was a Rosh Yeshiva in Horev and HaKotel) or Chief Rabbi and was one of the most respected and beloved Rabbanim in Israel. Thousands listened to his regular shiurim at public lectures, on the radio, and on television. The message of Ahavat Yisrael, understanding between people, and the relevance of Torah to our modern world was compelling and vital. His loss as a teacher of Torah is incalculable.
On a personal level, given what I had come to know of his Torah, I was totally immersed in it. For almost the past twenty years I have been listening, watching and reading thousands of hours of his Torah. A very large percentage of the Torah that I have given over to others in sermons, shiurim, Divrei Torah and Shabbat conversations were based on Torah that I eagerly drank from him. My deepest neshama connected with his Torah intimately, and I felt so very grateful that I had found this incessant overflowing wellspring of inspiration that I could constantly turn to. It came to a point that I conceived that my mission in life was to introduce the English-speaking Torah world to his teaching. I recorded a weekly series on the OURadio website called “Torat Rav Elon”. I was one of the translators of his Haggadah into English. I had plans to increase this activity and to produce a book in English of his Torah.
Then, eight years ago, the bombshell hit. Seamy allegations were released by Forum Takana, a group including several well respected Rabbanim. He was publicly accused of sexual abuse. He resigned his position at Yeshivat Hakotel and moved to Migdal, a small village near the Kinneret. His website was shut down. He underwent a criminal trial and – although many charges were dismissed as witnesses refused to testify and the statute of limitations applied for others – he was found guilty of inappropriate behavior with a minor and received a suspended sentence. The reverberations of scandal rocked the National religious world. I and thousands of his students and listeners went through the classic stages of mourning: Shock, Denial, Anger, Grief, and finally Acceptance of the new reality.
Except that I, and many others, could never really go through the stage of Acceptance. I was sure – given the stature of some of the Rabbanim involved with Forum Takana – that something bad had happened, but I was equally sure that it probably wasn’t quite as bad as they had made it out to be. And although I tried to stay away from his recordings and his written shiurim, I still found myself inexorably drawn to them; the gaping void he had left in me was too deep. I would sometimes quote him in my teaching and writing, but never by name, saying only “My Rav in Eretz Yisrael said …”. And I increasingly found that I could not tear myself away from his teaching, as others had, despite the advice of many to stay away.
I felt that the pain, loss of stature and public humiliation that he had undergone were punishment enough for whatever harm he might have caused. It was time to move on.
Fast forward to last year, and my coming on Aliyah. Friends told me that he was once again giving shiurim in Migdal and in a new Bet Midrash in Yerushalayim. I could not help myself and went once, and encountered what I perceived to be a changed man. He had aged quite a bit, now all white-haired. He had become a devout Chasid of Chabad. (My theory, which I never checked out, was that besides deeply identifying with the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Torah, after being rejected by the Dati Leumi world, he found the Chabad community, accepting, inviting and non-judgmental, as is their wont.) He seemed humbled, consistently talking about the importance of lowering one’s ego, and somehow more accessible. I felt that the pain, loss of stature and public humiliation that he had undergone were punishment enough for whatever harm he might have caused. It was time to move on.
And I found myself drawn to come back, again and again. I loved attending his shiurim in Yerushalayim. I was thrilled that I live in the Galilee and could regularly attend his shiur in Migdal and celebrate special occasions such as Hoshana Rabba, and occasionally talk with him. Most of all, I treasured his daily ten-minute WhatsApp shiurim that I played during my commute every morning to Karmiel for Shacharit. I was happy that he was once again a big part of my life.
And then the news hit this week. Once again, allegations surfaced. Only this time, I would have to admit and finally accept with a heavy heart, that I could no longer see him as a teacher of Torah.
I wrote this essay partially because it is hopefully cathartic for me to write it down, but for another reason as well.
I must recognize that once again I have come face to face with a hard and cold truth. Sexual abusers are rarely, if ever, cured. Especially when they are not looking to be cured.
It was not an act of stupidity – he is far from stupid and this act went way beyond stupid. It is a sickness; one that likely cannot be cured.
This is not the only time in my life that I have had to learn this lesson up close and personally. There was another sexual predator who I knew, who convinced me that he was “cured”. I believed him, and the results were disastrous. I now know the cold and hard truth. Whatever it is that drives a person to be sexually abusive comes from a place that is beyond reason and beyond rational decision—and too often beyond control. This case is a perfect example. The man had everything one could want. Genius, public acclaim, financial backing, a prominent position, a beautiful wife and family, a glorious future that was his for the taking, and he blew it all for some perverted small fleeting pleasure. It was not an act of stupidity – he is far from stupid and this act went way beyond stupid. It is a sickness; one that is very difficult, but not impossible to cure.
May his victims, and all victims of abuse find comfort and healing from the trauma that they suffered. (This is only the latest of three terrible cases of prominent Rabbis abusing their followers this year, let alone what is going on, lehavdil, in the Catholic church). And may we all be spared from having to go through these painful and shameful episodes, and may Hashem’s name once again be made great.