Rabbi Ezra Sheinberg of Tzfat (Safed) heavily manipulated the public's trust in the rabbinic system to sexually assault women, an officer involved in the case stated Monday.
"All the complainants are religious women who came to the rabbi, who is considered as very charismatic, and they came to ask for advice," Police Superintendent Galit Winograd, the supervisory officer during the criminal proceedings, revealed Monday. "Sometimes their husbands are the ones who brought them to the rabbi, and he fooled them and told them they needed sexual therapy – and claimed that if they did not accept his treatment, the situation would deteriorate."
Winograd told Walla! News that the pattern of attack was the same: the women would be referred to Sheinberg, and then he would set up a series of meetings, either in person or on video chat.
An investigation was launched in July 2014 when two separate women filed complaints against Sheinberg to the Tzfat (Safed) District Police, she added. Then and there, a special task force was established to investigate the complaints, mostly of female officers.
"There was a lot of work behind the scenes – providing emotional support them, explaining to them the legal process ahead of them, encouraging them to testify," she noted. "These women mustered the courage to complain, and when questioned, recounted many difficult things."
Winograd also explained some of the mystery surrounding the case: the fact that similar allegations were apparently covered up for years.
"You have to understand the position of rabbi," she said. "One husband told me, 'Ezra Sheinberg is a demigod to us – what he says, we do.' When their wives felt something was wrong and wanted to tell their husbands, he had told them terrible things would happen to them if they did."
Winograd did stress, however, that the religious community appears to have embraced and supported the victims after they went public with the accusations.
More and more evidence
Thirteen women have accused Sheinberg of sexual abuse, and an indictment was filed on the behalf of twelve of them to the Nazareth District Court earlier Monday.
The former Rosh Yeshiva (dean) of the Orot HaAri Yeshiva in the northern city of Tzfat (Safed) has denied the charges.
However, a week after his arrest, Arutz Sheva exposed several damning details about the case, including the fact that Sheinberg allegedly admitted his offenses to Tzfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and other rabbis. He has since then claimed over and over again that the allegations are "nonsense."
Supported by the public outrage over the case, more and more women have come forward to publicly speak out about the alleged abuse they suffered, with one providing testimony to the Israeli media under an assumed name, and another publishing her side via an open letter.
Solid material evidence has reportedly also been added to the case.
While in jail, guards complained that Sheinberg was cursing them, taking their names from the name tags on their shirts and writing them on a note before reciting: "I place on you a kfeida," a type of curse.