The news this week that Marc Gafni faces new allegations of sexual misconduct from those in the “spiritual wisdom” community with which he has been associated the last five years was sad, even tragic, but not surprising. And it brought back a flood of memories.
For much of the last decade, off and on, I followed the career of Gafni, 50, a former Orthodox rabbi who became a leader of the Jewish spiritual renewal movement, here and in Israel, and then a teacher among those in the New Age community seeking life insights. He is a charming, bright and charismatic man, but has been dogged throughout his career by reports of inappropriate sexual activities with women younger than him, many of them his students.
He has publicly acknowledged that he has made mistakes in his life, but always asserted that the accusations were false.
Gafni and I spoke a number of times about what he called “the witch hunt” against him, which he claimed was motivated by a small group of women and a few Orthodox rabbis who he said were jealous of his popular appeal.
Seven years ago I interviewed more than 50 people for a column I wrote about Gafni, and which was published in September 2004. I tried to offer a balanced portrait of a man that some women called a predator and some rabbis defended as a gifted, troubled soul who may have made missteps in his youth but who had done teshuva.
"Luke Ford reports all of the 'juicy' quotes, and has been doing it for years." (Marc B. Shapiro)
"This guy knows all the gossip, the ins and outs, the lashon hara of the Orthodox world. He’s an [expert] in... all the inner workings of the Orthodox world." (Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff)
"This generation's Hillel." (Nathan Cofnas)