Dozens of rabbis and educators convened Wednesday evening at Jerusalem's Begin Center to discuss the Mordechai Elon affair, which has caused a storm within Religious Zionism. The participants will discuss formulating an "ethical code" that will determine what is allowed and forbidden in rabbinic activities.
The document is aimed at preventing "compromising situations" and facilitating public supervision of rabbis while promoting full transparency of their private and public actions.
The conferance was initiated by Religious Zionist organization Tzohar, and will include some 50 rabbis of the organization's advisory committee, who convene periodically to discuss current affairs that relate to the rabbinic world.
The idea of drawing up an ethics document was initiated by the former chairman of the organization, Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein. In a document sent to other members of the committee, Feuerstein wrote "we cannot dismiss this case (Elon) as a one-time occurrence. Rabbis are human beings and also have weaknesses on different levels – this issue requires attention."
Feuerstein, who is also a trained psychologist, said that "the admiration a rabbi receives can reduce the 'client's' criticism toward him, as well as the rabbi's self criticism. A rabbi heading a congregation is as 'lonely' as any other leader, and as a result does not receive critique from his colleagues. They are not accountable to anyone, and do not receive any feedback. The various emotional intensities that are directed at the rabbi are liable to lead to different types of mutual errors that neither side is aware of."
In addition to creating "appropriate boundaries," Rabbi Feuerstein recommended initiating an "internal and external public campaign to convert the 'admiration' toward rabbis into 'appreciation.' This campaign, Feuerstein wrote, will include "reevaluating the manner in which the public addresses rabbis (necessary/ deserving/ undeserving/ harmful) and redefining it while increasing the involvement of parents within educational institutions."
No 'crisis of faith'In addition to Rabbi Feuerstein's initiative, two additional proposals are slated to be discussed during the conference – both against taking excessive action in response to Rabbi Elon's case. Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes of Beit Morasha said the affair created the feeling that "some people are exploiting the incident in order to voice their opinions."
Rabbi Brandes said he doesn't believe there is a "crisis of faith" among young Religious Zionists. "Some of the 'awful' quotes presented to the youth and the more adult public were at the level of talkbacks. Eventually people will calm down and this will all be forgotten. Religious Zionism's spiritual world will not undergo any changes – not because of this case," he said.
"My impression is that the youths are not as shocked as people think they are," Brandes added. "The main shock is actually that of the educators and rabbis who fear that their authority and status might be undermined."
Rabbi Brandes commented on Rabbi Feuerstein's proposal to formulate an "ethics code" and said, "Both youths and adults need to be informed of ethics and modesty guidelines according to the Halacha, tradition, social norms and the law. Those who have been harmed must be encouraged to turn to the relevant authorities; however, I believe this is not Tzohar's duty."
'Reinforce basic spiritual elements'Rabbi Yona Goodman, an educator and former secretary general of the Bnei Akiva religious youth movement sent a letter to the conference's participants, in which he claimed that "Tzohar has no role in the current affair." Goodman called on the organization's rabbis to distribute leaflets to rabbis and educators that reinforce "basic spiritual elements" that have been harmed due to the recent affair.
"The erroneous positions that were revealed following this incident are only one example of the spiritual confusion that afflicts some of our public. There is a large public that does not receive any spiritual guidance that might help them and elevate their spiritual world," he added.
Goodman suggested holding a convention in the summer that would be open to the wider public, and later holding regular bi-annual conferences in the winter and in the summer.