Letter to the Editor: Regarding Mark Gafni

By Staff

We, the undersigned, support Rabbi Marc Gafni in clearing his name and moving forward with his life. We, the undersigned, support Rabbi Marc Gafni in clearing his name and moving forward with his life.

We want to thank Catalyst magazine for doing such a nuanced, insightful and courageous piece of Journalism. In a time when people all to easily seek to impose superficial explanations on far more interesting and complex realities is a breath of fresh air. Your view of the four factors that created this situation rings true to us who have investigated this thoroughly and your willingness to say clearly that Gafni suffered a major injustice was courageous and important.

Each of us has spent lots of time looking at this story. We each have had, like many thousands of others, a sustained positive experience of Gafni’s goodness, each of us in different contexts. We experiences his genuine care and love for others, his integrity, not to speak of his wildly profound wisdom and commitment to teaching and service.

We write this rather extensive letter to the editor, stating our understanding of all this,  to add our voices in support of Marc’s future unfolding which all of us are convinced will be of great service to many people

As we know, in this age of the Internet, anyone who views you in a way that satisfies him or her and vilifies you can get wide circulation. It does not matter if what is claimed is true or not, only that someone has decided to blog it, post it, or offer it to the cyberworld.

Often such stories are given space on search engines, and even picked up by the legitimate media. Efforts to right the record are laborious and often yield no long-term results. Put simply, the slanted or falsified claim, the inaccurate spin, or the angry diatribe can overtake common sense and distort the true chain of events.

Such has been the case with Rabbi Marc Gafni. Gafni, a talented, bohemian and iconoclastic teacher, ran an informal populist movement of Jewish revival, meeting in his home in Israel, on Israel’s beaches and in other informal settings. He conferred no degrees, held no institutional positions, and promised no one the World to Come. He was somewhat of a celebrity rabbi-scholar.  Critics and enthusiasts alike acknowledge the depth of his scholarship, what one writer called his "dazzling brilliance", his vision and his commitment. We and others who know him well experience his goodness, his sincerity, his caring and genuine love for people.  We also experience his human complexity.

Gafni was both wise and foolish.  Because he worked, traveled and taught virtually around the clock, he tended to become involved with some of the women in his circle. 
They were all adult, powerful, self-determined women who became romantically or sexually involved with him at different times. Having reviewed hundreds of pages of documentary evidence, including first-person correspondence between Gafni and these women at the time of their engagements, we have come to the following conclusions: 

Their encounters were mutual, consensual and based  on affection and attraction and often initiated by the women.
There was never any form of false promise or deception to gain sexual relations.
There was no inappropriate deployment of power.

In this, we reject the culturally prevalent assumption that in these situations a male leader is necessarily more powerful and the woman who engages with him necessarily powerless. In fact, as several leading feminist writers have pointed out, both sides in such engagements often hold both power and vulnerability. 

Still, as happens all too often in contemporary sexual dynamics, a false story line emerged in which Marc was portrayed as someone engaged in a form of sexual harassment.
These assertions were then cleverly linked to reports that had been circulated in the Jewish press and on disreputable Internet sites, claiming that Gafni had, 25 and 30 years before, had sexual relations with two under-age women. This is not true.  These allegations as reported on the Internet distort both the nature of those relationships and the substance of the engagements. An internationally respected expert in polygraph testing administered three polygraph tests to Marc, supporting the assertion that these two claims are untrue in the manner that they were reported on the Internet and in the press.

 In one of the stories Gafni himself was only 19 and just out of high school and the woman was in the first year of high school. The relationship involved no more than mutual teenage petting, and both of them at the time experienced at the time it as a deeply loving relationship. Both, the extent and nature of this relationship as described here has been supported by polygraph. 

 In the second story as well, there was a very limited one-time contact between the 25 year Gafni and a 16-year-old woman, who according to polygraph, asked Gafni to have sexual relations with her, which he refused. Of course, since he was a youth leader at the time, any intimate contact was wrong on Gafni’s part. But nothing abusive in the sense suggested in the falsified or distorted internet stories took place. The polygraph confirms this.   That said, in statements on his website, Gafni has publicly acknowledged his mistakes in these contexts, as well as his regrets in not having been fully transparent to his earlier supporters regarding one aspect of this latter story.

Gafni sought advice on his initial and later decision not to be transparent in this regard, from credible figures in the Jewish community. He followed their advice. His reasons for doing so are understandable, though unfortunate, but not indicative of any sort of pathology on his part. All the  psychological evaluations confirm this. He has publicly expressed his regret for that mistaken decision.

All the professional evaluations of Gafni’s character and behavior in this and in any other regard have stated that attempts to portray him as abusive in relationships is unfounded.

One of the most outrageous and vicious manifestations over the last several years has been hate blogs and other ill-informed sources, which suggested that Gafni was accused of rape which is categorically false and blogs which claimed that he was guilt of statutory rape which, as supported by Polygraph, by Gafni’s statements, and by the statements of the woman in question herself,  is also categorically false.

Unfortunately for Gafni, it seems that in his world there were enough detractors willing to support the false claims. As provocative and energetic teachers often do, he had attracted both popularity and envy, both affection and enmity. Apparently he took up too much space for some in the teaching world. One of the evaluators suggests that hidden motives involving power, malice, and hypocrisy, particularly among certain sectors of rabbinic and lay leadership contributed to layer the sub-text of this story.

The complaints were immediately accepted as true, even though unproven, and a sort of lynch-mob-style hysteria set into motion a chain of events that ended with Gafni being forced into a self-imposed exile. This happened without any attempt, before or after, by former colleagues to even contact Gafni or discover his side of the story. This is the clearest indication that under the cover of sexual politics something very not kosher happened here. 

Not surprisingly, some of the very same rabbis and spiritual teachers who condemned him, and who have acted against him behind the scenes, have themselves engaged in unconventional sexual  behavior, and made similar mistakes. It would appear that when what one writer called ‘sexual hysteria’ takes over, self-protective fear in many forms overcomes decency, fairness and friendship. All this contributes to an atmosphere that Alan Dershowitz correctly labeled sexual McCarthyism.

At this point, the purveyors of several "hate" blogs ostensibly dedicated to "outing" Jewish clerics joined the pursuit and flooded the internet with feverishly slanderous stories, aimed at destroying this man’s reputation irrevocably. As in McCarthyism, which played on our legitimate fear of the evil of communism, sexual McCarthyism manipulates our valid fear of sexual abuse. One blogger, who has built her professional life on a ludicrous claim that Jews in the context of satantic cults, including herself, ritually sacrificed babies, ran viciously libelous postings calling Gafni a "confessed molester", "predator" and the like. Sadly there is little one can do to sue successfully for internet slander.

So now, we come to reclaim this complex, gentle, audacious and good soul.
The facts of this story are simply put:

To reiterate: Gafni’s computer records, containing hundreds of emails and instant messages between him and the women, at the time of the relationships and afterwards, which had been deleted from his computer, are  now recovered, and show that he deployed no form of abusive power over these powerful adult women. 

There was never any implied or explicit quid pro quo in any of these relationships.

The correspondence shows the tenor of the relationships to be mutual, affectionate and respectful and often sexually initiated by the women themselves.

The polygraph tests mentioned above, conducted by an independent and well-respected international expert, support Marc’s assertion that there was no sexual harassment or the like at all.

Independent psychological evaluators, who reviewed the records of the women’s own first-person accounts of the events at the time, also fully support the simple truth that none of these relationships involved sexual harassment of any kind.

Gafni , for much of  his life was a post-conventional bohemian.  He did make mistakes in some of his sexual choices through the years. Where possible and appropriate he has asked forgiveness.

Information about all of this, as well as a number of professional evaluations, can be found on his website, www.marcgafni.com under the "controversy" tab. These should be sufficient for all fair-minded people to exonerate Gafni of any suggestion that he is a sexual harasser.

So why has this story persisted?

Gafni chose to leave Israel, rather than fight. He did this for two reasons. First, his computer files had been deleted, apparently deliberately, and he needed to recover them in order to prove his innocence. Secondly, as someone with a commitment to serve his community, he did not want to create a public spectacle by attacking his attackers. Thirdly, he wanted time to do the inner work needed to identify his responsibility in the contribution system that allowed these shocking events to unfold.

In his angst, he penned a letter of remorse that was an outpouring of his devastated emotional state at the time of the explosion. On reflection, it would have behooved him to have waited for a calmer moment, but he was deeply wounded to his core.  His desire was to end the hysteria, and he mistakenly believed that he could do so by taking upon himself the responsibility for any problems or "sickness" that had arisen in the organization he had founded.

Gafni has suffered and done profound inner work, validated by objective professional evaluations. He is neither predator, molester, nor harasser. Quite the opposite.  He is, in the words of one of the evaluators, "an intensely moral man who is completely reputable."  He is also a complex, loving, good and sometimes naive man, who took the wrong path by involving himself with women he should never have engaged.

Rabbi Gafni has been misjudged, abandoned without evidence by people with ulterior motives, and used as a scapegoat for the kinds of shadow issues that are held in many spiritual communities.

Rabbi Gafni has chosen to move on with his life. He has chosen, unless given no alternative, not to counter-attack, despite strong advice to the contrary.  In the future
,there will be those who see the complexity of his past as a reason to not study with him. Many Others, however, will recognize that  this difficult journey has served as an alchemical fire that has forged in him new wisdom about life and spirit.

Gafni has chosen to dedicate himself to writing a series of new book which will share some of his new understanding, to sharing his wisdom as a teacher and spiritual artist as well as to social activism with a group dedicated to fighting genocide, human rights abuses and sexual abuse in the form of human trafficking. 

Dr. Gabriel Cousens, Author, Teacher, Director Tree of Life Center
Rabbi Gershon Winkler, Author, Teacher, Director Walking Stick Foundation
Rabbi Avram Davis, Founder Author, Founder Chochmat HaLev  Center San Fransico
Sally Kempton, Author,  Teacher, Director of  Dharana Foundation
Claudia Klefeeld, Artist, Philanthropist
Dalit Arnon, Artist, Student at Bayit Chadash

Thank you for writing and publishing the extraordinary article, "Trial by Internet?", about Rabbi Gafni’s challenging spiritual saga. When I first encountered Rabbia Gafni’s teachings I immediately recognized him as one of the most important  voices in contemporary Jewish spirituality. Unfortunately, at that time, I held back from pursuing his teachings further, because of a naive knee-jerk reaction to all the hate blogs against him.  I’m sad to say this happened even though, as a seasoned psychotherapist, I’ve encountered many scenarios where alleged victims made convincing accusations, often against loved-ones, only to be ultimately found out as having been engaged in a pathological projective dynamic. Your remarkable journalism reminds me to stay honest in pursuit of knowledge, sharp to the complexity and nuance of life stories, and hopeful that pubilc media can act to expose truth, rather than distort it, as is so often the case. Bravo!
—Brad Satkin

I enjoyed and very much appreciated your article on Marc Gafni.
Having once heard Marc teach, I found him to be heartfelt and wise.
The internet stories never seemed to me to be the real story.
I was waiting to hear more and hope that your article will help to set the record straight.

Thanks for taking on this controversial story.
—Stacia Lansman  M.D.

Thank you, Greta deJong and Jeff Bell, for your article about Rabbi Marc Gafni: "Trial by Internet?" (July 2008, catalystmagazine.net). It was certainly time for someone to put the pieces together. Respect and honor are due you, and praise as well, for the journalistic labor you undertook. Few would qualify for the task or the merits.

Marc is a most remarkable person – one who lives life, and is equally hearty and brilliant – and so he too easily is cherished or misunderstood, engaged or shunned, loved or scorned. Gifts like Marc should come with requirements for authentic listening, constructive predisposition and reciprocity. Careless people should not apply.

Until recently, I did not know of Marc, or his brilliance, or his internet trial. When I met him, there was no preface or prejudice. He began traveling with a group of friends, and he became my friend. I love him like a brother. He is my brother now.

Marc needs truth tellers, and few have the courage and gumption, persistence and skill, and the discernment to do the job. Thank you.
—Bruce W. Fritch
Fritch Consulting

Thank you for doing the article on Marc Gafni.  I am glad to hear he is back teaching.
—Susan Dasch

Someone sent me a link to your piece on Marc Gafni and I was delighted to discover the wonderful CatalystMagazine website. It was like reconnecting with an old friend. We don’t live in Utah anymore but our old home is still in our hearts. It’s great to see Catalyst still covering the important, quirky and cool news of the West.
I doubt you remember me but you published my very first story in Catalyst back in 1993. It was about archeaoastronomy in the Four Corners region. It took a decade but that story was the catalyst that launched me into my current career as a journalist. It wasn’t easy to begin as a rookie reporter in my mid 40s but now I file stories for Colorado Public Radio and my work has also been featured on NPR and Voice of America. My photos and print stories have appeared in the Denver Post, the National Post (Canada) and I’m on staff at our local weekly newspaper.
It was your willingness to give me a chance and your upbeat encouragement so long ago that gave me the courage to embark on this midlife career change.
Thanks and keep doing the good work! It makes a difference in many ways.
 —Shanna Lewis

Just wanted you to know that I love what you’ve done over the years with Catalyst – I can appreciate that there must have been times when it would have been easy to say it was too much trouble – but you’ve grown it into an essential part of the community.
I’m going to be moving to North Carolina after 30 years here in the valley and I will miss my regular Catalyst fix – thank you so much for putting it online –
—Jeannie Patton, CEO
Utah Association of CPAs

This article was originally published on August 8, 2008.