The July 5 suicide of a top Israeli police official is the second high-profile death of a person in conflict with Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, the controversial and influential Israeli celebrity rabbi.
Ephraim Bracha, a brigadier general in the Israeli Police, shot himself in the chest while sitting in his own car on a street in the Israeli city of Modiin. Bracha had been the target of a negative public relations campaign coordinated by followers of Pinto, according to a report in Haaretz.
The suicide comes five years after the mysterious death of Solomon Obstfeld, an ultra-Orthodox businessman who fell from his 19th-story Manhattan apartment in 2010. Obstfeld had reportedly been feuding with Pinto over a rental agreement gone wrong. The city’s medical examiner deemed the fall a suicide, though friends didn’t believe he would have killed himself.
The Forward reported in 2011 that Pinto’s American charity had spent heavily on luxury travel and on jewelry. and that a top aide had a past as a wholesale porn distributor. A civil suit filed in New York State Supreme Court in 2014 alleged that Pinto had ordered a New York City police officer to arrest his top aide’s business rival.
Bracha’s suicide came amid an intensive media campaign against the officer, according to Haaretz. A former follower of Pinto, Bracha informed supervisors in 2012 that the rabbi had offered him money in return for information about an investigation into one of his charities. Supervisors directed Bracha to take the bribe in a sting operation, and Pinto was eventually indicted. He was sentenced in May to year in prison.
Bracha, in turn, was targeted by an extensive rumor campaign, according to Haaretz. “The rabbi’s followers launched an entire industry of fatal, unbridled rumors regarding Bracha, and didn’t let up,” Haaretz reporter Gidi Weitz wrote on July 6.
The Israeli television station Channel 10 reported a week before Bracha’s suicide that the internal investigations division of the Israeli Police was considering opening an investigation into allegations that Bracha had passed information to individuals outside of the department.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.