Rabbi Ezra Sheinberg of Safed was indicted Monday for raping, sodomizing and/or sexually assaulting 12 women.
The rabbi, who heads the Orot Ha’ari Yeshiva in northern Israel, was also charged with aggravated fraud, obstructing justice and criminal threatening. The Nazareth District Court remanded him until Sunday.
According to the indictment, Sheinberg allegedly committed the crimes both in personal meetings with the women and in video chats during which he asked them to strip.
The incidents took place mainly during the last decade, when Sheinberg served as a community rabbi in addition to his job as head of the yeshiva.
He was considered both a Torah scholar and a kabbalist with special powers. As a result, he was often consulted by members of his own community and some from outside it. According to the indictment, he abused this trust to sexually exploit women who consulted him.
“We know there are other women who were victimized. But for reasons known only to them, they have chosen not to complain,” Superintendent Galit Winograd, who led the police investigation, told Haaretz. She added that the 14 women who did complain – of whom only 12 are included in the indictment – described a situation in which the rabbi systematically exploited his status to abuse them.
In her request to keep Sheinberg in detention, prosecutor Eynat Gottesmen Saar also stressed that he had systematically exploited women. He sought out victims with specific characteristics, she wrote: Young religious women whose husbands were usually his students, and viewed him as an absolute religious authority.
Sheinberg led the women to believe they needed him because only he could solve their problems, via a treatment he called “relaxation,” Gottesmen Saar wrote. He thereby allegedly persuaded them to let him perform acts that constituted sexual assault.
The severity of his alleged crimes, the number of women he victimized and the long time frame over which the acts occurred all attest to the fact that Sheinberg constitutes a danger to the public, she argued.
Before the hearing began, Sheinberg’s relatives applauded and sang, “We love Father; Father’s innocent; the truth will come to light.”
Sheinberg’s attorney, Efraim Demri, said afterward that the indictment was “inflated, and from what I’ve seen, in part simply baseless.” Accusing the prosecution of trying “to create an overarching concept to enhance what they are saying,” Demri predicted that the case would end “in a whimper.”