Former Principal of the Medrasha for Girls, Bar Ilan University - Ramat Gan, Israel
Accused of sexually harassing female students. If you have more information about this case, or a photograph of this Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen, please forward it to The Awareness Center.
Please note there are several people by the name of Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen. This case is about the one that worked at Bar Ilan University.
- G-d's Glory, in the tabernacle and within the nation (04/10/1999)
- Sex Abuse On The Radar (05/07/2003)
- 'War in the religious world' (07/04/2006)
- Religion and Revolution (Extract) (07/04/2006)
- 'Is the fuss over Rabbi Mordechai Elon down to his homosexuality?' (02/25/2010)
by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen, Principal of the Medrasha for Girls, Bar Ilan University
Orthodox Union - April 10, 1999
The verse in this week's Torah portion, "And G-d's glory was seen by the entire nation" [Vayikra 9:23], seems at first glance to be out of place. Isn't this a repeat of what is written at the end of Shemot, "And G-d's glory filled the Tabernacle" [Shemot 40:34,35]? Why did the Torah find it necessary to repeat this? And, if it was necessary, why weren't all the details of the dedication of the Tabernacle repeated?
The purpose of the Tabernacle was given in the Torah: "Let them build me a Tabernacle, and I will dwell within them" [Shemot 25:8]. As the Midrash explains, "This is the reason they left Egypt, that they would make a Tabernacle, and the Divine Presence would appear within them" [Torat Cohanim Bechukotai]. However, in the earlier verse, G-d's glory is described as appearing not within the nation but in the Tabernacle, "and G-d's honor FILLED THE TABERNACLE," and no revelation to Bnei Yisrael is mentioned. On the other hand, this week's portion emphasizes revelation to the people: "For today, G-d will be revealed to you ... This is what G-d has commanded you to do, and the glory of G-d will be revealed to you ... And G-d's glory was revealed to the entire nation" [Vayikra 9:4,6,23]. The change from revelation within the Tabernacle to revelation to the nation was the subject of the long and detailed commandments of the various sacrifices.
Revelation in the Tabernacle can be compared to the events at Sinai. As the Ramban wrote at the beginning of the portion of Teruma, the role of the Tabernacle was "that the Presence which was revealed at Sinai would openly rest on it [the Tabernacle]." The Ramban notes many similar phrases at Sinai and in the Tabernacle. For example, "And G-d's glory appeared on Mount Sinai, and it was covered by a cloud" [Shemot 24:26]; "And the cloud covered it ... and G-d's glory filled the Tabernacle" [40:34]. The Divine appearance within the Tabernacle plays the same role as at Sinai: revelation of G-d to Moshe and to Bnei Yisrael, in order to teach them the Torah and the mitzvot. The Tent of Meeting can be viewed as a continuation of the momentous events of Sinai.
However, this is only one of the objectives of the Tabernacle. Its second role is mentioned in this week's portion: it is meant to be a tool of Divine inspiration to Bnei Yisrael. Revelation can come with almost no advance preparation, but inspiration requires hard work on our part. It is only after the Tabernacle has been used for sacrifices, showing the surrender of man before G-d, that we can expect the Shechina to serve as a source of inspiration to man and to the nation.
The two different concepts of revelation are noted in the holiday prayers: "Build your house as in the beginning, and establish your Temple at its site" - this refers to Divine revelation. Our yearning for the inspiration of the Shechina within us then appears in the continuation of the prayers, "Return the kohanim to their worship ... and return Yisrael to their dwelling places ... as you wished, and as you promised to bless us."
Sex Abuse On The Radar
by Judy Klitsner
The Jewish Week - May 7, 2003
With many accusations against rabbis, authorities and the religious establishment are slowly coming to grips with the problem.
Jerusalem — There is a growing public awareness in Israel of sexual abuse by rabbis, in part because of so many new cases being reported, including accusations against the recently elected Ashkenazic chief rabbi.
Unfortunately, these charges have come out in the press instead of being dealt with in a systematic and sensitive manner within the religious system. This points to the overall failure of the religious establishment to monitor itself and to take decisive action when complaints are brought.
As a result, the public is reading about it, becoming angry and increasingly aware of the need for some kind of action.
For years following the abuse I suffered at the hands of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, I tried in many ways to persuade religious leaders to stop his progress. When he was finally exposed and deposed (only because of the press), I began receiving calls from many quarters about abuses by other rabbis. I tried to help minimize the damage these rabbis could do by calling whomever I knew to put pressure on institutions that hired or promoted offending rabbis.
There were a few of us out there, people with extra sensitivity to this issue, and we learned to enlist each other's help whenever needed. Sometimes we succeeded; often we didn't.
I was greatly disturbed that an issue as serious as this was being addressed in this ad hoc way. Where were our leaders? Why was this not an issue of concern to all?
I finally decided to look for ways to address the problem in a more structured way. The immediate impetus was an expose some months ago in the Israeli daily Maariv on Rav Shlomo Aviner, the revered chief rabbi of Beit El and a central figure in the religious Zionist camp — "the rabbi's rabbi," the "holy of holies," as he has been called by his followers.
In the expose, two women accused the rabbi of creating emotionally intimate relationships with them. These relationships included his expressions of his love for them during regular late-night phone conversations, extracting details from them of their sexuality and promoting an unhealthy emotional dependence on him.
The women claimed they reported these problems to the highest echelons in the rabbinic establishment and were either passed along to other rabbis or told to keep silent and destroy any correspondence they had from the rabbi.
In response, the rabbinic establishment displayed a nearly unprecedented show of unity: on the very day the article appeared, my children (along with thousands of other children) returned from school with a letter signed by dozens of respected rabbis denouncing the "lies" that were reported by allegedly unstable, delusional women. Instead of calling for some kind of investigation, the community rallied around Rav Aviner and against his accusers.
Believing there had to be some way to defend these women and others like them, or at least to give them a chance to be heard seriously, I contacted the organization Kolech, a group of Orthodox feminists led by Chana Kehat, a religious scholar and activist. Fortuitously, I found that the group was beginning to organize itself around this issue. While discussing strategies for addressing the problem as a whole, a new case presented itself that put Kolech in the eye of the storm.
Several women called Kolech to complain about Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen, a former head of, and later a lecturer in, the midrasha at Bar-Ilan University, who they claimed sexually harassed them when they were students at the university some years ago. Despite strong pressure against Kehat, who was accused of pursuing a "feminist" agenda, the university appointed a committee, headed by a rabbi, which heard testimony from several women in the presence of the accused rabbi. In the end, the unambiguous ruling was to dismiss Rabbi Cohen.
He is still fighting the decision and claims openly that he is the victim of a slander campaign by the "feminists." Rabbi Cohen says the feminists want to push rabbis out of their positions so they can replace them. The Bar-Ilan commission found no basis to his arguments and ruled that Kolech was operating entirely in good faith.
While I found the charge about feminists repugnant, it is fair to ask why we are practically alone in seeking to stop this terrible phenomenon, with the help of the press.
I can say from firsthand experience that these women do not relish this type of activity and in fact would much prefer to be working on positive reforms in the religious world. There is a palpable sense of distaste, yet a solemn duty to follow up on complaints that no one else wants to touch. This is a job that rabbis should be doing themselves but are not, for various reasons (collegiality, politics, fear of airing dirty linen in public, not wanting to deal with "unsavory" topics, etc.)
The Knesset, to its credit, recently held a special session, chaired by Gila Finkelstein, on the question of sexual harassment in the religious community. Many educators, including heads of prominent institutions of Torah learning for women, were in attendance as speakers addressed a number of issues, including the need for acceptable guidelines in conduct between rabbis and students.
Partly as a result of all this, I have been working for a long time toward constructing a rabbinical ethics committee. It would follow the precedent of other professional ethics committees, such as those of doctors, psychologists and university professors, setting down clear sets of norms and guidelines for acceptable behavior. The committee would hear and investigate complaints in a sensitive and thorough manner, reach conclusions and act on them.
We are in the process of bringing together various women's organizations in the hope of getting a broad spectrum of leaders to support the plan. We then have to find rabbis who will agree to serve at the head of such a committee, to give it the religious stamp of approval. So far the rabbis we have approached are reluctant to be actively involved, but they recognize the need for such a committee.
Though there are signs that the community and its leadership are beginning to face the severity and widespread nature of the problem, clearly there is much work yet to be done.
Judy Klitsner is an instructor of Bible at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
by Ariella Ringel-Hoffman
YNET News.com - July 4, 2006
Not only did Dr. Kahat dare to set up a religious-feminist organization, she also brought to expulsion of a rabbi from the Bar Ilan University, after a student complained of sexual harassment. Then Kahat was fired
At first glance, the case is a simple one: A wronged employee is suing to retain her job. However, the burning issue of a woman's place within Orthodox society lies directly beneath the surface. Dr. Chana Kahat of Gush Etzion, a lecturer at the Orot Yisrael Academic College in Elkana and founding director of the feminist Kolech organization, sits serenely at the eye of the storm, which has divided her friends, colleagues and neighbors.
For now, the labor court has accepted Kahat's arguments, and her dismissal has been stayed.
The controversy began in 2002, four years after Kahat founded Kolech in order to promote women's rights in the national-religious world. At that time, a Bar Ilan University student complained to Kolech that one of her rabbis had sexually molested her.
"I was broken, and I cried day and night," the student, who wishes to remain anonymous, says. "I had reached out for help, and I was thrown into a deep, dark pit. I had never touched a man before that, and no man had ever touched me."
Ricki Shapiro, Kolech's attorney, claims that the organization offered to hush up the student's accusations as long as the rabbi agreed to leave the university. According to Shapiro, the rabbi did not respond, and the story hit the fan.
Before long, the rabbi's lawyer sent Kahat a letter threatening to sue her for libel. In addition, he enlisted a long list of public figures, professors and rabbis, including Rabbi Neriah Gutal, a personal friend of the Bar Ilan rabbi.
Meanwhile, the university appointed law professor Yaffa Zilbershatz to investigate the charges. Based on Zilbershatz's suggestions, a committee, headed by Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a leader of the religious-Zionist community, was formed. The committee recommended that the accused rabbi be dismissed, and the university acted accordingly.
Some time later, Gutal was hired as dean of the Orot Yisrael College, where Kahat had been teaching for twelve years. Kahat's apprehensions that Gutal would use the opportunity to settle old scores were quickly realized. Immediately, her weekly teaching hours were decreased, and then, in March, she was informed that she was likely to be dismissed.
Kahat, who had just received a twelve-month grant from the Avichai Foundation in recognition of her contributions to Israeli society, decided to take a yearlong unpaid vacation. Her intention, she explains, was to give everyone a chance to cool off.
In January 2005, Kahat notified Orot Yisrael that she intended to return in the fall. Two months later, she had still not heard from the college, and she requested a clarification. Kahat was told that Gutal intended to make every effort to fire her, and the dean himself, she claims, confirmed this statement in March.
Sigal Pa'il, Kahat's attorney, filed an injunction and began legal proceedings. "This was a political dismissal," she insists.
In response, Moshe Lador, Gutal's lawyer who refutes Pa'il's charges, issued the following statement: "The fact that the petitioner teaches in the college is uncomfortable for a portion of the students. Should the petitioner remain on staff, we are concerned that the college's image will be harmed and that potential students will elect to study at other academic institutions. It is likely that students' rabbis and fathers will forbid them from attending courses given by the petitioner or even the college where the petitioner teaches."
'I am not settling old scores'
Lador claims that the number of registered students was already small. However, during the court hearing, Pa'il proved that this was emphatically not the case. In addition, she showed that the reason only a few students had registered for Kahat's courses was that Gutal had played around with the schedule.
Nevertheless, Gutal maintains that the attempted dismissal was not meant to be a payback for the Bar Ilan incident. "I am not settling old scores," he counters.
Kahat laments that her initial victory in court cost her dearly. "The message for women is: Next time, don't confront a rabbi, because if you do, you'll pay a price. Over the years, I have lost many good friends. Neighbors who were like family no longer speak to me. This is a war in the religious world."
Religion and Revolution (Extract)
By Nettie Gross
The Jerusalem Report - March 16, 2009
A decade after its establishment 'no one is laughing at Kolech or at Orthodox feminists anymore' "When the revolution comes, we want to be ready," says Dr. Chana Kehat, a 49-year-old mother of six, teacher of Jewish bible studies and resident of Neve Daniel in the Etzion bloc in the West Bank.
Clad in a colorful purple shirt and floral culottes, a white hat modestly covering her naturally gray curly hair, Kehat is an unlikely revolutionary. And yet this friendly, cheerful woman has started more than one revolution here in Israel. The first was in 1998, when she founded Kolech-Forum for Religious Women. She started another one in 2002 when the organization, under her leadership, publicly accused a popular, revered rabbi of sexual harassment. And she's planning quite a few more. "Only women who are committed to halacha and feminism can challenge abuses in the religious Zionist camp," she tells The Jerusalem Report Inspired while attending a conference organized by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) in New York in 1996, Kehat found herself wondering, "Why don't we Israeli women have an organization of our own?" Returning home, she convened a group of friends in her living room. It was the first time that Orthodox Israeli women had organized to publicly question their role in their own community. She remembers the anger and frustration as they acknowledged that they had "no voice in the religious world." Many of the founding women were neighbors affiliated with the political right but Kehat says today the membership is composed "of Israelis from every walk of life." Looking back, Kehat observes, "I suspect that many religious women were empowered by the settler movement when it started in the 1960s and 1970s because it was the only avenue of expression open to us. And these feelings carried over "into their struggle for equality." At first, there were plenty of debates among the founding members over the attempt to square its feminist agenda - equal rights for women - with the rigors of patriarchal Orthodoxy. Founding member Prof. Tova Cohen, who teaches in the Department of Hebrew Literature at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, where she is also director of the Program in Gender Studies, says it took much "fine tuning" until Kolech organizers were able to agree on the organization's identity and purpose. Today, Cohen says, the organization "aims to improve the status of women within Orthodoxy and in general, while adhering to the strictures of Jewish law." In this way, Kolech - which means "your voice" in Hebrew, and is a deliberate reference to the various religious rulings that a woman's voice should not be heard in public - differs both from movements which use a liberal interpretation of halakha to create gender-equal ritual and from traditional Orthodox women's organizations, such as Emunah, the women's auxiliary of the National Religious Party, which have long eschewed the feminist label. Challenging time-honored roles of women, pushing the boundaries of rabbinic authority, adopting terms borrowed from secular feminist ideology - a decade ago, these were truly revolutionary thoughts for women who had grown up in traditional Orthodoxy. Yet Kehat fervently believes that at its core, Judaism treats men and women equally. She contends that religious texts are egalitarian but are often interpreted to discriminate against women. A liberal, egalitarian interpretation of these texts does not put Kolech in the same category as a non-Orthodox Jewish group, she insists. "There is enough wiggle room within Orthodoxy to remain committed to the dogma while being a feminist." Dr. Noam Zohar, professor of philosophy at Bar-Ilan University, agrees and argues that some Orthodox groups persist in the "mistaken belief that piety is defined by how effectively women are excluded. Discrimination is a false measure of piety," he tells The Report. "By saying that feminism is possible within Orthodoxy, Kolech is invoking eternal Jewish concepts of change and reinterpretation of texts." Within a decade, Kolech has grown to a membership of approximately two thousand dues-paying men and women. Operating on a budget of some $350,000, most of it from private donations, the organization is based in Jerusalem and employs one salaried office manager. Volunteers maintain branches across the country and the organization sponsors an international conference every two years. Prominent members of the movement are sought out by the media for comment and are regularly invited to participate in panels and public forums. The first few years of activity were fruitful, but quiet and largely confined to efforts to advance women's status within the Orthodox community, without challenging the superior role of men. Kolech helped raise awareness of the plight of agunot and mesuravot get, or chained women, who are unable to finalize their divorces and helped craft halakhically acceptable legislation, some of which has been translated into law; it battled to end gender discrimination in Orthodox schools and society; and lobbied to educate for equality in home life via numerous courses. The general public first heard about Kolech in 1999, when over 1,000 men and women attended their first conference on Israeli Orthodox feminism, proving that Kolech was, indeed, giving voice to a groundswell of dissatisfaction among Orthodox women. The founders also distributed pamphlets on the weekly Torah portion in local synagogues. Written by women, these pamphlets discussed homiletics, Torah issues and halakha, emphasizing the female point of view. For some in the Orthodox community, publicly placing women in the role of teachers and commentators on Jewish texts, while overtly promoting "a women's point of view," was going too far. Then-Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who was opposed to women studying Talmud, the codex of Jewish law, ruled that it was forbidden to bring the pamphlets into the synagogue or even to read them and the ruling was widely published by right-wing and religious newspapers. To Kehat this attitude reflected "deep misogyny" - which, she observes, is still prevalent in parts of the religious-nationalist camp. "If Talmud study is open to women," she explains, "men can no longer claim superiority based on the religious commandments to study it." In 2002, the organization catapulted itself into public awareness. In a feature article published in the Hebrew daily, Ma'ariv, two women from Beit El, one of the larger and most established of the religious settlements in the West Bank, accused Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, rabbi of the settlement, of sexual harassment and inappropriately fostering emotionally intimate and dependent relations with him. The women said that they were forced to turn to the press because the rabbis to whom they had turned had refused to even take their complaints seriously. Aviner claimed that his comments to the women were taken out of context. Indeed, French-born Aviner was not an easy target. Also head of the Ateret Yerushalayim (formerly Ateret Cohanim) yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, Aviner had frequently counseled religious married couples in the settlement community on family purity laws. Rabbi of Beit El since 1981, he was a leading rabbi of the movement. Followers called him "the rabbi's rabbi," and the "holy of holies." Angry rebuke followed. Over 120 rabbis signed public petitions condemning the women as liars and suffering from hallucinations. Street signs urged the public not to read Ma'ariv. Children enrolled in modern Orthodox schools arrived home with letters defending Aviner. "I felt we had to respond," says Kehat. Kolech was the only voice in the Israeli modern Orthodox world to break the silence and defend the women. Kehat says she "was appalled" by the lack of debate within Orthodoxy to "even investigate the charges" made by the women. Kolech published letters defending the women in local media and helped them initiate a lawsuit against Aviner in rabbinical courts, asking for a public apology but not for damages. In the ensuing years, both women have left the settlement; one of them has dropped her case, saying she became worn down by the length of time the suit has taken. Aviner continues to proclaim his innocence but has agreed to a rabbinical panel's request that he cease counseling women in matters of family purity. Later in 2002, ten women complained to Kehat that they had been sexually harassed by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen of the midrasha at Bar- Ilan University, a women's seminary offering courses in religious studies. Cohen denied all charges; Kolech, however, brought the matter to the attention of the university, which tasked a special committee to investigate the allegation. The committee recommended that Cohen be dismissed - he was; his subsequent petition to a Labor Court asking that he be reinstated was also rejected.
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