Yaakov Ner-David, who founded the Bayit Chadash community six years ago in Jaffa, said of co-founder and suspected sexual offender Rabbi Mordechai Gafni, “For years we supported him despite the allegations, but know we know the truth. This was a blow to many people.”
Last week it was reported that three young Israeli women in their twenties filed a complaint with Haifa police against Gafni, claiming he sexually harassed them during Torah lessons conducted at his Jaffa center. Gafni fled the country for the US following the report, but left a letter in which he apologized to the women and his followers.
Two American women later came forth claiming they too had been abused by Gafni, who now stands accused of rape and sexual misconduct, when they were still minors.
Bayit Chadash Director Or Zohar said, “I protected Gafni and forgave him for verbally assaulting and manipulating me, because I thought to myself that although he is not perfect he does do good in this world.
“As a young director who tried to organize things in a rational manner, I noticed the problems,” he said. “I sensed that a lot of dark things were taking place, but I could not even imagine the extent of what was really going on.”
‘He is not some demon with horns’
Rabbi Ohad Mizrahi, director of the “Hamakom” community, worked in close contact with Gafni for several years.
“In our culture it is customary to hug and say hello, but obviously there are different kinds of hugs,” he said. “The problem was not his alleged sexual addiction; it was that he preyed on women from his own community.
“Gafni reads a lot and always quoted from books and dropped names of philosophers and scientists. People were affected by this; he was actually employing brain-washing methods.”
Mizrahi continued: “He is not some demon with horns; he is a very caring, warm and intelligent person. It was very pleasant to discuss ideas with him.
“We heard of the allegations, but he was able to convince us that they were unsubstantiated. I also thought he was being persecuted, as many vanguards are; I thought the religious community was after him.”
Zohar said he admired Gafni’s drive, saying he thought it came from a pure place.
“Now I realize this was not the case,” he said. “The hearts of many people here (Bayit Chadash) have been broken, but we must not allow one man’s disease destroy our spiritual world. But we did come to the conclusion that we will not permit anyone else to attain such status. We will not replace a guru with another guru.”