NEW YORK (JTA) – The Jewish Renewal movement reiterated its ban on Marc Gafni in the wake of a New York Times story about the troubled sexual past of the ex-Orthodox rabbi who is now a polyamorous spiritualist.
“Marc Gafni is not a rabbi or spiritual leader recognized by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal,” the group said in a statement released Tuesday.
“When Gafni’s ethical breaches were substantiated in 2006, ALEPH promptly condemned his behavior, banned Gafni from teaching or participating in ALEPH and Jewish Renewal contexts, and broadly warned the public about Gafni’s capacity to cause serious harm,” the statement said. “At that time, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l revoked his rabbinical ordination of Gafni. At no time did Gafni teach ALEPH ordination students or represent the Jewish Renewal Movement – nor will he.”
Gafni, now a California spiritualist but once a rabbi with ordination from the Orthodox and Renewal movements, long has been trailed by accusations of sexual impropriety, and Gafni has acknowledged some inappropriate behavior.
When he was 19 or 20, Gafni had repeated sexual encounters with a 14-year-old girl; he says the encounters were consensual but she said they were not. In his mid-20s, Gafni was accused of groping a 16-year-old girl involved with his Jewish outreach program and climbing into bed with her naked while she was visiting his home. Gafni also was accused of carrying on sexual affairs with women with whom he was working at his Jewish organization in Jerusalem.
For a time seen as a charismatic Orthodox teacher of Torah in Jerusalem, Gafni eventually stopped identifying as Orthodox and became associated with the Jewish Renewal movement led by the Colorado-based Schachter-Shalomi. But the Renewal movement disowned Gafni after a public airing of his sexual and ethical breaches.
Several years after leaving Israel and dropping off the Jewish map, Gafni reemerged in Utah as a practitioner of a Kabbalah-inspired philosophy called evolutionary spirituality. More recently, Gafni, who has authored several books on spiritualism, moved to California and founded the Center for Integral Wisdom, where the self-described “former rabbi” advocates for and practices “outrageous love.”
“What does the outrageous lover do? An outrageous lover commits outrageous acts of love,” Gafni wrote in a piece published on his website.
“Outrageous love is the initiating and animating Eros of all that is that lives uniquely in you, as you and through you,” he wrote. “Our love lists are way too short. And we limit love to those few people on our romantic, sexual, love circle, or to that only person in our romantic, love, sexual circle.”
In its statement this week, the Renewal alliance ALEPH said that while it believes in repentance, it finds “no credible basis” to find that Gafni has traveled that route.
“Merely using spiritual language, however high-profile or alluring, does not evidence wisdom much less rehabilitation,” ALEPH said in its statement. “Absent genuine repair, such behavior can evidence ‘spiritual bypass,’ what Reb Zalman called ‘whipped cream on garbage’ – a spiritual veneer that obscures rather than represents the truth.”