Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Nuclear Explosion

A nuclear explosion was how one pundit described the recent revelations of fifty-year-old Rabbi Mordecai ‘Motti’ Alon’s sexual misadventures. Rabbi Alon, for many years considered one of the leaders in the modern-orthodox religious Zionist camp, retired from public life three years ago ostensibly because of ill health.
The Takana Forum, a group of highly-respected modern orthodox rabbis and educators, begun in 2006 as a watchdog group following cases of sexual harassment by religious leaders, released information two days ago that Rabbi Alon had not retired because of ill health but had been threatened with the exposure of inappropriate behavior with his students, and other young men, unless he resigned from his position as head of the Yeshivat HaKotel religious seminary in Jerusalem and leave public life.
Takana spokespersons said that the Forum had made an arrangement with Rabbi Alon that if he abided by certain rules, not being alone in the same room with boys being one of them, then they’d keep his alleged proclivities from the public eye. When it became clear that Alon, who had moved to the Upper Galilee village of Migdal along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, had not abided by the agreement, the Forum had no choice but to go public.
Takana said that they’d received scores of complaints about Alon over the years. One report expressly stated a relationship Alon had with a teenaged boy. Alon and his followers have denied the accusations terming them a ‘blood-libel.’ One of the members of Takana has told the media that he’s received threats on his life.
Rabbi ‘Motti’ Alon, one of the leading voices for the Zionist Religious movement, albeit one considered to the right of center, hosted a popular TV show discussing religious themes and was a much respected lecturer.
The Alons are a distinguished family, his father a former Supreme Court Judge and his brother Benny a popular religious leader.
In Jerusalem one is hard put to have a conversation with any modern orthodox individual without the ‘Motti’ Alon story coming up before anything else. One Rabbi, a professor at Bar Ilan, said he’d heard whispers that Alon’s ill health was a nervous breakdown, but nothing about any sexual proclivities outside the norm.
The breakdown, according to one source, was the cover story to keep Alon’s reputation in tack. The religious Zionist camp, one source said, was concerned that should Alon’s sterling reputation be tarnished it could lead to an implosion of the religious Zionist movement.
Religious Zionist, or the Kepaw Serugah (knit skullcap) movement began before the establishment of the State of Israel. The precise start of when religious men began to wear knit skullcaps is unclear, although most sources believe it began with the religious Kibbutzim, when girlfriends and wives began knitting their men skullcaps rather than the black velvet or black cloth ones worn in ultra-orthodox circles.
Modern orthodoxy allowed men to be clean-shaven, as long as they used an electric razor, considered nothing more than a modern scissors, and participate in events where women and men were seated together. The idea was that religious Jews could be part of the Zionist establishment. The Poael Mizrachi movement, begun in Europe, was an early proponent of this philosophy.
The Benai Akiva youth movement was an outshoot of this philosophy. At the outset of Benai Akiva, according to historians, men and women even held folk-dancing sessions together. Lately a more strict approach has been taken with the sexes separate at all events. This move to the right, espoused by Rabbi ‘Motti’Alon, raised the question if indeed there was a future to modern orthodoxy or if it wouldn’t be proven an experiment that failed.
While approximately 13 per cent of the Israeli population consider themselves modern orthodox, many of those are situated in settlements over the green line. These ‘settlers’ now form the core of the religious Zionist movement. ‘Motti’ Alon has long been one of the leaders encouraging, counseling, guiding that movement. The revelation of his alleged homosexuality has rocked that tradition oriented community on their heels.
Questions arise why ‘Motti’Alon’s proclivities were kept secret when it is the victims who suffered from his advances and harassment, not him. Apparently Manny Mazuz the former Attorney General was asked to investigate the matter but declined. One pundit quipped that in Israel if one had ‘proteczia’ (influence) one didn’t need friends. In Alon’s case, said the pundit, he had both.
One observer asked the question why, in a modern world, the case of ‘Motti’Alon’s leanings was causing such a stir. CNN’s business reporter the British Jeremy Quest is openly gay, having even been caught in a public park one night nude with his member tied up by a string attached to a noose around his neck, and drugs nearby. He’s still on the air. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is openly gay. Gay marriages are on the books in some states in the USA. The modern world is not aghast any longer over gay relationships, so what, asks the analyst, is the big deal over ‘Motti’Alon.
One pundit says it is because boys are involved, innocent under-aged children. This pundit says look at the argument offered by film director Roman Polanski, now on trial for statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. According to Polanski the girl was of lose morals and no one who slept with her knew she was underage. Under that argument, some of the boys ‘Motti’[Alon may have had relationships with may not have been all that innocent either.
But a man like Rabbi ‘Motti’Alon, set on a pedestal above the fray, is not supposed to have these adventures. Much like the Catholic priests who have been the focus of scandals over the decades, men of the cloth are expected to be the guiding light of morality not those succumbing to it.
Another observer goes into the philosophy of charisma. Charisma, said the observer, is both a gift and a burden. Should one allow the gift to go unchecked, using the charisma to influence crowds and individuals to immoral ends, than the gift has become a burden. How many political leaders, religious leaders, and entertainers have become intoxicated with their own press, and wound up going off the rails?
One expert says that it is up to the masses and their representatives to perform ‘due diligence’ when choosing or accepting a leader. In the case of Rabbi ‘Motti’ Alon either his tastes slipped by those supporting him, or he hid those tastes from all but a select few. He should have been found out earlier, says the expert, not wait for the Takana Forum’s discovery of complaints back in 2006.
Rafael Trujillo, the late dictator of the Dominican Republic, was only one in a line of charismatic leaders who used their positions of power for their own pleasure. The list is long and painful, stretching back in history as far as man existed, including the likes of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Rasputin, Papa Doc, David Koresh and the Davidians, and endless others.
The question isn’t what makes these people who they are but why they are allowed to gain power and keep it?
One analysts wrote that in today’s open society where the boundaries of morality are being pushed farther and farther out, Rabbi ‘Motti’Alon could easily come out of the closet, perhaps even set up his own movement with his own rules of behavior that would become a norm. This has happened in the past all too often.
This analyst said that one can only hope that Rabbi Alon’s goals can be tempered to include only the few acres and scarce individuals he encounters in Migdal, along the Sea of Galilee, and not decide he is like another man who wandered those hills, and begin preaching a new message of a new religion, one much more malignant that the last one out of Galilee.