Shas Members Accused of Conspiracy in Anonymous Document

Ya’akov Margi was among several Shas members incriminated in a document sent to Israel’s State Comptroller last week.An anonymous document sent to Israel’s state comptroller this past week accused the Shas party of artfully using politics to strengthen their presence among the country’s rabbinate. An article published in Israel’s Yediot Acharonot on Friday elaborated on the accusations and the ensuing public response.

According to the document, ranking members of Shas have made “attempts to take control of the rabbinate through improper ways, bordering on the criminal.” The unnamed writer went on to deconstruct the party’s political maneuvers from an insider’s religious perspective.

The charges were primarily directed at the family of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. According to the document, the appointment of Ya’akov Margi to the post of Religious Services Minister was politically motivated. “Minister of Religious Services Ya’akov Margi was appointed in order to promote the appointment of members of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s family and associates of Shas leaders to senior positions in Israeli rabbinates,” the document read.

 Rabbi Moshe Yosef, Rav Ovadia’s son, was cast as the force behind the political moves. Recognized for his powerful role in Shas, Rabbi Moshe also leads the Beit Yaakov Orthodox Court, also known as Badatz. The Court has purportedly been highly successful in the Kashrut industry. “These appointments were meant to promote Badatz in large cities,” noted the document.

The writer of the controversial report then detailed several bribes and conspiracies executed in the guise of party appointments. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s son-in-law, Yaakov Chicotai, purportedly acquired his position as chief rabbi of Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut through the efforts of Rabbi Moshe Yosef and Mr. Margi. Rabbi Moshe Yosef’s brother, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, allegedly became the chief rabbi of Jerusalem with the support of his father and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, whose pressuring dovetailed with Mr. Margi’s bribes in persuading the electing committee to select Rabbi Yitzchak for the position. Mr. Margi apparently promised a committee member’s son a place as the head of a local religious council in Hadera in exchange for the election of Rabbi Yitzchak. The appointment of Rabbi Benjamin Atias, brother of Housing Minister Ariel Atias, as head of the Petah Tikvah rabbinate was another display of cronyism, the document asserted.

“Rabbi Moshe Yosef does not intervene in matters but acts only as the emissary as his father,” a close associate of Rabbi Ovadia remarked under anonymity after release of the report. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has yet to decide whether to open an investigation into the document and its defamatory claims, but this has not inhibited the media from conjecturing as to the possible authorship of the controversial report.

An article that appeared in Haaretz on Sunday highlighted the conspicuous absence of Rabbi David Yosef after news spread of the allegations, and suggested the chief rabbi of Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood may have authored the document incriminating his father, among other prominent officials. Mr. Ettinger, who authored the article, asserted the motive may have lied in Rabbi David’s disillusionment at the appointment of his brother, Yitzchak, to the position of chief rabbi of Jerusalem. “He was the only son who opposed the candidacy of Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef for the office of Jerusalem’s chief Sephardic rabbi – an appointment which is a top priority for Religious Affairs Minister Yaakov Margi, also from Shas – and he is the only brother who desires the title for himself,” wrote Mr. Ettinger.

According to the article, Rabbi David Yosef has repudiated the report’s remarks and affirmed his innocence. “Upon his return from a trip abroad on Friday, Rabbi David denied a large and substantial portion of the details published in the newspaper report,” Mr. Ettinger explains. “In conversations with confidants, he claimed he was framed, that he never wrote any such document and that he never met with MK Kabel.” Labor MK Eitan Kabel originally received the document and forwarded it to the State Comptroller.

The question of whether to open an investigation into the document has been a contested one. Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz urged the state comptroller to carefully examine the claims and adjudge their authenticity. “The rabbinate, despite all its problems, is not the private business of one man, and it is not acceptable that it is managed in a ‘Sicilian’ style according to the interests of one family over the other,” he said Sunday.

These latest reports could spell disaster for the Shas party. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has served as spiritual leader of Shas since its founding, and the saddening state of his family does not bode well for the future of the party. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem’s Givat Moshe neighborhood and rabbi Ovadia’s son, was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. Rabbi David Yosef is now being accused of ratting out his family, and Rabbi Moshe Yosef the primary victim of the latest charges. The investigation into the workings of Shas is still in its early stages, however, and only time will tell whether the party is truly facing an existential problem.