Sex abuse claims against famed rabbi grip Israel

February 19, 2010
ultra-orthodox

Ultra-orthodox Jewish men praying in the Old City of Jerusalem, 11 March 2008/Yiorgos Karahalis

Israeli police said on Friday they were looking into allegations of sexual abuse against one of the country’s most famous and politically influential rabbis, in a case that has triggered dramatic headlines this week.

Mordechai Elon – known as “Rabbi Motti” by viewers of his popular TV show and by many young men in the West Bank settler movement — has vehemently denied the accusations by a group of fellow rabbis who say their aim is to combat sexual harassment by authority figures.

But that has not stopped a wave of soul-searching, which has some parallels with recent turmoil in the Roman Catholic church. At issue is the power of charismatic clerics over young people in their care, as well as questions about the extent to which religious communities should regulate their own affairs without involving the Jewish state’s secular authorities.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said the attorney-general had asked police to consider whether there was sufficient evidence to mount a formal criminal investigation, after the organisation Takana alleged Elon had broken a promise made to fellow rabbis some years ago to limit his contacts with young men and youths.

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