Those are the main facts of his life. But the details behind them—the how, why and what of Gafni’s life—are the subject of highly polarized debate. As in other trials by Internet, wild claims have been made about him. Regardless of their accuracy, these claims have become part of the narrative. Is it true that his ex-wife Chaya Lester wrote his doctoral dissertation, as she has claimed? (No, this claim is totally false. Lester had nothing to do with his dissertation.) Did he get a degree at Oxford, or did he make that up? (No, he has a documented D.Phil from Wolfson College at Oxford University.) Did he change his name from Winiarz to Gafni and move to Israel to avoid a scandal? (Absolutely not. It’s quite common to Hebraicize one’s surname when making Aliyah.) Though anyone who knows Gafni well could tell you that the answer to these questions is demonstrably “No”—the fact that they are regularly reported as true illustrates how multi-faceted and widespread the smear against Gafni has become.
ANATOMY OF A SMEAR:
THE INTERNET TRIAL OF MARC GAFNI CLINT FUHS, PhD
“In our reasonings concerning matters of fact, there are all imaginable degrees of assurance, from the highest certainty to the lowest species of moral evidence. A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.”
—David Hume I. THE MAKINGS OF A SMEAR
Marc Gafni is arguably one of the most influential spiritual teachers and public intellectuals to appear over the last several decades. His positive influence on what many have called “the evolution of culture and consciousness” is acknowledged even by some of those people who are currently subjecting him to a coordinated smear campaign that goes back decades.
The misrepresentations of Gafni’s life have gone on for nearly 20 years. But in 2015, the rumors became significantly more vicious and went national. If you look him up on the Internet, you find that bloggers and Internet “journalists” have been calling him names like “rapist,” “pedophile,” “sociopath,” (and sometimes all the above). Moreover, this name-calling is now regularly and repeatedly referenced in the echo chamber of innumerable online articles, blogs, and social media posts.
He was born in 1960, the second of two children, near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Gafni’s parents survived the Holocaust, emigrating from Poland to the last place one might expect the post-WWII flight of an ultra-Orthodox family to end. A few years later, the family moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Gafni, at the age of 6, remembers falling in love with books and, for the first time, felt that he wanted to become a rabbi.
Let me say at the outset that anyone who knows Gafni well, knows that these characterizations are false. They are both demonstrably untrue and self-evidently absurd. But as psychological research has long ago revealed, the more something is repeated, the more it is believed to be true.2 And, as the 2016 US presidential election demonstrated, the big lie tactic can eventually render facts irrelevant. Clickbait headlines and tabloid-worthy claims have allowed truthiness to supplant truth. In Gafni’s case, the smear organizers, who we’ll meet in a moment, enrolled respectable publications, including the New York Times, to obscure and omit key facts to kick oﬀ the 2016 smear against him.
In his early 20s, Marc became an activist youth leader in a New York synagogue. He was later ordained as a Rabbi. He ran a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida, and in 1989 moved to Israel. Eventually, he founded and led a popular renewal movement called Bayit Chadash. He created and hosted a leading national TV show on Israel's most popular channel. He received his doctorate from Oxford in 2008, under the co-supervision of professor Moshe Idel. He is the author of 10 books, but is best known for the early best-seller, Soul Prints, which was turned into a PBS special, and the recent work, Your Unique Self, which was featured a 2011 TEDx talk.
Since the beginning of 2016, the Jewish For