Scandal Won't Mean The End for Rabbi Pinto — Or His Wife

Reporter's Notebook

haaretz

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published October 17, 2012, issue of October 26, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

The night I first met Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, I hardly noticed his wife.

She opened the door when I arrived at their Manhattan townhouse, dressed all in black with her head covered. If she said anything at all, I didn’t think it important enough to write down. I was there to see her husband, an enigmatic kabbalist whose growing influence in Israel and the United States I had been investigating for months.

She shook hands with my editor, Jane Eisner, but — because she wouldn’t touch a male stranger — not with me.

This was in February 2011. Now, Deborah Rivka Pinto is in the news. According to reports in the Israeli press, she tried unsuccessfully to kill herself October 14, swallowing an overdose of pills while her husband was being questioned by the police. The two were under house arrest amid allegations that the rabbi had attempted to bribe an Israeli police official.

The restrictions on their movement will last two weeks. Though they have not been charged with any crime, they are barred from leaving the country for another six months.

The stakes for Pinto and his charitable empire couldn’t be higher, both here and abroad. In September, Pinto appeared to be at the peak of his powers. He was a driving force behind what amounted to a bailout of Israeli billionaire Nochi Dankner by Argentinean billionaire Eduardo Elztain. Business experts puzzled over the deal, which they saw as a bad bet for the Argentinean. But Pinto reportedly reassured Elsztain, promising him that investors in Israeli firms “would not be hurt, and will see their money back, even doubled and tripled.”

At the same time, the rabbi’s long-standing problems in the United States seemed to be resolving in his favor. Ofer Biton, a former aide who Pinto allies accused in The New York Times of bilking the congregation out of millions, was arrested on immigration charges. And Pinto himself did not seem to be implicated in the investigation into Biton’s allegedly illegal fundraising from Pinto followers for Staten Island Republican Rep Michael Grimm’s 2008 congressional campaign.

All, however, was apparently not well. According to Israeli media reports, Pinto allegedly attempted to bribe the Israeli police official over a separate money laundering investigation in which he was a target.

Then, on October 16, Channel 10 TV’s investigative reporter, Raviv Drucker, aired a story saying that the police investigation that led indirectly to the house arrest of the Pintos had to do with, among other things, allegations that Deborah Rivka Pinto unlawfully received $1.1 million from a charity run by Pinto’s people. The reporter displayed documents, apparently lists of bank transfers, that show the money transferred from banks in the United States to her bank account in Israel. The TV report noted that Pinto and his wife were asked about this in their investigation and, according to police sources, did not deny receiving the money. Pinto’s lawyer said, in a statement, that there was no wrongdoing and that everything will become clear once the investigation is over.

This isn’t the first time that Deborah Rivka Pinto’s name has been linked to money laundering. Her father, Argentinean Chief Rabbi Shlomo Ben Hamo, filed a lawsuit in the summer of 2011, accusing his daughter and Pinto of pressuring him into serving as guarantor of a Jerusalem apartment as part of a money laundering scheme.

Ben Hamo and Pinto reached a settlement in the case in September 2011.

And, as I reported last year, Deborah Rivka Pinto’s name appears on the purchase of an expensive Manhattan apartment with Ben Zion Suky, the rabbi’s powerful right-hand man, who had been involved in the porn industry.

Deborah Rivka Pinto’s future and that of her husband are unclear. Neither has been charged with any crime. But the two are barred from leaving Israel for six months — likely a hardship for a rabbi who travels regularly to fundraise at institutions he heads around the world.

Still, Pinto has a broad and powerful base that goes far beyond businessmen like Dankner and Elzstain. The same day I visited Pinto’s townhouse, my editor was visited in the Forward’s office by a former Israeli defense ministry official who now runs a state museum and educational institution named for Yitzhak Rabin. That official had traveled all the way from Israel to vouch for Pinto in person, unbidden by us. At a different time, Israel’s consul general in Boston called my editor at Pinto’s behest.

Among the Sephardic rank-and-file Pinto has adherents, too, both in the United States and in Israel. Men on the streets of the southern Israeli city of Ashdod praise him. His photo hangs on the wall of a kosher falafel shop in Las Vegas.

I doubt we’ve heard the last of the rabbi. Or his wife.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or follow him on Twitter@joshnathankazis


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.