As Rabbi Mordecai Gafni Turns

Marc has been at the front of every development in Modern Orthodoxy for 30 years.

He has been an incarnation of the movement’s various twists and turns.

He has the ability to merge with his favorite thinkers.

Around 1980, Elazar Muskin was a dorm counselor at YU. Mordecai, Muskin, they were cookie-cutter clones of the Young Israel rabbi.

Mordecai’s brother Yossi Winiarz was Elazar’s friend. They both had red hair and they were both straight arrows.

R. Riskin operated Riverdale Hebrew Academy (a high-level Jewish prep attended by Gafni). It was an experiment that lasted about four years.

The principal, Rabbi Bak, was from Vancouver. He died at age 32 in the middle of the school’s Purim party. And that was the end of the school in that incarnation. Rabbi Riskin left and the school moved to Queens.

For years, Gafni seemed like the Second Coming of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin when Rabbi Riskin represented the cutting edge of Orthodoxy confronting modernity.

Then he was the Second Coming of Rav. Yosef Soloveitchik and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (in English-language radio broadcasts in Israel).

Then he was a West Bank settler in Israel and chief rabbi of his own town.

He was running NCSY programs for the OU and seemed to be on the path to running that organization. He was like rabbis Weil and Muskin. That take-charge type. That same hair cut.

Then Marc got into New Age thinking and pagan Judaism and the sacred feminine.

And now he’s a spiritual artist.

"I don’t know where to start," says a friend. "This guy is just so goddamn fascinating. A year doesn’t go by when he doesn’t do something outrageous. For the last 48 hours, I’ve been intoxicated."

Luke: "It was a great experience. He’s a fascinating guy. Charming. And a great host."

In 2008, Mordecai Gafni received his doctorate from Oxford University. His Oxford advisor was Dr. Norman Solomon and his supervisor was Dr. Moshe Idel (the successor to Gershom Scholem).

Joe emails:

In this dredging up of all of my high school and college memories (yes, this is what life looked like when one was shomer negiah), I do recall now a specific and important connection between Muskin and Gafni. During those years, a group of YU kids, all post a year or two at the prestigious yeshivot in Israel, would spend their summers doing sort of social work/kiruv in troubled areas in Israel. The groups were in cities like Zefat, Migdal Haemek, and the Hatikva quarter of Tel Aviv. The leader of this program, then called "techiya" (renaissance), was R. Muskin, then a dorm counselor at YU.

Gafni never did the program, nor did he spend time in the yeshivot, so in that sense he was always an outsider. However, the social organization that yeshiva and techiya volunteers founded, Chevrat Aliyah Toranit, a sort of elitist dating program, really, was the first Gafni coup. At some point, just about the time he married (his first wife Shifra, who did spend time in Israel and I think was on Techiya as well),  he [started giving lectures to the group], leading to quite a bit of resentment among the "in" crowd, and actually, shortly thereafter, the organisation disappeared.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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