A bizarre case of blackmail by one rabbi on another has come to light in Cape Town, South Africa, according to the Afrikaans-language newspaper Rapport.
The incident came to light at the end of April, when an emissary picked up a bag from Debra Suiza, the wife Rabbi Ruben Suiza, 61, head of Cape Town’s Sephardi Jewish community and a rabbi in the city for 34 years.
The bag contained oblong boxes of biscuits wrapped in black plastic, which were supposed to look like packs of bank notes – R48,000 ($4,492 dollars) to be exact. The emissary was the representative of someone who had been blackmailing the Suiza couple.
The person had sent untraceable emails to Debra Suiza, threatening to tell people that the rabbi had been frequenting prostitutes unless she paid the money.
What the blackmailer didn’t know was that the Suizas had told the police about the threats and they were waiting on the day of the drop.
It turned out that the blackmailer was actually another city rabbi, Rabbi Bryan Opert, the popular leader of the Milnerton Hebrew Congregation, administrative head of conversions at the Union of Orthodox Synagogues and a member of the Western Cape rabbinical association.
Opert was jailed for more than 48 hours, until the Suizas agreed to have the charges against him suspended, pending further deliberations with the authorities.
Opert, who has seven children, resigned and sent a letter to his Milnerton congregation and the Sephardi synagogue.
He pleaded with everyone reading the letter to “forgive” him, saying he had been in a “very dark place,” struggling with depression and getting over “the death of my mother.”
Opert wrote: “I realize that many people are disappointed and shocked that a rabbi could do this, and I regret the aspersions that might be cast on the rabbinate.
“The rabbis in our country are fine people and great leaders. It is through their leadership that I have been encouraged … to write this letter.”
Opert did not say why he chose to blackmail Suiza or why he had demanded exactly R48 000.
He told Rapport that his “real motivation” was an “intra-communal matter” and then referred the newspaper to the chief rabbi of South Africa.
Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein refused to comment on Opert’s behavior, saying only that “there is a moral duty to deal in an uncompromising and principled way with any corruption or wrongdoing by public officials”.
Goldstein said he also wanted to emphasize that the rumors about Rabbi Suiza having consorted with prostitutes “were based on fabrications and are without any foundation whatsoever”.
Rabbi Suiza said his wife was “traumatized” by the incident and it had been a very “sad event for all concerned.”