Friday, November 30, 2012

Why is it Always the Guys with Beards?

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto - courtesy VIN
To be honest, I never trusted him. There is something off-putting about a Rabbi who should be tending to the common man - cozying up to rich celebrities.

Rabbi Yeshiyahu Pinto has been called “rabbi to the rich and famous”. This connection to celebrities is where I first heard about him. Names like LeBron James, Donny Deutch, former congressman Anthony Weiner, and Jay Schottenstein are among those associated with him. These are people who have asked for his advice and blessing with respect to financial matters. 

I could never understand that. He has absolutely no formal business background what so ever and doesn't speak English. And yet these American celebrities were coming to him for financial advice.

But that is not the only thing I know about him. He has apparently done a lot of good things too. Like building a Yeshiva in Ashdod called Shuva Israel. He directs a several other Yeshivos in Askelon, Rishon LeTzion, and Kiryat Malachi. And a couple of girls schools. He has also helped establish help centers for widows and a soup kitchen that provides 3000 meals a day for the poor in Ashdod. Additionally-  he now has several Yeshivos in major cities in America too.

And he has Yichus. He is a descendant of Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, also known as the Baba Sali a famous Kabbalist. And to top things off, Forbes Israel named Rabbi Pinto as one of the 10 wealthiest rabbis in Israel.

I wish his bio would end here. It would be a Kiddush Hashem. As much as I don’t trust people like this, I have to admire his accomplishments. But it appears that my distrust of the man was well founded. And now we are left with a Chilul HaShem instead. From an article in VIN
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto and his wife Devora are expected to be indicted soon on charges of bribery and money laundering, as an investigation that began last month appears to be in its final stages.
According to Israeli news sources CH. 2 and Globes, Rabbi Pinto reportedly attempted to bribe Brigadier General Ephraim Bracha, chief of the Police Investigation Division, who was investigating Pinto on suspicion of money laundering.  Pinto allegedly offered the senior police official $200,000 in exchange for information regarding the police probe into his affairs.

Rabbi Pinto, a well known kabbalist, and his wife were both placed under house arrest in October…
Why do people like this think they can get away with criminal activity? And what makes them think there is nothing wrong with money laundering and trying to bribe a government official?  I believe it all boils down to education. That he is a religious leader is clear. That he has done much good for great numbers of Jewish people is not in question. One must ask where he got his education and what it was that allowed him to think that way.

Here is an educational sketch from a Jerusalem Post article in 2010.  
(T)he young Pinto studied under Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, head of the prestigious Lithuanian-style Ma’alot Hatorah yeshiva in Jerusalem. Pinto was also deeply influenced by the teachings of Satmar Hassidism, and his firstborn Yoel is named after the Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum, who died in 1979. 
This of course is not meant to say that everyone who follows his educational  track will turn into a crook. Of course not. Most won’t. And it is equally true that the education Rabbi Pinto received also led him to do a great deal of good. I’m sure that a great many more students of this kind of education that went on to do similarly great things - and are not crooks.

It would also be foolish for anyone to believe that crooks like this are only produced in the kind of religious educational environment Rabbi Pinto experienced. I doubt for example whether Bernie Madoff who stole billion of dollars from his investors in a Wall Street Ponzi scheme had any serious religious education at all.

But the fact that so many prominent – and not so prominent - Rabbis that have been caught doing things like this have also had this kind of education can’t be ignored.