UPDATE:: Marc Gafni Defends Return to Spotlight as Backlash Gathers Steam__
Gafni, 55, told the Forward that he no longer sees himself as part of the organized Jewish community and was seemingly unconcerned with the pushback from religious leaders.
“I am not associated with the [Jewish] community in any official or unofficial way,” Gafni said, speaking over the phone in California. “I don’t publically identify or practice as a rabbi,” but “I draw on the rabbinic lineage every day, it’s what inspires me.”
Two years later — and after a brief stint as a pulpit rabbi in Florida — Gafni moved to Israel and served as rabbi in a West Bank settlement. Like many immigrants, he dropped his given last name for a Hebrew one.
It was in Israel that Gafni emerged as an influential teacher. Like colleagues in the Renewal movement, he taught an open and egalitarian approach to Judaism, but one grounded in traditions of Orthodox Judaism. Around 2000, he founded an experimental spiritual community called Bayit Chadash in Tel Aviv. He married his third wife, cultivated his community and hosted an Israeli television show; Gafni contributed to progressive Jewish outlets including Tikkun Magazine.
“I’ve been deemed a bit of a maverick,” he wrote in one of his most popular books. “I prefer to define myself as ‘post-denominational’ for I’ve learned that if you’re going to meld worlds you can’t be molded into only one.”
Gafni’s career had taken off. But in 2004, the searing Jewish Week article detailed those early encounters in New York and thing began to crack apart. Still, several prominent Jewish leaders came to his defense.
His address changed across the decades: Brooklyn, Israel — and now, California. His name changed, too, from Mordechai Winiarz to Marc Gafni.
For two women from his past, there was one constant for the Jewish scholar-turned-New Age guru — he was the man who shamed and molested them as teens during the 1980s.
The pair — one was 13 [see Sara Kabakov's story here], the other 16 — shared their stories last week with the Daily News as Gafni’s alleged 20th century indiscretions crashed hard into his 21st century incarnation.
Gafni, in an emotional interview with The News, denied the accusations of sexual misconduct made by the women.
“This is sexual McCarthyism,” insisted Gafni, who provided polygraph tests to support his position. “What they’re doing is social media rape.”
Gafni was never charged with a crime in either instance. And he stated that both women — although sexually inexperienced teens obeying the Jewish law of “ shomer negiah, ” or no physical contact with men until marriage — were willing partners.
“What they’re doing is a terrible thing,” Gafni said. “It’s an affront to all true victims. They claim victimhood in a way that’s not right, that’s false.”
Mitzner, who has told the same story for decades, said she was not surprised by Gafni’s subsequent success as a spiritualist, speaker and author — while she lives burdened by the past.
“Basically, he’s your typical narcissistic sociopath,” said Mitzner. “He’s got the charisma, he’s got the intelligence, to rebuild, re-create and reinvent himself.”
Marc Gafni denies sexual misconduct allegations - NY Daily News