Prominent national-religious leader Rabbi Mordechai Elon, who was convicted of two counts of indecent acts against a minor, was sentenced Wednesday to six months of community service and a suspended sentence of 15 months, across a three-year probation period.
Deputy Jerusalem District Court President Judge Hagit Mack-Kalmanovitch, who presided over the sentencing hearing, also ordered Elon to pay his victim 10,000 shekels in damages.
In her ruling, Mack-Kalmanovitch noted that the charges brought against Elon "were at the lower end of the sexual offenses spectrum and did not involve the extreme use of force…The legal proceedings and the defendant's conviction were, in and of themselves, enough to take him from the height of success to the depths of depression."
She further noted that the fact that the rabbi no longer held any of the various positions he did at the time he committed the offenses was part of her sentencing considerations.
"The entire conviction was erroneous. This was a false accusation which led to this sad move [by the prosecution]. I have only grown stronger from this ordeal, but we all have to think about the way things are done," Elon, who maintained his innocence throughout the trail, told reporters outside the courtroom.
Commenting on his sentence, Elon said: "I have been performing community service for 40 years and I will be happy to continue doing so until I'm 120 years old, whether on the state's orders or not."
Elon's defense attorney Asher Ohayon told reporters that despite the light sentence, he was disappointed with the outcome: "The fact that this is a light sentence is a very small comfort. This case has been reviewed by many legal experts, some of the best in the country, and they are unanimous in saying that the [conviction] was erroneous.
"There are many errors in the ruling that we are not at liberty to discuss because the court has only released a fraction of the records… All of the experts agree that the chances of an appeal in this case are excellent," Ohayon said.
Elon, who after his conviction pledged to appeal the verdict, told reporters that he will "follow the opinion of the Torah" and decide accordingly.
Attorney Sagi Ofir of the Jerusalem District Prosecution, who led the case, told reporters that, "We believed and argued that the proper sentence would include actual jail time, but we are not making light of community service under the circumstances of this specific case. We hope this sends both a deterring message to offenders and a comforting message to other potential victims."
"The court takes pity on the wicked," said Meretz Chairwoman MK Zehava Gal-On. criticizing the sentence. "The sentence fails to meet the gravity of the offense and it will not serve as [a measure of] deterrence against the sexual abuse of minors. I urge the State Attorney's Office to appeal the sentence."
MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), who serves as chairwoman of the Knesset's Committee on the Status of Women, also commented on Elon's sentence: "This light sentence does not take away from the tools offered by the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law to a community whose social codes make it difficult for victims to come forward.
"I hope that other communities adopt the use of a community forum to deal with such matters," she said, referring to the Takana Forum, a forum of rabbis who seek to prevent sexual abuse in the national-religious community, which first alerted authorities to the Elon affair.
"Rabbi Elon's case garnered wide public interest, but it was only one case out of many others handled by Takana," she said. "Cleary, the mentality saying 'this doesn't happen in our community' no longer applies. The religious sector is not immune to incidents of sexual harassment, but at least now, there is somewhere to turn."
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), who formally headed the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, slammed the court's decision, saying, "While Rabbi Elon is given a stage on which he can discredit and defame the court and the handful of people who dared press charges against him, we must all remember that this is an individual who has harmed and betrayed people who trusted and confided in him as a man of faith. It is the most cynical form of exploitation. On a day like today, it is important to stress that the court believed the victims and ruled accordingly."