Yaakov Yitzhak Rata, who was convicted of rape and sentenced to 16 years at the Maasiyahu Prison's religious wing, was released from jail last week only to become a rebbe – a position he inherited from his father, who died during his imprisonment.
The ultra-Orthodox public is now divided over whether he will gain any followers.
The father of the rapist rabbi was Rabbi Avraham Chaim Rata, who was known as the "Shomrei Emumim Rebbe" and died last summer. He led a small congregation of 200 followers based in Jerusalem.
In order to prevent any succession disputes, the rabbi wrote in his will that all his sons and sons-in-law would take his place in the congregation's leadership, each in a different concentration of followers. So now his son, ex-convict Yaakov Yitzhak, who is in his 50s, has come out of prison straight into the leadership of one of the Shomeri Emumim communities scattered across the country.
Missed opportunity to gain followers?
Haredi website Kikar Hashabat reported about "great joy in the Hasidic movement" when "the righteous rabbi, Yaakov Yitzhak Rata, was released from a 16-year imprisonment."
The report added that Rata was expected to serve as a rebbe in the haredi city of Beitar Illit, where the leader of the Shomrei Emunin community had yet to be appointed.
"The rabbi denied the offenses attributed to him and refused to confess to the acts, and as a result even avoided signing a plea bargain, which worsened his legal situation," reporter Israel Cohen explained in his merciful report. "His father, the Rebbe of blessed memory, had expressed his silent support for him too and believed that he was innocent."
Talking to Ynet, Cohen said it was unclear whether the released sex offender would turn into a real spiritual leader.
"On the one hand, he and his brothers are not the type of figures that attract believers like the Rebbe was, and he specifically was in jail when the father's followers were divided between the sons and missed the opportunity to gain some of them. On the other hand, it's possible that because of his story some will see him as a martyr persecuted by the authorities and follow him."
Ex-convicts who served with Rata in prison were surprised to learn about the position waiting for him outside.
"How can it be that a person who served a prison sentence for sex offenses is now appointed as a rebbe?" one of them wondered. "It's amazing to discover how cheap this job can be."
"How can a community of religious believers follow a person who was convicted of serious offenses which put him to shame?" asked another former prisoner. "It's inconceivable that he will now become a rebbe."
Raanan Ben-Zur contributed to this report