Jerusalem rabbi charged with raping followers, claiming it would cleanse their sins

Moshe Yazdi accused of sex crimes against seven women whom prosecutors say he fraudulently convinced to submit to assaults

Rabbi Moshe Yazdi, arrested on suspicion of sexual offenses against women, is brought for a court hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, on April 27, 2022. (Flash90)
Rabbi Moshe Yazdi, arrested on suspicion of sexual offenses against women, is brought for a court hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, on April 27, 2022. (Flash90)

An indictment was filed Monday against a Jerusalem rabbi for rape, sodomy and indecent assault by fraud of seven women whose consent for the acts he obtained by allegedly assuring them he was cleansing them of past sins.

Rabbi Moshe Yazdi, 59, has been under arrest since April 27. He is also accused of defrauding the victims of hundreds of thousands of shekels.

Yazdi was indicted of rape through fraud, sodomy through fraud, indecent acts through fraud, causing rape and indecent acts through fraud, fraudulently receiving items, and money laundering. Prosecutors asked that he be held until the end of the proceedings against him.

According to the indictment, Yazdi served since the 1990s as a rabbi in the Amudei Hashalom community in the capital’s Bukharim neighborhood. He also headed the community’s nonprofit organization.

During daily lessons to his followers, some of whom were newly religious, Yazdi urged giving up intellectual thought or personal feelings and instead submitting to a mindset directed by values and principles laid out in the Torah, prosecutors said.

He also claimed to be one of the 36 righteous people whose merits, according to some Jewish traditions, ensure the continued existence of the world, and stressed to his followers the need for their absolute obedience to his orders. He also falsely claimed to consult with the Divine Presence, deceased rabbis and others when giving personal advice to any of his followers, the indictment alleged.

Yazdi convinced the alleged victims that sins they committed had left “sparks of impurity” inside them that could only be purified through sex acts with him, prosecutors said. He also told each of the women they had special souls and impressed upon them that they must not tell anyone else what had happened between them.

The hundreds of thousands of shekels he asked them to give him were deposited in various bank accounts in the names of other people in an effort to hide the transactions, prosecutors said.

Police have said that in some cases Yazdi assaulted women on the day of their weddings.

Some of the alleged crimes were committed well over a decade ago, with the most recent being a year and a half ago, police said.

Haaretz reported two weeks ago that as early as 2004 a rabbinic court had banned Yazdi from teaching, meeting with, or advising women after it had heard of complaints against him; however, the alleged assaults continued. A first complaint was filed with police against him in 2007, the report said, without specifying the outcome. Then in 2016, Yazdi was convicted under a plea bargain of misdemeanor charges after he tried to exit the country despite a bailiff order against him leaving. At the time he was given a fine and a suspended sentence.

The ultra-Orthodox community has in recent years been rocked by a series of complaints against high-profile figures.

In January, six women made accusations of sexual assault against Dudi Shwamenfeld, a longtime host on the popular Kol Berama radio station that serves the ultra-Orthodox community.

The story broke just days after the suicide of Chaim Walder, a popular Haredi author who was accused of multiple accounts of sexual assault and rape, including against minors.

The Walder story has been hailed as a potential turning point for the approach to sexual abuse cases within the ultra-Orthodox community.

Last year, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the founder of the ZAKA emergency service, attempted to hang himself as he faced numerous allegations of rape and sexual assault. He was left in critical condition.

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