An Israeli court this morning released for publication the news that the police Internal Affairs unit, known here as Dept. of Policemen Investigation, is looking into suspicions that Commander Menashe Arviv, appointed only last September chief of the prestigious anti-organized crime Lahav 433 unit – was bribed.
According to Yedioth, one of my favorite foundations of Israel’s democracy, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, congratulated Arviv on his appointment, saying: “I ask of you to treat them with force, it is a mitzvah to do so. In this war there is only one winner, and that is the police.”
He probably shouldn’t have mentioned the mitzvah thing, because, next thing you know, Arviv is being accused of being bribed by receiving favors from sources close to Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, a cabalist from a long line of miracle workers, also know as “a rabbi to the rich and famous.”
At this point there’s still a court gag order on the nature of the favors the crime fighter received from the mystic, but we’ve been led to understand the latter has turned state’s evidence in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
I’m not saying that’s what happened, but the idea of a meeting between a wired cabalist and a straying police commander is the stuff Hollywood movies are made of.
Commander Arviv, who is yet to be interrogated, met yesterday with Commissioner Yohanan Danino—one of the original founders of Lahav 433—and informed him he was taking a much needed vacation. He also told anyone who would listen that this is a libel, which the coming investigation would surely prove.
Except that it doesn’t look like anyone is doing a big investigation, seeing as Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, another great democrat, simply got one of the two suspects in the stinky affair to admit he did it together with the other—in exchange for walking away scot-free. The narrative is already in place, then, and the cops are now only searching for corroborating evidence. Unless he gets a really sharp lawyer, it looks like Arviv is done for.
But there’s more to the case than favors from one rabbi to his policeman. Israel’s Forbes richest rabbis list quotes Rabbi Pinto’s wealth at $21-million, give or take. according to press reports, Pinto is connected to the leaders of NY City’s real estate industry, including, most notably, executives in Metropolitan Real Estate Investors and Prudential Douglas Elliman. His devoted followers include Jay Schottenstein, chairman of the American Eagle Outfitters clothing company, real-estate mogul Jacky Ben-Zaken, 5W Public Relations owner Ronn Torossian, Congressman Michael Gerard Grimm (R, Staten Island), and even basketball player LeBron James of the Miami Heat.
And, until his fortunes changed so radically, former Congressman Anthony Weiner.
Rabbi Pinto is a deal maker, an influence-peddler, admired by people with staggering amounts of money as “something between a guru and a Chasidic rebbe,” and useful to all of them in more than just spiritual advice.
All of the above is not what one would normally expect from a rabbi, but Pinto is no ordinary rabbi, and, as long as he continues to do good in the world—he has founded yeshivas and is supporting several others, as part of a global movement called Mosdot Shuva Israel—he shouldn’t have to apologize for knowing wealthy people.
But there are cracks in that picture, through which we see flashes of the good rabbi’s skirting the line between what’s legal and what’s suspect.
There are money laundering investigations, some through his charity, Hazon Yeshaya. And there was a bribe to the tune of close to $100 thousand he is accused of trying to give Arviv’s predecessor at Lahav 433, Sub-Commander Ephraim Bracha, in exchange for information.
Bracha, another follower of the good mystic, went to his bosses as soon as he was offered the money. When he was questioned, Rabbi Pinto told police this was not the first time he had gifted the high ranking policeman. But they weren’t buying it, so he pulled another mystical rabbit out of his black hat: he offered to give them an even higher ranking officer to whom he had donated.
This is when AG Weinstein became curious, and offered the man of God immunity in exchange for the name. And that has spelled the end of Commander Arviv’s career.
There’s a lot more to the story, of course. Some of it involves the FBI. It started when extortionists demanded from rabbi Pinto a huge sum of money, or they threatened to leak medical reports about the postpartum depression his wife suffered after her most recent pregnancy. Later, after the embarrassing documents were published, she attempted suicide.
U.S. media sources insist the entire extortion scam was set up by Congressman Grimm, another devotee of Pinto, and a friend of Israel and Netanyahu in Congress. Grimm is now in a big vat of hot water of his own, as a fundraiser for his 2012 campaign was arrested there on Friday by the FBI on criminal charges that she invented “straw donors” to hide more than $10,000 in illegal donations to Grimm. Should the fundraiser, Diana Durand, 47, of Houston, TX, strike a deal in exchange for testimony against her friend and employer, the Congressman, in turn, might be tempted to offer information about his guru, Pinto.
So far, the most amazing miracle being performed on a daily basis by the good rabbi is how he manages to stay a fee man throughout these scandals. Maybe his positive contributions to the universe continue to outweigh the shady stuff. And maybe he’s innocent, a true savant, unaware of the wreckage he’s leaving in his path.
This is what he told his close circle recently, according to Maariv: “I never gave a bribe. The biggest sin in the Torah is bribery. Even if you give a bribe for reasons that appear rightful to you, it’s a sin against the Torah. It’s like eating pork. If I gave a bribe, I’m prepared to take off my hat and my beard, because from now on I’m no longer a rabbi.”
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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