By Mark Oppenheimer
On Friday, my article about the controversial ex-rabbi Marc Gafni was posted online at The New York Times website; it ran in the print edition on Saturday, December 26. Since then, it has received a tremendous amount of attention, and generated some very significant questions, many of them having to do with who supported Gafni, and when, and why.
As readers of that first piece know, Gafni, 55, who worked as a rabbi in both the Orthodox and Renewal wings of Judaism, long ago admitted that when he was 19 and 20 he had repeated sexual encounters, over a nine-month period, with a girl who was 13 and then 14 years old. In 1986, Gafni was accused of twice groping 16-year-old Judy Mitzner, a student involved with his Jewish outreach program, once getting into bed with her completely naked. (She was staying with him and his wife during a rough period at home.) He once told a reporter that the first girl was “14 going on 35” and that they were “in love”; the second girl was, he told me, “highly initiatory.”
Gafni’s also been accused of plagiarism, of emotionally abusive relationships with women at his Jewish Renewal community in Israel (which imploded after his multiple liaisons), and, in 2011, of sleeping with a woman he was counseling, which led her employer, a book publisher, to cancel Gafni’s book contract. (At the time, the employer, publisher Tami Simon, gave a statement to a blogger about why she was dropping Gafni, and the woman who alleged the affair recently confirmed the story to me. Speaking with me, Gafni denied that the relationship was a breach of ethics because, he said, he was not counseling the woman.)
Yet Gafni has continually found students and financial backers. The question is, who are they? And what is their reasoning?
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