An influential rabbi was indicted Monday on charges including rape and sexual assault against 12 women.
Prosecutors alleged that Ezra Sheinberg, former head of the Orot HaAri yeshiva in Safed, committed the offenses over the course of a number of years, and sought to remand him in custody throughout his trial.
Thirteen charges were brought against Sheinberg at the Nazareth District Court, including rape, sodomy, indecent assault, obstruction of an investigation, attempts to coerce testimony, sexual harassment and fraud.
Prosecutors asked the court place some details of the indictment under gag order until all of his victims could be identified.
According to prosecutors, Sheinberg used his position of prominence and reputation as a powerful mystic to lure in and take advantage of women who came to him for religious counsel and blessings for fertility when they struggled to conceive.
They allege that the rabbi victims shared a number of characteristics: they were young religious women whose husbands, in most cases, were Sheinberg’s students at the seminary.
Part of his modus operandi involved convincing the victims that only he could provide a solution to their problems, through a treatment he dubbed “relaxation.”
During those sessions, Sheinberg fraudulently obtained his victims’ consent to commit sexual acts, prosecutors said, adding that the defendant used innocent young women who trusted him as a tool to satisfy his sexual desires.
Sheinberg has denied the allegations against him.
A number of Sheinberg’s disciples and family members gathered at the court to voice their support for the rabbi, who was arrested at Ben Gurion Airport on July 1 as he attempted to leave the country.
Students and teachers at Orot HaAri yeshiva said they were shocked and disgusted by the alleged actions of the rabbi, who was a popular kabbalist and respected figure in Israel’s national-religious community.
The women had initially approached a rabbinic council with their allegations. A team of local rabbis, led by Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, began investigating the accusations in mid-June, and later reported them to the police.
Last week, a number of Sheinberg’s jail guards lodged a complaint against him after he sought to intimidate them by placing them under a religious curse.