A recent Press report describes the wealthy aristocracy of rabbis that has appeared in Israel over the past few decades, who have “have carefully positioned themselves at the fulcrum of Israeli power and influence.” Their followers are some of Israel’s richest businessmen. These moguls have helped the new rabbinic “aristocracy” to turn their shekels into multi-million-dollar empires.
The rabbis, the article contends, “have become shrewd businessmen themselves,” managing large investments in stocks and real estate at home and abroad — while managing to keep their holdings safe from Israeli tax collectors.
The rabbis achieved symbolic admission to the world of business by the recent inclusion of 13 of the richest rabbis in the list of the richest published Israeli edition of Forbes magazine.
The g-dly business works like this: the rabbis “set up public office hours in their homes to receive Israelis on all rungs of the social ladder, as long as they come with cash. In exchange, adherents receive amulets and little pieces of paper containing the rabbi’s personalized blessing. The most successful rabbis have founded charitable institutions and small religious seminaries, which act as conduits for the incoming cash flow.”An expert on Orthodox Judaism and professor emeritus at Bar Ilan University, Menachem Friedman, says the practice has a tradition:
Religious Jewish businessmen since the 19th century have solicited rabbis’ blessings for cash to ensure their success — though today the sums have reached unprecedented amounts.
Friedman also explains the comfort derived by the faithfully rich (or is it richly faithful) from the rabbinical intercession:
If the market is dangerous and shaky, the millionaires who benefit from that market have less confidence. They need these rabbis to give them that security.
A series of exposes appeared in Israeli newspapers in the 1990s accusing a rabbi of cheating his followers into believing he had no money in the bank, and violently threatening some to pay up.
A national fraud squad investigation, discovered $125 million in his personal account. The rabbi reached a settlement with Israel’s tax authorities to pay a fraction of what he owed in taxes.
“These rabbis are charlatans, swindlers and cheaters. They have no real knowledge. And people eat it up,” said reporter Bar-Moha, who heads Tel Aviv’s journalists’ association.
An Israeli tax official, speaking anonymously because of the issue’s sensitivity, said in the past two years tax authorities have approached some 20 religious figures, requesting earnings reports. Some rabbis have been investigated for tax fraud. No convictions are known, but some have reportedly reached settlements with Israeli tax authorities.
Reached for comment, advisers of some of the rabbis profiled by Forbes either would not comment on the income estimates, or said they were wrong but would not provide other figures.”
Every single shekel brings about true peace,
announced the rabbi Rabbi Yaacov Israel Ifargan’s half-brother, a rabbi himself, at a recent gathering.
In the women’s section, behind a laced divider, sat “The Arbitrator,” Ifargan’s millionaire sister Bruria Zvuluni, a trusted spiritual counsellor who claims to have mediated feuds between Israeli crime kingpins. Though she is not a rabbi, she made it to the bottom of Forbes’ list.”
Copyright © deLiberation 2012