Safed rabbi jailed for multiple counts of sexual assault to get early release

Ezra Sheinberg was sentenced to 7.5 years in 2018 for a series of sex crimes; Religious Zionism party chair calls for release decision to be overturned

Rabbi Ezra Sheinberg, suspected of sexual abuse against several women, is seen at the courtroom of the Kiryat Shmona Magistrates Court on July 8, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
Rabbi Ezra Sheinberg, suspected of sexual abuse against several women, is seen at the courtroom of the Kiryat Shmona Magistrates Court on July 8, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

A prison release committee on Tuesday decided to allow the early release of a well-known rabbi and yeshiva head from the northern city of Safed, who was jailed for committing a slew of sexual crimes against eight women, including multiple counts of sexual assault.

Rabbi Ezra Sheinberg was convicted in 2018 as part of a plea deal over a series of crimes committed against women who came to him for advice and counseling. He was sentenced to 7.5 years.

Following a lengthy discussion on Tuesday, after he served two-thirds of his sentence, a release committee decided to shorten his prison term.

The details of Tuesday’s decision were barred from publication.

The case will be reviewed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit within the next week, and only then will Sheinberg be released, if Mandelblit has no objection.

Religious Zionism party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich condemned the committee’s “shameful” decision.

Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset faction meeting, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“The decision of the prison release committee to shorten Ezra Sheinberg’s sentence is shameful and is a stab in the back of the victims,” Smotrich said, saying Sheinberg had not taken responsibility for his actions.

“The punishment was too light in the first place, and the early release is adding insult to injury. I call on the attorney general’s office to appeal the decision,” he added.

A total of 14 women made allegations against Sheinberg to a special investigation team and police suspect that many other victims were afraid to come forward. The victims were all religious women who had come to the rabbi for advice or help on various issues including health.

Sheinberg had been a popular kabbalist and respected figure in Israel’s national religious community, and the author of several books.

He was arrested on July 1, 2015, as he attempted to flee the country as allegations against him emerged. He has been in prison since that time.

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 to receive blessings for fertility when they struggled to conceive.

Rabbi Ezra Sheinberg is brought for a court hearing at the Kiryat Shmona Magistrate’s Court on July 2, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

They alleged that the 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 allegedly 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 took advantage of the trust of innocent young women to satisfy his sexual desires.

Some of the women had originally approached a rabbinic council with the allegations. A team of local rabbis, led by Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, began investigating the accusations in mid-June 2015, and later reported them to police.

Sheinberg’s wife told Eliyahu that she knew her husband had sex with the women, but that she believed the sex was part of their therapy.

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