Mordechai Elon, we will not be silent

This past Shabbat, Shabbat Zachor, I had one of the most meaningful and memorable Seudat Shlishit that I have had in a long time.  After Mincha I went with a group of close friends and stood outside the Heichal Rachamim Shul in Givat Shmuel where dozens of other Gabash residents had already gathered. Men, women and children of all ages had all come to spend their Seudat Shlishit here in protest of the appearance at a communal event of Mordechai Elon, a formerly prominent rabbi in the religious Zionist community. Elon, who was once considered a rising rabbinic star in the community, was convicted of two counts of sexual assault against a minor in 2013. Takana Forum, which is a council of religious Zionist communal and rabbinic leaders, has described Elon as a threat to the public and has demanded that he refrain from taking rabbinical, teaching and communal positions. Nevertheless, Elon continues to be honored at communal events and continues to teach.

Three and a half years before his conviction, Takana Forum had stated publicly that they had received incontrovertible evidence that Elon had sexually exploited a number of his students. The Takana Forum received evidence of Elon’s misconduct years earlier and confronted him about it.  Elon agreed to take upon himself a number of restrictions in order to avoid further misconduct.  The Forum only publicly released the evidence after receiving reports that Elon had committed even more severe offences and had violated the restrictions he had agreed to follow. The chairman of Takana Forum has since stated that the charges that were ultimately brought against Elon in court are small fry compared to the far more serious abuses that they had been presented evidence of.  Although Elon is said to have confessed in front of the Takana Forum he has never publicly admitted or expressed any remorse for his actions.

A few days before Shabbat Zachor notices began to appear around Givat Shmuel inviting the public to participate in a series of events over the course of the Shabbat featuring Mordechai Elon as the honored guest and speaker. Quickly word spread throughout the community and a number of people began organizing a protest to take place outside the shul’s event hall where a seudat shlishit with Elon speaking was to be held. As a member of the Bar Ilan University chapter of Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah student organization I created a Facebook event and invited fellow students to participate in the protest. In the end the turnout was estimated to be over a hundred people. Drinks and food were passed around and the crowd joined together beautifully singing Shabbat songs while holding signs saying “Mordechai Elon, we will not be silent”.

I felt that it was particularly meaningful to stand up against this particular form of injustice on Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat that religious Jews fulfill the various commandments relating to the crimes committed against us by Amelek. I was always taught that the crimes of Amalek represent a particularly heinous form of immorality. Amalek attacked, without provocation, the defenseless Israelites from behind, where the weak and exhausted people were. The immorality exhibited by Amalek in their attack on the weak and defenseless represents the antithesis of Jewish morality which is so concerned with protecting the weak and defenseless. Our tradition treats the crimes of Amalek with utmost severity and there are therefore three separate commandments relating to Amalek; their actions must never be forgotten, their actions must be remembered and their memory must be wiped out. The offences that Elon was convicted of embody this same immorality. The victims, students of Elon’s, had come to him in times of personal crisis, weak and defenseless. They looked to him for help and guidance and he took advantage of them. How can a man who commits such crimes so antithetical to Jewish morality return to be a spiritual leader in any Jewish community?

I do not believe that Mordechai Elon should be treated as if we was a member of Amalek. However, a community can not justifiably allow a man, who has committed such gravely immoral abuses of power, to return to a position of spiritual leadership. By allowing someone, who so flagrantly violates the Torah’s moral demands, teach that very same Torah, the Torah is effectively emptied of all its moral content. I am proud that my community stood up to him and I hope that if he continues to make public appearances in other communities they too will rise in protest. We must not be silent.

About the Author
Benzion Sanders is an American-Israeli student of Philosophy and the Middle East and a former IDF special forces soldier.