I’ve been very depressed in recent days; depressed in a manner that is hard to explain. After all, it’s been a while since I lost my total faith in the religious community, which I’m still a part of. If so, why am I so shocked and stunned now?
Last week, even before news about Rabbi Mordechai Elon started to be published by the media, I was sitting at home and speaking to a lovely young man. This man told me that when he was 20-years-old he spoke to a rather well-known educator at a religious institution who insisted on sitting far away from him. When the man asked him why he was sitting at such great distance, the rabbi said he is a homosexual and does not wish to ejaculate in vain.
The discovery shocked the young man, who adored the rabbi, and prompted great confusion. He also recalled that in certain periods the rabbi kissed him on the face in a borderline manner that could have been perceived as erotic.
His story also made me think of the organization of gay religious Jews and how important it is to engage in dialogue with them. After all, the religious community will not be able to keep ignoring the fact that it includes a certain percentage of homosexuals. These are the facts of life, and if we disregard them and refrain from trying to resolve this conflict in a healthy way, we will be forced to encounter and resolve it in a much sicker way.
Later that day, when the announcement by the Takana forum was published in the media, the thoughts I had on the subject were replaced by great sadness. At some point, I was crying. It happened when I saw dozens of Rabbi Elon’s students arriving at his home and warmly embracing him for long hours. It was a heart-breaking sight.
I too used to be like that: A young yeshiva boy with a hint of a beard; a very naïve boy. I too adored my rabbis. I’m not at all certain that my own instincts back then would not prompt me, under similar circumstances, to protect them. How human. How touching. How tragic.
There are no angelsI tried to explain the extent of the crisis to a secular friend. Who does Rabbi Elon resemble in terms of status among us seculars? He asked. Yossi Sarid? Amos Oz? And how confusing is it? He wondered. More confusing, let’s say, than if it turns out that Benny Begin stole millions of dollars?
But it’s not about names here. There is no way to come up with a proper comparison. What Rabbi Elon’s students experience now is more than just dealing with the fact that a moral person sinned. There is something else here. It is similar to a child entering his parents’ bedroom and finding them in the midst of wild sex. The child simply cannot experience such thing or imagine it. It is not something he wants or can grasp. Rationally speaking, he knows that his parents are human, yet his heart is not ready to witness it.
Rabbi Elon, as opposed to other rabbis, was not just another rabbi. He was a master and leader. In fact, he was the only one of its kind created by religious Zionism. The only Hassidic leader with followers; the only one who truly had a Hassidic court. It happened both because of the man’s charisma, but also because he never did anything to prevent it.
Perhaps this needs to be the first thing that his students understand: There are not such people. There are no angels. We are all human. Even spiritual men have urges. This is the way it should be. Otherwise, they won’t be able to understand their students. Such people can also trip and fall. And they too sometimes require one to be careful.
Great sadnessYet beyond this whole story lies great sadness. Great sadness about the tens of thousands of Rabbi Elon’s students, great sadness about the families who sit around the table every Friday night and study the weekly Torah portion based on Elon’s books, and sadness for the many religious-Zionist families who view Elon as the most important spiritual figure in their lives; families who always seek his advice; he was there for these families at their better and worse moments.
These people are confused now. They do not know how to respond. They wish to support their rabbi, yet are overcome by doubt; after all, their rabbi is facing a series of very diverse rabbis (there is almost no issue where Rabbi Shapira and Rabbi Lichtenstein agree on.)
The pain and sense of crisis are great. Yet within all of this, we must not forget the real crisis: The distress of those who were hurt; the students who came to Rabbi Elon for a consultation session and found themselves in a blatantly sexual relationship. We must think about those children. We must pray for them. Regrettably, it appears that this is not about just one or two students. There are more.