Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rabbi Tycoons?

Rabbi Tycoons?

By Steven Plaut

The world media and the Israeli media are all a-buzz about a Forbes
magazine (Hebrew) report about the supposed super-wealthy Rabbis of
Israel, the Rabbinic tycoons and Kabbalistic Plutocrats. Leftwing
media, from Haaretz to the Forward, are having a field day mocking the
"Rabbi multi-millionaires." At the top of the Forbes list is Rabbi
Pinhas Abuhatzeira, supposedly having 1.3 million shekels in wealth
(more than $350 million). A second different Abuhatzeira is said to
have 350 million shekels. Eleven other people (including two other
Abuhatzeiras) appear on the Forbes list of "Rabbi Multi-Millionaires,"
at least two of whom are not rabbis at all. One is a widow of a rabbi
and one is a notorious pseudo-rabbi.

The Forbes story and the feeding frenzy by the anti-Orthodox media
is providing enough anti-Semitic fodder to feed the world's haters of
Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewry for many generations to come, and I
imagine that every Neo-Nazi web site on earth already carries the
story of the Rabbinic Tycoons.

The first thing to emphasize is that the entire Forbes story is
fiction. While the internet is filled with citations of the
"findings" in the report by the Israeli local offices of Forbes,
almost no one has read it. The report is available in Hebrew only
here: http://www.forbes.co.il/news/new.aspx?0r9VQ=HHJ and
http://www.forbes.co.il/rating/list.aspx?en6v0tVq=EE although the web
is filled with English language "summaries" of the findings. And the
entire report fails to describe the sources for its data and
information. That is correct – study the report as you will but you
will not find a single stipulation of the sources for the data in the

Clearly Forbes and its writers did NOT have access to the tax
returns within Israel or from other countries for the Rabbis in
question. Those are all confidential and protected by privacy laws.
One can get data on wealth holdings of individuals in Israel when it
is in concentrated form in terms of stock holdings. That is, if a
person holds more than 5% of the shares of a company, this is public
information. But I doubt any of the rabbis in the Forbes list own
much, if any, shares of stock, so this cannot be the source for the

SO where did the Israeli Forbes reporters get their data? The
answer seems to be that they made them up. I suspect the Forbes
numbers have no source at all other than the imagination of some
Forbes writers. Any partial data they might have stumbled across were
not for the personal incomes or wealth of the rabbis in question but
for the entire network of religious institutions with which those
rabbis are associated or whose resources they oversee.

Some of the more charismatic rabbis in Israel are associated with
dozens of schools, yeshivas, charity funds, funds of contributions
that they oversee for purposes of distributing support payments to
yeshiva students and other members of their "courts," and so on. To
represent these funds as the personal property of the rabbi in
question is a bit like claiming that the entire multi-trillion dollar
budget of the United States is all Barack Obama's property. The
Lubavitch movement does not appear in the Forbes list; but because its
global movement budget is enormous, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe must be
one of the wealthiest people in the world (and I do not want to debate
those fringe Chabadniks who insist he is not even dead).

Forbes evidently never bothered to try to seek out evidence that
the rabbi "owners" of the "wealth" in its tables were leading lives of
splendor and luxury. In fact, I suspect that many of the rabbinic
tycoons on the list live in Spartan simplicity and modest

The writer of the Forbes fiction is one Shimon Ipergan, who is a
minor scandal chasing journalist with no credentials in business or
economics. He has himself been the target of criticism for biased and
misleading journalism, including by the Latma web site (see this,
albeit in Hebrew: http://www.latma.co.il/article.aspx?artiId=3670).
He gained a bit of notoriety when his own home in Ashkelon was damaged
by a Hamas rocket
(http://www.vosizneias.com/news/photos/view/748796813). Because he
lives in Israel's south he seems to have had a special animosity and
passion for painting some of the Negev's more charismatic rabbis as

Ipergan seems to have composed his list in part as a part of some
personal vendetta. One of the supposedly super wealthy rabbis on his
list is himself named Ipergan, Rabbi Yaakov (Yisrael) Ipergan
(sometimes spelled Ifergan), a mystic of sorts based in Netivot,
better known by his nickname "The Rontgen" or Xray Rabbi. (Wilhelm
Rontgen was the fellow who invented the Xray machine in 1895.) His
nickname comes from the claims that he has a sort of magical Xray
vision and can see through things and predict the future. I do not
know how the Forbes writer is related to the Rontgen or if he is But
I suspect his entire "report" was motivated by some sort of personal
score he wanted to settle with this other Ipergan or this Rabbi's
followers or opponents. For the record, I myself consider this
Rontgen a charlatan. I have seen his center in Netivot. There is a
nice yeshiva and synagogue he has built there. I did not see any
fancy mansion in which he himself is housed. The main spending
extravaganza by the Xray rabbi was to build a shrine around the grave
of his own father in Netivot. His father's name was (drumroll) Shimon

There is a lot of bad blood between the Ipergans/Ifergans and some
of the other Moroccan Jewish "kabbalist" charismatic rabbis, some of
whom also are on the Forbes list, and it is possible that the Forbes
team accumulated their "data" just by asking each of these opponents
to bad-mouth the finances of their rivals. In particular the Xray
Rabbi is involved in a Sicilian-style vendetta with the Abuhatzeiras,
a rival dynasty of Moroccan Jewish "kabbalists." (See this delicious
story: http://shearim.blogspot.co.il/2011/03/followers-of-baba-baruch-sent-escort.html
) The fact that no fewer than four Abuhatzeiras appear on the Forbes
list might indicate that the entire list was invented by Ipergan as
part of this vendetta of the Ipergan clan against the Abuhatzeiras.

So how do we really know the story is fiction? Because Forbes
and Ipergan provided no information at all about the sources for their
data regarding the wealth of these rabbis and "rabbis."

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