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High Court petition seeks to strip ‘rabbi’ title from Moti Elon over sex crimes

Organizations take action against Chief Rabbinate of Israel decision allowing Elon to keep his honorific after he agreed to not serve in clerical roles

Rabbi Mordechai Elon arrives at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to hear his sentence, December 18, 2013. (photo credit: Meital Cohen/Flash90)
Rabbi Mordechai Elon arrives at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to hear his sentence, December 18, 2013. (photo credit: Meital Cohen/Flash90)

A petition was filed Wednesday to the High Court of Justice against a Chief Rabbinate of Israel decision allowing a rabbi convicted of sexual assault, Mordechai “Moti” Elon, to keep his title.

In April, a Rabbinate disciplinary committee, which had threatened to strip Elon of his title, decided that he could keep it after he committed to not serve as a rabbi in any community role for a period of 10 years from the date of his conviction.

The petition was filed by three organizations: Kol v’Oz, The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel and Jewish Community Watch.

“The Moti Elon case highlights some of what is profoundly wrong with the Israeli Rabbinate in addressing the issue of child sexual abuse,” said Manny Waks of Kol V’oz. “No one contests the fact that Elon is a sexual abuser of teenagers; he has been convicted in a court of law and his senior rabbinic colleagues and other relevant leaders in the Orthodox community have accepted that Elon is in fact a serial abuser.

“So, why doesn’t the Rabbinate respond appropriately, both for the sake of some semblance of justice for Elon’s victims and to protect future potential victims? What crimes does a prominent and much-respected Rabbi have to do in order to be stripped of all his authority and power?” he added. “Hopefully the High Court of Justice will force the Rabbinate’s hand in doing the right thing.”

Ayelet Cohen Wieder, former chairwoman of the Kolech women’s rights group and one of the initiators of the petition, said it was “an important part of correcting the injustice done to the victims. This is a social and public statement that sexual abuse does not go together with a title of rabbi and religious authority.”

Jewish Community Watch called the Rabbinate’s position “deeply upsetting” and “concerning,” adding that “the change our community so desperately needs will only come when strong decisive steps are taken. The children of our community deserve that change, where their safety will be a top priority.”

Amitai Dan, one of the rabbi’s victims, said he was happy the petition was filed and thanked all the activists and organizations involved.

“Rabbi Moti Elon attacked more than one person over the years, and despite being a convicted sex criminal, the punishment he received was only a tiny fine and community service, without a single day in jail,” Dahan said in a statement.

Religious Zionist leader Rabbi Mordechai Elon at the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem, August 7, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

Representing the litigants, Riki Shapira, told The Times of Israel: “The Rabbinate acted with extreme unreasonableness when it did not revoke Motti Alon’s power and authority…The Rabbinate must exercise the authority conferred upon it by law in light of the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty, which provides protection for the integrity and dignity of the human body.”

After the Rabbinate’s decision in April, Kolech had asked the body’s legal adviser to intervene, arguing that the Rabbinate was not fulfilling its duty to protect the public from rabbis who abuse their position and that it had failed to “uphold the values that are supposed to be reflected” in the title of rabbi.

However, the legal adviser’s office responded that “the decision expresses the proper balance between all the general interests and relevant considerations of the matter,” Ynet reported.

The adviser noted that the purpose of removing the title of rabbi was to prevent an individual from filling a clerical role in the community and that with his commitment to not do so until 2023, Elon had satisfied that objective.

Elon was convicted in 2013 of committing an indecent act against a minor on two occasions. He was sentenced to six months of community service, as well as a 15-month suspended jail term. Elon, once a celebrated mentor of Israel’s religious Zionist movement, was also ordered to pay the victim NIS 10,000 ($2,850) in compensation.

In 2015 police looked into new allegations against Elon, after a one-time student published a Facebook post saying that the rabbi had harassed him on two occasions. Those claims did not lead to new legal action, but the accuser’s post garnered wide publicity, making waves in a religious Zionist community already forced to come to terms with Elon’s behavior and some rabbinical support for him.

In December 2018 a Channel 12 investigative program reported that Elon had admitted to further sexually inappropriate behavior toward a young man.

According to the “Uvda” investigative report, the man appealed to a number of leading rabbis and told them that he had reached out to Elon over the preceding year for assistance in difficulties he was facing. But the meetings quickly took on a sexual nature and involved unspecified alleged offenses.

The man was advised to file a complaint with police, but said he preferred that the matter be handled by rabbinic authorities.

A panel of three leading rabbis in the religious Zionist movement summoned Elon and he, confronted with evidence that included recordings made by the alleged victim during their meetings, admitted to the undisclosed offenses. A source told “Uvda” that Elon “did not deny it and took certain responsibility for the actions.”

Elon agreed to stop all public activity including teaching, as well as private meetings. and to seek treatment, the report said.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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