A Jerusalem court on Wednesday found Rabbi Mordechai Elon guilty of sexual misconduct in 2005, but acquitted the popular national-religious leader of two other charges of sexual assault and harassment.
According to the verdict Elon committed an indecent act against a minor on two different occasions. The boy was not a student of the rabbi, a prominent figure in Israel’s modern Orthodox world.
Elon will likely appeal the verdict, a source close to the family told Army Radio. A sentence is planned to be handed down in October.
The rabbi, one of the most prominent modern Orthodox leaders of this generation in Israel, was considered by many to be the future leader of the religious-Zionist population before the case forced him out of public life.
Elon was charged in a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on two counts of sexual harassment and sexual assault, following claims by Forum Takana, a religious group founded in 2003 which has attempted to police its own community on matters relating to sexual misconduct.
Despite blowing the whistle on Elon, the group said in a statement Wednesday that the case discussed in court was not the one it investigated on its own.
“The results of the case, whatever they might be, don’t alter the forum’s stance and warning to the public,” it said before the verdict was given. It also noted the complaints it had dealt with either weren’t criminal or their statute of limitations had expired and so couldn’t be taken to trial.
In February one of the alleged victims refused to take the stand and testify against his former teacher, leaving a single complainant remaining and placing the reputation of the group that brought the alleged misconduct to light in doubt.
Although the 30-member forum, consisting of leading rabbis and several female religious leaders, has received hundreds of phone calls over the past decade and dealt with dozens of cases, the most prominent by far has been the case of Elon — the son of a Supreme Court justice who rose to the position of yeshiva head at 28 and gathered around him an ever-widening circle of followers on account of his singular charisma and the insight of his learning.
In July 2005, the forum, originally founded in order to address claims from women who said they had been sexually assaulted and “found themselves maligned,” summoned Elon and confronted him with the charges filed by two men, both of whom said they had been sexually harassed by the rabbi.
According to the Takana website, Elon, when confronted with the charges, “declared that he had completely overcome his problem, that the complaint referred to an old incident and that there were no other additional cases.”
One year later, the committee heard another complaint, “more serious than the first.” Elon was forced from his post as head of Yeshivat Hakotel and, although he left Jerusalem and largely receded from view, the forum finally made the accusations public, because, the group wrote, “we fear we have no other way to protect the public from possible further injury.”
Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, a member of the forum, said that Elon had admitted to committing a series of indecent acts with young students. “The bottom line is that he admitted to the facts,” Ariel said.
“If we don’t stop these acts there will be more victims. The trial doesn’t interest me; I won’t be happy if he’s found guilty and I won’t cry if he’s exonerated.”