Shul 'sex sting' charges likely

By Nathan Jeffay, May 23, 2008

Israel’s Ministry of Justice looks set to prosecute a chazan accused of trying to land himself the country’s top cantorial job by tempting its incumbent with a honey-trap.

Jerusalem police believe that freelance chazan Israel Rand hired a female private investigator to tempt his former teacher, Naftali Hershtik, the cantor of the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, into a sexual encounter.

Mr Hershtik, who made his name in chazanut at Finchley Synagogue, North London, in the 1970s, is one of the world’s most renowned cantors. His Great Synagogue job is regarded as Israel’s prize cantorial post, and police suspect that Mr Rand was trying to disgrace him in order to replace him.

According to the investigation, last summer the woman lured Mr Hershtik into a hotel room fitted with hidden cameras. Though they did not have sex, suggestive photographs were sent to the Great Synagogue by Mr Rand.

The shul board was split on whether Mr Hershtik could continue in his job. In April the matter was referred to the labour court, where a judge said it was a halachic judgement, and referred it to a dayan, whose deliberations were hampered by the fact that he refused to look at any of the pictures. However, he concluded that Mr Hershtik could remain in his job. Mr Hershtik’s contract comes up for renewal in August.

The police have completed their investigation and passed a report to the Ministry of Justice. Ministry spokesman Tal Vider told the JC on Wednesday: “The prosecution is checking the facts and deciding if we are going to bring charges.” If the police report was deemed plausible, the ministry will begin proceedings against Mr Rand through the criminal courts. “It sounds like it will end in charges,” he said.

However, Mr Rand told the JC it was Mr Hershtik who should be under the spotlight. He admitted that he hired a private investigator, but insisted: “I didn’t want his job. It’s a big lie.”

Mr Rand alleged that Mr Hershtik tried to block certain chazanim — including himself — from performing where he has influence, adding: “Everybody has their interests. He wants his son [another cantor, Netanel] to sing here or his students to sing here, even if he needs to step on somebody’s head.” He also claimed that Mr Hershtik “has been harassing me in different and various ways for several years.”

He hired an investigator to look in to “a few issues I know and have heard about Mr Hershtik”, both personal and financial, and claimed that without his knowledge, his investigator subcontracted to two other investigators. When he was given pictures of Mr Hershtik with one of these investigators in a hotel room, he sent them to the synagogue.

However, he insisted she was not a honey-trap. “He was [the one who] suggested to come to a hotel and spend a day. It was his idea,” he claimed.

Asher Schapiro, the chairman of the Great Synagogue’s board, described the saga as “a very serious matter” and “something we are trying to handle in a judicious manner”, but declined to comment further.

    Last updated: 10:28am, May 29 2008