(photo credit: SHAUL GOLAN/GPO)
After years of being dogged by scandal and criminal allegations, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto entered prison on Tuesday.
Due originally to arrive at Nitzan Prison at 1 p.m. on Tuesday to start a one-year term, Pinto arrived at around 2 p.m., after a last-minute medical checkup.
The rabbi was convicted of trying to bribe the head of the Israel Police’s National Fraud Squad, Ephraim Bracha, with $200,000 to obtain information about a criminal investigation into Pinto’s Hazon Yeshaya foundation. Bracha reported this to his superiors and continued to gather evidence.
Last summer, Bracha committed suicide following a public campaign against him on a number of fronts, including one by followers of Pinto via social media.
The celebrity rabbi’s sentence followed a furious legal and public relations campaign, including a plea bargain with the prosecution to turn state’s witness against former Lahav 443 commander Menashe Arbiv. He was sentenced by Tel Aviv District Court Judge Oded Mudrik in May. Included was a NIS 1 million fine, a major blow to a man who had fought all out for community service and no jail time.
After Mudrik sentenced Pinto, the prosecution declared victoriously that “even powerful people with connections still get justice for their deeds.”
Later, Pinto fired his attorney, Eyal Rozovsky, who handled the plea bargain. (He had fired another set of lawyers earlier.) He hired attorney Avigdor Feldman to file a Supreme Court appeal and attempt to introduce new evidence.
At one hearing before the top court, on November 16, Pinto’s supporters attacked Jerusalem Post photographer Marc Israel Sellem and about a dozen other photographers as the rabbi left the courtroom.
After the Supreme Court turned down the appeal on January 5, Pinto’s prison sentence was inevitable.
The 42-year-old rabbi spent his last night as a free man teaching a Torah class to his students, hundreds of whom had attended most of his court hearings, in his home city of Ashdod.
“We have confidence and faith in the Almighty,” Pinto said, emphasizing that he accepted his destiny as something he would be able to endure, saying that when he would be in prison “tomorrow, it is like today and like yesterday and a month ago and a year ago” – meaning his students should not lose hope.
Pinto is the founder of the Shuva Israel Yeshiva and a well-known rabbi in both Israel and the US. He is also a descendant of two Sephardi rabbinical dynasties, Pinto and Abuhatzeira. Forbes previously listed him as the seventh-wealthiest rabbi in Israel.
Some of the drama in Pinto’s delayed arrival at Nitzan Prison on Tuesday stemmed from several instances in the past when he violated court orders to come to Israel from the US for hearings, claiming last-minute health problems.
In one instance, he flew to Israel, but then rushed to the hospital, with supporters putting out messages that he was fatally ill from the flight.
Within hours, a hospital spokesman emerged, explaining that he was in stable condition and would be able to attend the hearing.