How the mighty have fallen

Pinto, a well-known rabbi both in Israel and the US, is a descendant of two Sephardi rabbinical dynasties, Pinto and Abuhatzeira.

Rabbi Pinto (photo credit: SHAUL GOLAN/GPO)
Rabbi Pinto
(photo credit: SHAUL GOLAN/GPO)
When King David mourned the loss of King Saul and Saul’s son Jonathan in Samuel I with the cry “How the mighty have fallen” – he probably did not have Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto in mind.
But Pinto was indeed quite mighty, and with Tuesday’s full-year jail sentence, he has fallen quite far.
Pinto himself is founder of the Shuva Israel Yeshiva, a wellknown rabbi both in Israel and the US, and a descendant of two Sephardi rabbinical dynasties, Pinto and Abuhatzeira.
In the past, he was listed as the seventh-richest rabbi in Israel by Forbes Israel.
Pinto has served as an adviser to a battery of Israel’s elite, including businessman Yitzhak Tshuva, former justice ministers Tzipi Livni and Yaakov Neeman and former business tycoon Nochi Dankner.
In the US, he had close relationships with former congressmen Eric Cantor, Anthony Weiner and Michael Grimm, among others.
Even Lebron James reportedly came to Pinto for guidance.
And more relevant to his legal troubles and turning state’s witness, he had special relationships with top police commanders Menashe Arbiv, Ephrayim Bracha and a range of others.
None of that could save Pinto on Tuesday.
Pinto has been falling for a long time now, at least since he was indicted for bribery as part of a plea bargain to reduced bribery charges in September 2014.
After that, it occasionally seemed that he might try to wiggle out of the deal, with his original lawyers quitting after his supporters and wife violated part of his plea deal by interviewing in the media and continuing to claim his innocence.
Whether from the lawyers quitting or threats from the state – Pinto backed down and started to keep a lid on professions of innocence.
Next, Pinto tried to avoid returning to Israel, claiming that medical problems prevented him from traveling.
When the court ordered him to fly in, he went directly to the hospital from Ben-Gurion Airport, claiming initially a potentially life-threatening condition.
But later that day, the hospital reported he was medically fine for attending court, and Pinto showed up almost on time the next day.
On April 28, his more than 100 supporters in court chanted the song “Tzaddik Yesod Olam” (A Righteous Man is the Foundation of the World) when he entered the room. Pinto himself prayed and swayed throughout the hearing, and visibly cried and shook when some of his supporters testified about his positive impact on their lives.
By Tuesday there were no songs. Court security had informed Pinto’s supporters that even if he was larger than life outside the courtroom, inside the courtroom rules apply to everyone, and there would be no singing.
When his sentence was announced, Pinto did not cry, pray or sway – he just looked concerned like any other convict who has just been sentenced to jail time and is sizing up his remaining options and impending fate.
With his money, power, connections and many indisputable good deeds not helping him escape prison, he and his lawyers were left Tuesday at the end of the hearing sparring with the state about whether his jail sentence would start in late May or late June, with Pinto’s expected appeal expected to fail.
King David may not have been thinking of Pinto, but Pinto himself and his followers in court (many of whom seemed authentically shocked despite the legal momentum of where things were going) will now have to come to terms with his dramatic fall.