Kush­ner Backs Kab­bal­ist With Cash Grants

Rabbi David Pinto has re­ceived over $210,000 from pres­i­den­tial aide’s foun­da­tions.

Forward Magazine - - News - By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Jared Kush­Ner’s fam­Ily Char­I­tIes have given hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars to a mys­ti­cal Moroc­can rabbi who some fol­low­ers claim has mirac­u­lous pow­ers.

The rabbi, David Chananya Pinto, is lit­tle known in the United States but has a co­terie of wealthy back­ers. Two sep­a­rate Kush­ner fam­ily foun­da­tions on whose boards Jared Kush­ner serves have given over $210,000 in grants to Pinto’s New York City study cen­ter.

It’s hard to square Don­ald Trump’s clean-cut, Mod­ern Ortho­dox son-in-law with the white-bearded mys­tic who tells a story about a night in 1968 when his fa­ther got a ride from a sec­ond-cen­tury sage driv­ing an Is­raeli-made sta­tion wagon.

Yet Kush­ner has shown an in­ter­est in Ju­daism’s mys­ti­cal cor­ners.

Kush­ner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, plan to at­tend a Wash­ing­ton syn­a­gogue af­fil­i­ated with the Chabad Ha­sidic group, a move­ment rooted in Jewish mys­ti­cism. And days be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the cou­ple vis­ited the grave of the Rebbe — group’s for­mer leader — where be­liev­ers say prayers may be an­swered with mir­a­cles.

A spokesper­son for Kush­ner would not comment on the foun­da­tions’ do­na­tions to Pinto’s char­ity. Pinto’s New York study cen­ter, Chevrat Pinto, did not re­spond to a re­quest for comment.

The Kush­ner fam­ily are Mod­ern Ortho­dox stal­warts, founders of a Mod­ern Ortho­dox high school in New Jer­sey and mem­bers of Mod­ern Ortho­dox syn­a­gogues. But while Mod­ern Ortho­dox the­ol­ogy de-em­pha­sizes the folk magic and mys­ti­cism found in some cor­ners of Jewish tra­di­tion, mag­i­cal be­liefs have grown pop­u­lar among rank-and-file Mod­ern Ortho­dox Jews.

“There is def­i­nitely an up­swing in turn­ing to magic,” said Rabbi Alan Brill, a pro­fes­sor of Jewish stud­ies at Seton Hall Univer­sity. Brill has writ­ten on the phe­nom­e­non in an es­say on Mod­ern Ortho­dox

Jews in New Jer­sey re­viv­ing the an­cient Jewish mag­i­cal prac­tice of bak­ing keys into chal­lah bread.

Brill also said that the pop­u­lar­ity of trav­el­ing charis­matic mys­tics was ris­ing among some Mod­ern Ortho­dox Jews. “It’s a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship than hav­ing to sit through a con­gre­ga­tion each week,” he said.

Pinto is one of a hand­ful of mys­ti­cally in­clined rab­bis gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in the United States and Is­rael. His bet­ter-known nephew, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, at­tracted a large fol­low­ing of wealthy Jews in the United States and Is­rael be­fore end­ing up in an Is­raeli prison for brib­ing a high-rank­ing po­lice of­fi­cer.

Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto was re­leased from prison Jan­uary 25 af­ter serv­ing a one-year sen­tence. He says he is no longer a rabbi.

Rabbi David Pinto wears the fa­mil­iar black coat and hat of the ul­tra-Ortho­dox Ashke­nazim, but he de­scends from a North African Jewish tra­di­tion of mir­a­cle work­ers and saints. Pinto’s an­ces­tors were prom­i­nent rab­bis; the grave of his great-great grand­fa­ther is a pop­u­lar pil­grim­age site for Moroc­can Jews. Pinto’s or­ga­ni­za­tion de­scribes his fa­ther and his grand­fa­ther, both rab­bis, as “mir­a­cle work­ers.”

Pinto leads in­sti­tu­tions in France and Is­rael, but he reg­u­larly vis­its his New York study cen­ter, where his fol­low­ers in­clude Jews from main­stream Mod­ern Ortho­dox back­grounds along­side mem­bers of the French Jewish com­mu­nity. He de­liv­ers his lec­tures in English, speak­ing with a French ac­cent.

Sto­ries of the mir­a­cles that his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther worked, and the be­lief that they can con­tinue to in­flu­ence daily events, ap­pear to play a ma­jor role in Pinto’s re­li­gious mes­sage. In a May 2016 lec­ture de­liv­ered in Mex­ico City and avail­able on­line, Pinto told a story about his fa­ther get­ting picked up on the side of the road in 1968 by the pur­ported au­thor of the Zo­har, Rabbi Shi­mon bar Yochai, who lived roughly 2,000 years ago.

Ac­cord­ing to Pinto, his fa­ther, Rabbi Moshe Ahron Pinto, lived 40 years in prayer­ful seclu­sion in his home in Morocco, and then, in 1968, sought the per­mis­sion of the dead sage bar Yochai to move his fam­ily to Is­rael. Moshe Ahron Pinto trav­eled to Ash­dod, then took a taxi to bar Yochai’s crypt in Meron. He fin­ished pray­ing late at night. A dis­ci­ple who had ac­com­pa­nied him thought they would be stuck near the crypt un­til dawn, but as soon as they reached the road, an Is­raeli-made sta­tion wagon, an Au­to­cars Sus­sita, ap­peared. The driver took them to a house in a nearby vil­lage.

“My fa­ther went out [of the car], [the dis­ci­ple] closed the car, and sud­denly there was no car,” Pinto said.

Pinto said his fa­ther told the dis­ci­ple that the driver was bar Yochai, and that if he told any­one of the mir­a­cle he would die.

The idea that right­eous rab­bis have the power to per­form mir­a­cles is a fa­mil­iar one in mys­ti­cal Jewish tra­di­tions, and par­tic­u­larly among North African Jews. In the lit­er­a­ture of Pinto’s or­ga­ni­za­tion, dead rab­bis and even Pinto him­self are cred­ited with caus­ing ev­ery­day mir­a­cles to oc­cur.

An ar­ti­cle in the 2010 English-lan­guage edi­tion of a mag­a­zine pub­lished by his or­ga­ni­za­tion in Paris re­ports that a “great mir­a­cle hap­pened” at the home of a Chicago fol­lower who hosted Pinto: Two days af­ter re­ceiv­ing Pinto’s bless­ing, the fol­lower’s daugh­ter was matched with a man whom she even­tu­ally mar­ried.

The ar­ti­cle also re­ports that af­ter Pinto promised a French fol­lower that God would “per­form a mir­a­cle for you this week” if the man spent one more hour a day study­ing the To­rah, the man’s son nar­rowly es­caped elec­tro­cu­tion.

The story claims that Pinto knows things by mirac­u­lous means. “Many peo­ple are sur­prised by the way that the Rav knows and sees things from afar,” the ar­ti­cle says. Pinto, the au­thors re­port, de­nies be­ing a prophet. “Every­thing is due to the merit of the fa­thers,” it quotes him say­ing.

In a brief rec­ol­lec­tion pre­sented in a De­cem­ber 2016 weekly bul­letin pub­lished by Pinto’s Is­raeli or­ga­ni­za­tion, Pinto claimed that a Ger­man boy had been re­vived from a three-month coma af­ter a man who hosted him on a visit to Morocco prayed at the grave of Rabbi Chaim Pinto, his great-great grand­fa­ther.

“I would never dare bang on the tomb­stone of my grand­fa­ther,” Pinto wrote. “How­ever, [the man] did it nat­u­rally, and he was an­swered im­me­di­ately!”

In New York City, Pinto has a study cen­ter in an Up­per West Side brown­stone. The study cen­ter re­ceived be­tween $10,000 and $50,000 from a Kush­ner fam­ily foun­da­tion nearly ev­ery year from 2004 to 2013. Jared Kush­ner sits on the boards of the two foun­da­tions that made the grants, the Charles and Seryl Kush­ner Fam­ily Foun­da­tion and the C. Kush­ner Com­pa­nies Foun­da­tion. He is one of seven co­equal di­rec­tors of the Charles and Seryl Kush­ner Fam­ily Foun­da­tion, ac­cord­ing to 2014 tax doc­u­ments, and was a mem­ber of a board of di­rec­tors led by his mother at the C. Kush­ner Com­pa­nies Foun­da­tion, which no longer ex­ists.

In to­tal, Chevrat Pinto re­ceived $217,000 from the Kush­n­ers’ two foun­da­tions.

Jared Kush­ner’s aunt and un­cle, Marisa and Richard Stadt­mauer, have been even more gen­er­ous. Their fam­ily foun­da­tion has given Chevrat Pinto $592,000 in grants since 2009.

Other ma­jor donors to Chevrat Pinto in­clude foun­da­tions con­trolled by the in­vest­ment bankers Is­rael Eng­lan­der and Nathan Low, which have each given mul­ti­ple six-fig­ure gifts.

Haaretz re­ported in 2015 that Pinto had $2.3 mil­lion in a Swiss HSBC branch as of 2007, based on a leaked list of ac­counts.


Tete a Tete: Jared Kush­ner (cen­ter) con­fers with his fa­ther-in-law, Pres­i­dent Trump (left) and with fel­low White House aide Steve Ban­non.


Kab­bal­ist and Scholar: Rabbi David Pinto is from a prom­i­nent fam­ily of Jewish mys­tics orig­i­nally from Morocco. Based in France, he reg­u­larly vis­its New York, where he has many Mod­ern Ortho­dox fol­low­ers.

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