Rabbi Shmuel Tal had a scam. As head of Torat HaChaim yeshiva as well as several other religious institutions in the central Israeli town of Yad Binyamin he went around claiming ruach hakodesh (Divine or prophetic inspiration). Tal counseled a young married woman to get a divorce from her husband in order to marry him. Tal claimed he knew through ruach hakodesh that Yifat, his wife, would die shortly. He also claimed to know through ruach hakodesh that he was the reincarnation of King David and she was the reincarnation of Batsheba.
The woman got the divorce but the quite healthy wife didn’t die on the predicted date. Tal now tried to get his wife, Yifat, to agree to him taking this woman as a second wife but she refused this polygamous offer. So Tal ignored the woman.
Realizing she had been taken, she remarried her husband. They both sued R. Tal for damages and got a hefty award (500,000 Shekels/$140,000) and Tal made a first partial payment toward the total. Based on that settlement, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu ruled that Tal had repented and could continue leading his yeshiva and other institutions. This all happened about 4 years ago and the public was left in the dark about this shady, manipulative, cultic, marriage-wrecking rabbi. (See Times of Israel for many more details).
It also turns out that Shmuel Tal saw himself more like King Solomon than David in his pursuit of multiple wives. According to the Times of Israel:
A former student of Tal’s by the name of Joe Axelrod posted on Facebook that the Torat HaChaim rabbi had tried to convince his wife — using the “holy spirit” — to divorce him in order for them to marry and have a child together who would go on to become the messiah.
There are allegations that Tal tried variations of this ploy on several other women.
Besides being a manipulative sleaze, Tal is also a deadbeat. Tal made an initial payment and then stopped. That played a role in R. Eliyahu going public in May (5/29/19) about the scandal and calling on Tal to resign all his rabbinical positions.
But cultist manipulators like Tal don’t surrender just because they have been exposed. They attack, defend, and rally their troops. So as the issue was to be arbitrated by a beit din, according to Kipa (6/11/19), Tal dismissed his Rosh Kollel, a Rabbi Cohen, who also called on Tal to resign and was, it seemed testifying, or going to testify, to outside rabbonim. This firing of course scared the heck out of others in the small community which Tal dominates.
Rabbi Asher Weiss was brought in to arbitrate. Rabbi Weiss is a highly respected posek in both the Haredi and religious Zionist camps. Weiss started out by ruling that pending a final ruling Tal could continue in his positions since the complaints never involved allegations of physical contact with the woman and Tal was great scholar whose yeshiva promulgated and disseminated torah through its students.
However, Weiss was soon forced to recuse himself from the case because he had previously been honored by Tal’s yeshiva to give guest lectures and had personally praised Tal.
So Weiss did the old hat trick of recusing himself but retaining control. He assigned the case to three rabbonim operating under the auspices of his beit din organization. The three were Rabbis Michel Bleicher, Tzvi Gartner (of the Meisels Beit Din travesty), and Ovadiah Yosef Toledano. They issued a ruling under the “נשיאות” (leadership/authority) of Rabbi Asher Weiss.
The gist of the ruling summarized on the Arutz Sheva newsite was that Rabbi Tal could continue to serve as Rosh Yeshiva of Torat Hayyim, but he would not be able to provide counseling on “family matters.” He was also admonished not to base halachic rulings on ruach hakodesh but there was no challenging his claim of ruach hakodesh except in the context of his dealings with this woman.
Rabbi Tal, according to Arutz Sheva regarded the ruling as a total vindication against slander, reached in spite of pressure by honest rabbis. There was singing and dancing in his community and not a hint of regret.
RABBI BLAU CRITICIZES THE RULING
Rabbi Yosef Blau, Mashgiach Ruchani (spiritual advisor) at Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary is a long time anti-abuse activist and one familiar with all too many instances of rabbinical misconduct. He finds the ruling of the beit din absurd. In an email to me (7/5/19), which he asked me to post online, he wrote:
The essence of the ruling is that though Rabbi Tal’s relationship with the married woman was wrong and his basing it on his claim to רוח הקודש a mistake, since there is no evidence that he ever touched her and he has repented from his behavior he can continue to maintain his Yeshiva and other institutions. They had experts examine his personal computer and accusations that he had improper pictures on it are false. Rabbi Tal has agreed to stop advising women, to stop relying on his רוח הקודש, and to limit his activities to teaching Torah to his community. In a footnote they quote responsa permitting a scholar who has been removed from his position to be reinstated after he has repented.
In essence they convicted Tal of the woman’s accusations but denied that the relationship was physical. (She had never claimed that it was.). They determined that there were no other such relationships though I doubt that anyone with such a claim would have spoken to them. They focused on his full repentance and his commitment to function differently.
On the accusation that he made strange Halakhic rulings (based on his Divine revelations) they simply said that one should follow traditional Halakhic rulings without discussing anything he wrote or said, in depth. The Beis Din took as a given that Tal is an outstanding scholar whose institutions under his leadership have made major contributions and his pupils have become serious scholars themselves. They had nothing to say about his firing of those who were no longer his supporters.
From the outset of their meetings they were balancing his accomplishments against the charges and accepted as a given that he had fully repented and was prepared to modify his behavior. The only serious difference between their findings and the accusations was with respect to what was on the computer and I question their expertise and use of experts.
Rabbi Tal was allowed to return to his role because he has agreed not to advise women, stop claiming ruach hakodesh and because he truly repented his deeds. He and they interpreted the ruling as a vindication. His and his yeshiva’s response to the Beis Din׳s decision is ecstatic singing and dancing, and they post pictures of it on his blog. This is a bizarre manifestation of t’shuva (repentance).
There is so much wrong with this beit din’s ruling.
- They remained under the leadership of Rabbi Weiss who had to recuse himself because of bias in favor of Rabbi Tal
- They are utterly dismissive of the profound manipulative behavior of Rabbi Tal and his devious attempts to wreck marriages to pursue creation of his own harem of additional wives
- They ignore the suppression of evidence by firing potential witnesses and thus discouraging other potential witnesses
- They allow his talent as a torah scholar and institution builder to factor into their decision when the only question is whether a man of his character is fit to be trusted as a rabbi
- They use t’shuvah as an alibi in spite of his failure to even pay all of his damages judgment. Sure enough the post-celebration shows a man who feels vindicated of his innocence rather than one with regrets about his past conduct.
- The burn up their energy (in the footnotes) to minimize the grave violation of invoking ruach hakodesh in halachic rulings as if he really has it and as if the only problem was his using it with these women. As Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, ZTz”L, said in another context, if you don’t have daas, by which he meant common sense about people, you can’t have daas torah. This beit din lacks the daas to smell a fraud.
- Even Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu failed his community. He deserves credit for finally raising the issue publicly. But for 4 years he kept all this private on the assumption that Tal could be trusted.
- Running through all of this and some similar beit din rulings is the over-valuing of lomdus (rabbinical scholarship) and a strange conception of chilul hashem (desecration of G-d’s name). The goal always seems to be to avoid the embarrassment of exposing a talmid chochom (rabbinical scholar) as a moral reprobate. They seem to imagine that with enough censorship, the myth can be perpetuated that every talmid chochom who leads a good yeshiva is morally worthy. But that is not true. So over and over they end up with the greater desecration of the public learning about reprobate behavior and defenders of these low lifes.
As the Talmud says, “כל מקום שיש בו חלול ה’ אין חולקין כבוד לרב” (In any place in which there is desecration of G-d’ name we are not concerned about the honor of the rabbi (Shvuot 30b).”
- The prescriptions of the ruling are that he is not to counsel women or couples and not to invoke ruach hakodesh in halachic rulings. They are being taken for suckers if they really believe he will comply with those rulings. Why should he. The ruling now has other prominent rabbis all but ratifying his claim to having ruach hakodesh. As kids these days would say, you don’t waste a super power.
At the end of the day, Tal is more empowered than ever to proceed with his misconduct, the court has made itself small in the eyes of most, and Tal will likely go on to abuse others again.
See also this extraordinary account of Tal’s history, pretensions and cult control in this Hebrew article in Makor Rishon (6/27/19). Google translate’s version will give you a decent sense as well.
I originally called it an ad hoc beit din. But in fact, as Elli Fischer pointed out, R. Weiss has an ongoing Beit Din. It is not clear if these three rabbis are members of his regular panel of dayanim.
UPDATE- see this post in Frum Follies https://frumfollies.wordpress.com/2019/07/14/lets-talk-about-policy-instead-of-whether-rabbi-shmuel-tal-did-teshuva/