The Ombudsman for complaints against Judges, retired Supreme Court Justice Uri Shoham, recently rejected all the parts of a complaint by the President of the Rabbinical Court, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, against Rabbi Shlomo Stasman, a dayan in the rabbinical court in Tel Aviv, Reshet Bet radio reported Thursday.
Judge Shoham ruled that there was no flaw in the conduct of Dayan Stasman, who over the past three years has also served as the head of a special panel of the rabbinical court in Jerusalem investigating two huge charities worth more than a billion shekels, Etz Chayim, and Havaad Haklali.
A few months ago, Rabbi Lau removed Rabbi Stasman from his post and appointed a different panel to investigate the charities. A few days ago, Rabbi Lau was approached by two assistants to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit who suggested there were legal “difficulties” regarding the appointment of the new panel, and advised him to leave Rabbi Stasman in his post.
Ombudsman Shoham said in his ruling that there are concerns that influential elements outside the court system are doing everything in their power to remove from their path certain rabbinical court dayanim who insist on examining the conduct of certain charity trustees.
Shoham added that the AG’s assistants’ recommendations should be followed as soon as possible, and that everyone concerned should do everything in their power to assist Rabbi Stasman in his attempts to improve the manner in which the charities in question are managed.
According to a report in Makor Rishon last year, the turning point in the management of Etz Chayim occurred in recent years, after the association had accumulated huge deficits due to some dubious wage deals with its officials, and covered the debts through the wholesale dumping of the charity’s assets to wealthy tycoons and entrepreneurs at bottom prices.
When this information reached the Jerusalem court, the dayanim realized there was an urgent need to investigate what was going on. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, while serving as President of the Rabbinical Court, deposited the Etz Chayim files in the hands of a special panel dedictaed to probing charities, headed by Rabbi Shlomo Stasman – one of the brightest minds in the complex field of assets owned by large charities.
Rabbi Stasman, who grew up in Bet El as a religious Zionist and later became a Haredi, has earned a reputation as a fearless dayan who makes it his business to confront lobbyists, special interests and tycoons. His main job is as a dayan and the president of the Tel Aviv Rabbinical court, but once a week he presides over the special panel on charities in Jerusalem.
In that capacity, his Jerusalem panel initiated a move to save the assets of the Etz Chayim charity, in cooperation with the state’s Corporations Authority. After a preliminary examination, Rabbi Stasman determined that there were reasons to suspect that the charity was not being conducted properly, and that its directors do not fulfill their duties loyally. In light of these suspicions, Rabbi Stasman suspended the charity’s bosses and appointed retired judge Yosef Alon to examine their actions and decisions.
During that period, according to Makor Rishon, the mailboxes of Rabbi Stasman‘s neighbors in in the Bayit Vagan neighborhood in Jerusalem were stuffed with pashkvilim (attack leaflets) slandering him in many creative ways.
The report submitted by Judge Elon in May 2017, described nothing short of wanton behavior on the part of the charity’s custodians. Following those findings, the rabbinical panel initiated a remedy process which included appointing attorney Ronen Matary as trustee and custodian of Etz Chayim.
At this point, Chief Rabbi David Lau – who by then had replaced Rabbi Yosef as President of the Rabbinical Court – surprised everyone involved in the charity affair by announcing a change in the composition of the special panel. The main point was that Rabbi Stasman was removed from his post as the dayan investigating charities in Jerusalem, and was replaced by Rabbi Yekutiel Cohen, 73, who was described by sources speaking to Makor Rishon as having trouble using a computer and sending email messages.
Another judge appointed by Rabbi Lau to the panel dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars in lost charity funds was Rabbi Yitzhak Ushinsky, president of the Haifa rabbinical court, whose record includes only a limited experience dealing with large charities.
The third judge was Rabbi Yitzchak Zer, who sat on Rabbi Stasman‘s panel but never wrote his own rulings in these matters.
According to Makor Rishon, before the dismantling of Rabbi Stasman‘s panel, Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, the legal adviser to the rabbinical courts, sent an urgent message to Rabbi Lau’s personal assistant, Rafi Altman, in which he warned that “some of the charities cases in Jerusalem have raised genuine criminal questions,” and cautioned that “the transfer of Rabbi Stasman from his post at this time is liable to harm the efforts of investigation and enforcement, and severely harm the public’s trust in the rabbinical court system.”