(JTA) — Marc Gafni, a Jewish spiritual teacher accused of sexual misconduct, refuted claims that he repeatedly molested a 13-year-old girl when he was 19.
“Over the last year, I have been attacked in the press and on Internet blogs, falsely accused of everything from sexual harassment to plagiarism. My character and work have been demeaned,” Gafni wrote. “The series of articles and blogs I’m referring to, particularly ones published in Jewish press, cite the alleged ‘molestation of Sara Kabakov, starting at age 13, by her former rabbi and spiritual guru, Marc Gafni.’ They present this claim as if it were an established and self-evident truth. It is not.”
Gafni says in his piece that Kabakov, who he claims wrote him an impassioned love letter after they broke up, has changed her view of their relationship over time. The former Orthodox rabbi also argues that their age difference — he claims she was 14 for the majority of the relationship — was not seen as so significant at the time, in 1980, and not part of their “cultural awareness.”
“Of critical importance is the fact that, 36 years ago, I hadn’t any awareness that her being a minor was an issue. We were 14 and 19 — teenagers, who had no knowledge of such things in New York, when, culturally, such topics were far less discussed than they are today,” he wrote.
“I was a teenager in a relationship with a younger teenager.”
In her piece published in January, Kabakov says Gafni would inappropriately touch her in bed while sleeping over at her parents’ house on Shabbat nights. She also said he groomed her into being “silent and fearful” about the relationship.
Gafni has also been accused of climbing into bed naked with a 16-year-old while he was married in 1986. He left for Israel after the initial allegations of his conduct with Kabakov surfaced. There he was accused of having sexual relationships with several followers in a spiritual movement he led.
He later returned to the United States, re-emerging in Utah as a practitioner of a Kabbalah-inspired philosophy called evolutionary spirituality. More recently, Gafni moved to California and founded the Center for Integral Wisdom.