“He who is greedy of gain troubles his own house, but he who hates gifts will live.” —Proverbs 15:27
“As a rabbi, I am particularly grateful to the Adelsons.” —Shmuley Boteach
Shmuley Boteach promotes himself as “America’s rabbi” and “the most famous rabbi in America.” A man of many hustles, he has inserted himself as political liaison to far-right pro-Israel casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, close confidante of Senator Ted Cruz, spiritual guide to Michael Jackson, pal of Oprah Winfrey, soulmate of Eli Wiesel, buddy of Senator Cory Booker, star of his own reality TV show, and bestselling self-help author of Kosher Sex. This month Boteach scrambled between a meeting with Donald Trump, whose candidacy for president he recently endorsed, and a ritzy gala for his own organization, thrown on the solemn Holocaust Memorial Day, at which he bestowed special honors on the former “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson and Yoko Ono, among other dignitaries.
Boteach has also managed to leverage his wide-ranging connections into a gig as a columnist for the New York Observer. The weekly newspaper is owned by Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is married to Ivanka Trump, touted by her father as among his closest political advisers. Jared Kushner’s father Charles is a wealthy real estate developer and convicted felon who has contributed to Boteach’s non-profit, the World Values Network, known until recently as the Jewish Values Network.
The Observer’s editor-in-chief, Ken Kurson, also has close ties to Boteach, serving on the board of his charity, editing his columns and maintaining close ties to the PR firm that conceives his inflammatory full-page newspaper ads trashing those who diverge even slightly from the pro-Netanyahu line on Israel, including the Obama administration and former Clinton administration officials. Kurson is intimately connected to Donald Trump as well, serving as his speechwriter while he composed the Observer’s widely ridiculed endorsement of Trump for president, which attacked “the media and culture elite” while extolling Trump’s “real leadership” and “vision.”
Since Boteach’s first choice for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz, ended his campaign, Boteach has been angling for a role with Trump. Boteach recently issued a de facto endorsement of Trump, claiming he was swayed by a conversation with his “friend,” Jared Kushner. Just as Boteach defended Cruz when he was accused of engaging in coded antisemitism for slamming “New York values,” Boteach is now defending Trump against critics who accuse him of making antisemitic comments (“You [Jews] are not going to support me because I don’t want your money”) and exhibiting fascist tendencies.
By insinuating himself into the company of Trump’s family, Boteach has appointed himself Trump’s top Jewish surrogate. In the campaign ahead, his job will likely consist of applying the kosher stamp to a candidate who enjoys enthusiastic support from leading neo-Nazis including Matthew Heimbach and David Duke, has personally promoted screeds by white nationalists, and recently included an open white supremacist on his California delegate list. “There’s a certain irony in Sheldon Adelson backing Trump, who’s so beloved by raving antisemites,” Mark Potok, the Southern Poverty Law Center director said of the ultra-Zionist casino mogul who has pledged to donate $100 million to Trump’s campaign, and who also donates to Shmuley’s ventures.
There was once a time when Boteach transcended partisan differences, winning the adulation of gentile Middle America with his “Shalom in the Home” TV reality show. The series premiered in 2006 and ran for two seasons on TLC. In the show, Boteach played the part of a relationship counselor, and the role landed him guest spots on Oprah, Dr. Phil, and other staples of the daytime self-help circuit.
Early in his career, he cultivated a close and unlikely bond with Cory Booker, now a Democratic senator from New Jersey. The two barnstormed across the country, regaling crowds with jocular buddy comedy and earnest ruminations about black-Jewish relations. The appearances cast Boteach as a post-partisan racial healer, helping him become perhaps the first Orthodox public figure capable of earning celebrity outside tightly conscribed Jewish circles.
But almost as quickly as he found new ways to influence people, Boteach has managed to alienate the friends who brought him his mainstream cachet. Most importantly, two of the leading Jewish religious authorities in the world, including his own teacher and rabbi, have effectively challenged his rabbinical credentials. The former Chief Rabbi of England, Jonathan Sacks, banned Boteach in 1999 from speaking at his West End Synagogue because of financial misconduct at Boteach’s London-based charity, while Rabbi Ezra Schochet, who was Boteach’s religious mentor at a Los Angeles Chabad Lubavitcher yeshiva, has proclaimed, “It is totally prohibited and unacceptable for Orthodox Jews to hear someone like Boteach speak, since his views on many issues are against Torah and Halacha (Jewish law).” To the rabbis, Boteach should hardly be considered a rabbi.
Almost 16 years later, Boteach still appears to harbor a grudge against Rabbi Sacks, calling him “a failure” in an op-ed and blaming him for “the phenomenal growth of anti-Semitism and attacks against Israel while he was in office, without his joining the battle, [which] rendered his leadership obsolete.”
In the Obama era, Boteach’s invective and vindictive behavior has repelled Democratic friends, especially Cory Booker. When Senator Booker voted in favor of the U.S.-Iran agreement designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Boteach proclaimed he would never “forgive” him.
Boteach has drifted to the Likudnik right-wing, cultivating relationships with oligarchs and power players like Adelson and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson and other Boteach donors have funded his vitriol, such as accusing Obama’s former National Security Advisor Susan Rice of supporting genocide in a hysterical full-page New York Times ad in May 2015. The American Jewish Committee called Boteach’s ad “revolting,” while the Anti-Defamation League labeled it “spurious and perverse.”
With Adelson pledging to contribute heavily to Trump’s campaign, Boteach, who is financed by the eccentric billionaire, is burrowing into Trump’s inner circle. Boteach the “rabbi” and Donald the tycoon have more in common than might seem obvious. Both are dogged by allegations of financial corruption, and both have earned notoriety in the world of reality show television while moving into politics to further their celebrity. At every step, they have faithfully adhered to the dictum Boteach described as his personal Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt do anything for publicity and recognition.”
Rabbi without a shul
Despite tirelessly building a brand as “America’s rabbi,” Boteach has no congregation or political base of followers. Trained as a rabbi in a yeshiva, or school of Jewish learning, run by the Chabad sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, his behavior resulted in his de facto excommunication from the community. Rabbi Ezra Schochet declared that any Orthodox Jew promoting Boteach’s lectures was guilty of “chillul hashem”—a desecration of God’s name. Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, director of outreach for Schochet’s Los Angeles synagogue, explained: “Rabbi Schochet feels that Boteach’s printed materials and publicized actions are beyond the limits of Orthodox theology and go against some of Chabad’s fundamental beliefs and the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s instructions.”
Rabbi Ezra Schochet’s brother, the late Rabbi Immanuel Schochet, considered one of the most revered Chabad scholars and authorities, contributed his own forceful condemnation in an editorial in 2012 about Boteach’s book Kosher Jesus. He declared, “it is forbidden for anyone to buy or read this book, or give its author a platform in any way shape or form to discuss this topic,” and concluded that “the book violates basic premises of original and authentic Jewish tradition, thus unavoidably must be rejected for being heretical.”
Infuriated by his total castigation, Boteach fired off an op-ed accusing Rabbi Ezra Schochet of running “a Taliban madrassa.” Boteach falsely claimed he was being punished “because I dare to say that gay Jewish men should be encouraged to put on tefillin [phylacteries worn by observant Jews during prayer] and keep the Sabbath as opposed to just being ostracized as an abomination.” Rabbi Yaacov Behrman countered that his students visit men and women regardless of their sexual orientation and are allowed to lead any Jewish male in prayer, even if he is gay. Behrman concluded about Boteach’s attack on Schochet, “How does the tiny flea dare to rise up against the mighty eagle?”
Cast into the wilderness by the Orthodox sect that educated him and provided him with his religious credentials, Boteach set out to earn a quick buck. The vehicle “America’s Rabbi” uses is a non-profit charity that purports to promote Jewish values.
Boteach’s main source of income is the World Values Network, from which he has consistently drawn a six-figure salary. Until at least 2013, his palatial 12,000-foot stone manor in Englewood, New Jersey served as the charity’s headquarters; the property is now listed on the real estate market for $3.5 million.
Filed under his legal name Jacob Botach, Boteach’s 990 forms, which all nonprofits must fill out each year in order to maintain tax exempt 501(c) status, document a disturbing practice that has formed a pattern throughout his career. Records from the World Values Network—whose stated mission is disseminating “universal Jewish values” and “diverting society’s focus from material greed”—indicate it has financed Boteach’s relentless ambition and lavish lifestyle.
In fact, the section labeled Summary of Direct Charitable Activities on Boteach’s 2011 tax forms is almost completely empty except for one line: “Lectures and debates and hospitality and meetings.” These lectures and debates raked in $25,995 in tax-exempt income that year. In 2010, Boteach paid himself $163,981 as executive director out of $496,081 in revenue—a whopping one-third of total income.
In 2014, his World Values Network’s revenue skyrocketed to $2,962,270. Of that, $273,077 went directly into Boteach’s pockets. He spent another $790,736 on a gala dinner in honor of Sheldon Adelson, his chief funder.
Boteach spent the rest of his tax-deductible funding—all $1,539,904 of it—on what was listed as “publicity fundraising outreach.” There is no evidence that “Rabbi” Shmuley Boteach budgeted a single penny for any activity that has not involved self-promotion or self-enrichment.
Lloyd Mayer, a leading expert on non-profit and tax law at Notre Dame University School of Law, raised some possible red flags in an interview with AlterNet’s Grayzone Project about Boteach’s fundraising practices. “The high percentage of the nonprofit’s revenues that are paid to the executive director and an entity affiliated with him raise significant concerns that the amounts paid may be unreasonably high given the scale of the organization,” Mayer said.
“As importantly,” he continued, “the nonprofit’s focus on supporting and distributing the executive director’s writings and lectures raises a serious concern that the nonprofit may be primarily serving his private interests as opposed to primarily seeking to benefit the public.”
Three years ago, Boteach made a failed bid for tax-exempt status for his Englewood, New Jersey mansion in which he attempted to turn the estate’s carriage house into a 37-seat synagogue. (Approval of the synagogue would have afforded him a parsonage exemption from property taxes.) Enraged that he was denied the tax-exempt status bestowed upon his next-door neighbors, the Libyan Mission to the UN, Boteach released a bombastic statement branding Englewood’s Board of Adjustment, a local body that handles zoning disputes, a “kangaroo court.” He went on to decry the entire process “a sham.”
Minutes from Englewood town council board meetings show that Boteach and his lawyer Scott Piekarsky tried to disqualify board member Harry Reidler on the grounds of alleged bias. The board dismissed the application after it was amended so that the “synagogue” would consist of 10-12 seats in Boteach’s home rather than the carriage house. Ironically, Reidler ended up being the only board member to vote “no” on the motion to dismiss.
Criminal gun running and domestic abuse allegations
Born in 1966 and raised in Los Angeles, Boteach idolized his father, telling journalist Batya Ungar-Sargon that Yoav Botach was “the most charismatic person” in his life. Yoav emigrated from Iran and began buying and selling commercial properties in 1973 in Los Angeles before opening Botach Management in 1989. He claimed to be worth $700 million, and according to Tablet Magazine, was a documented serial domestic abuser. Yoav’s third wife, Judith, accused him of punching and head-butting her, Ungar-Sargon reported, and called upon Boteach to testify to his father’s history of violence. Judith’s lawyers also pointed to previous testimony from Boteach’s mother, Eleanor, in which she said Yoav Botach threw boiling water on her and beat her over the head with a roasting pan.
The father’s lawyers claimed in a court filing that Boteach’s testimony would lack credibility. “It is just as plausible that Rabbi Boteach made the statements at issue to sell books, promote his website, and/or spark interest in future television appearances,” they stated. Ultimately, Boteach did not testify in the case in which Judith was awarded $50,000 for domestic violence and $200,000 in the final divorce settlement.
Yoav Botach owns the building that houses Botach Tactical, a South Central LA-based online retailer of military and police equipment run by his other son, Bar-Kochba, Boteach’s brother. The warehouse, which is closed to the public and sells guns and ammunition exclusively to cops and military personnel, raised an outcry from community activist groups in Leimert Park, a mostly black area plagued by gun violence. (A Los Angeles Times ranking says the neighborhood has the second highest violent crime rate per capita in the city.)
According to usaspending.gov, Botach Tactical took in over $9 million in U.S. military spending in 2011 alone. Last year, the city attorney of Los Angeles announced criminal charges against Botach Tactical for selling two 9-millimeter handguns to a civilian.
An LA Weekly investigation reported that the State of Israel accused Yoav Botach and his brother Shlomo of “using professional money launderers” to direct $860,000 through banks in Switzerland and Uruguay to a secret account in Israel, opened under the code name “Ezra 26.” Bar-Kochba’s son Efraim Diveroli, who is Boteach’s nephew, was also in the family business. A gun runner operating a shadowy Miami arms firm behind a series of front groups and shell companies, Diveroli was indicted in 2008 by the federal government for a “criminal scheme to sell banned Chinese munitions to the Pentagon,” according to the New York Times.
In the LA Weekly report, Judith Boteach claims that Yoav used his clout to wield influence in local L.A. politics, holding fundraisers for city council members and the governor. On one occasion, Shmuley Boteach threw a party in Beverly Hills for the launch of a charity campaign called Turn Friday Night Into Family Night which encouraged parents to spend Friday nights with their children. The party was attended by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and city council president Eric Garcetti; a video of Villaraigosa endorsing the campaign is featured on Boteach’s website.
Boteach’s first charity shut down for fraud
Boteach’s religious career can be traced back to his teen years, when he was heavily involved with the Hasidic Jewish sect known as Chabad-Lubavitch. Though he wasn’t raised in a Chabad household, his mother sent him to a Chabad summer camp when he was nine and he became closely attached to the group. At age 10, he met Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whom many in the movement considered to be the messiah. Boteach claims that Shneerson invited him to his office to bestow his blessings two weeks after his bar mitzvah: “I met him at 3am; I was invited into this office and he said to me that I would grow to be a source of light and joy and nachas [pride] to my family, my school, the Jewish people and the whole world. It blew me away; it was an incredible thing to say to a 13-year-old. No one takes 13-year-olds that seriously.”
While it’s impossible to prove that Rabbi Schneerson ever heaped this praise on a boy he just met, the tone of the story is characteristic of the kind of language Boteach has used to promote himself throughout his career as a public figure, and displays evidence of a messianic complex of his own.
Boteach attended yeshivas in Los Angeles and Jerusalem before being ordained at Tomchei Temimim, Chabad’s Central Yeshiva, in Brooklyn. When Boteach was 19, Schneerson—or the Rebbe, as he’s known to his followers—sent him to open a rabbinical college in Australia, where he met his wife Debbie. Three years later, in 1988, another directive came down from the Rebbe: Go to Oxford University in England as a missionary for Chabad. Though he never attended as a student there, Boteach founded the L’Chaim Society, which set up shop at an off-campus house and recruited students from the nearby university.
From the outset, Boteach exhibited an impressive ability to attract attention. L’Chaim Society quickly grew into the second-largest student group in the history of Oxford (second only to the historic Oxford Union debating society) by inviting high-profile speakers to talk about topics only vaguely related to Judaism. Guest speakers included Henry Kissinger, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and pop singer Boy George. It was there that Boteach recruited a young Rhodes Scholar from New Jersey named Cory Booker to serve as the co-president of L’Chaim. Michael Gross, a key funder of L’Chaim Society, told reporter Batya Ungar-Sargon that Boteach “turned the Chabad house into a vehicle for his self-promotion and self-advancement and basically became an impresario by using the prestige of Oxford to attract celebrity speakers.”
L’Chaim grew into a full-fledged charity, but it was shut down for fraud. The crisis began in 1999 when British journalist Katrin Levy researched a story on the L’Chaim Society for the London Jewish News. Levy turned up a series of documents showing sketchy finances to the paper’s publisher, Michael Sinclair. Sinclair, who happened to be chair of L’Chaim’s board, demanded she return the documents; instead, she handed them over to the police, who passed them on to the UK Charity Commision, the country’s official regulatory body.
The Charity Commission froze the organization’s assets after concluding it had made “excessive payments” to Boteach and his wife Debbie, including mortgage payments on their $750,000 London home. As a result, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of New West End Synagogue in London issued his edict forbidding Boteach from speaking at his West End Synagogue.
The Guardian reported in 1999 that Boteach had already gone through six directors of the L’Chaim Society in just a two-year period. One reliable source with first-hand involvement in his activities, who knew Boteach since the 1990s, says the rabbi had a reputation for making impossible demands of his employees. According to journalist Ungar-Sargon, one director of L’Chaim was dismissed for the ostensible sin of speaking with a professor during his lunch break.
Boteach’s hair-trigger temper was also evident in accounts of his interactions with his former confidant, Cory Booker. A source who worked on Booker’s campaign described to AlterNet’s Grayzone Project how he once questioned Boteach and Booker about the questionable political optics of being involved with a charity called Heal the Kids that was sponsored by Michael Jackson, who was eventually accused of paying $200 million in hush money to children he allegedly sexually abused. Boteach, who was visiting Booker at his office, responded by throwing a tantrum and shouting, “He’s the king of pop!” After enduring the tantrum for several long minutes, Booker escorted Boteach from the room.
The unfortunately named Heal the Kids initiative was finally transferred from Michael Jackson’s control to Boteach’s L’Chaim Society. Almost two decades after Boteach left Oxford, no one seems to know of any kids who were healed by the supposedly charitable endeavor, or what their maladies might have been. Tax filings from 2001 list $259,432 in expenses—all but $20,000 of it attributed to staff salaries and office expenses. The funds gathered included a $100,000 contribution from Denise Rich, the socialite wife of the late fugitive pro-Israel billionaire Marc Rich, who almost certainly was unaware of the group’s actual operations.
Boteach had met Michael Jackson through their mutual friend Uri Geller, an Israeli magician and self-proclaimed psychic known for his supposed ability to bend spoons with his mind. During his time as Jackson’s self-proclaimed spiritual advisor, Boteach recorded hours of conversation between himself and the eccentric singer. Though they later had a bitter falling out, Boteach capitalized on their friendship by releasing a book based on the recordings titled The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation. The book was published in 2009, just months after Jackson’s death. Jackson’s former manager Dieter Wiesner alleged to British tabloid the Sun that both Boteach and Geller appeared on an “enemy list” Jackson had compiled of people he believed were out to destroy him.
Turning Cory Booker into a bitter enemy
After forging a relationship at Oxford, Boteach and Cory Booker built on their mutually beneficial relationship. Booker gained access to wealthy campaign contributors while Boteach, true to form, gained exposure by hitching himself to a charismatic political rising star. Together they made a sort of traveling road show, giving speeches at synagogues and to pro-Israel lobbying groups like AIPAC and NORPAC, emphasizing their deep “Judeo-Christian” bond and the importance of black-Jewish unity.
Booker went on to attend Yale Law School before running for mayor of Newark. He lost his first bid in a notoriously ruthless battle in 2002 with incumbent Sharpe James, who alleged that Booker was “collaborating with the Jews to take over Newark,” but won the second time around in 2006. Seven years and two mayoral terms later, Booker won a seat in in the U.S. Senate representing New Jersey. In 2012, Boteach tried a political campaign of his own, testing his popularity with a run for U.S. Congress. After winning the Republican nomination for New Jersey’s ninth district against a virtually unknown pharmacist, Boteach lost to Democratic opponent Bill Pascrell by a landslide margin of 25% to 74%. Cory Booker, in an early sign of their deteriorating friendship, donated $2,000 to Pascrell.
When Booker offered support to the Iran nuclear deal last year, backing President Barack Obama over the right-wing government of Israel and its cut-outs in Washington, Boteach quickly turned on his old friend. In a series of tirades against Booker in the New York Observer and Jerusalem Post, Boteach declared that the senator was “coming out in favor of a regime that promised the Jews a second Holocaust” and had “voted to legitimize a genocidal government sworn to the Jewish people’s annihilation.” He took particular umbrage with Booker’s refusal to meet with Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, another former president of the L’Chaim Society at Oxford and a dyed-in-the-wool neoconservative with close ties to the Republican Party.
Though he was never a professor of any sort and does not hold a university degree, Boteach described Booker as “my student at Oxford.”
Since the Iran episode, Boteach has fully embraced the right-wing milieu. His mad dash into the arms of Israel’s Likud party and its constellation of far-right associates earned him a VIP spot in the gallery of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech against the Iran agreement to a joint session of the Congress last year, which was boycotted by 58 members of Congress. Spotting three protesters from the anti-war group CodePink seated behind him, Boteach immediately alerted security and had them removed.
After enjoying a highly publicized 25-year friendship with the pseudo-rabbi, Booker has apparently had enough. He neglected to mention Boteach at all in his recent memoir United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good, triggering yet another tirade by Boteach in which he accused his old pal of “vanishing Jews.”
At a 2013 panel discussion Boteach hosted at Yeshiva University in New York City, Sheldon Adelson declared that the U.S. should drop a nuclear bomb “in the middle of the desert” in Iran, “then say, See! The next time we do it, it will be in the middle of Tehran.” Boteach nodded in apparent approval. By this time, Boteach had become almost completely dependent on the octogenarian billionaire’s money.
When Boteach announced his run for Congress, Adelson kicked in $500,000 to his campaign through the Patriot Prosperity PAC, a super PAC he controlled. The tycoon has remained a good friend of the rabbi ever since. Besides bankrolling Boteach’s failed political ambitions, Adelson has also been a top donor to the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Zionist Organization of American, Christians United For Israel, and Birthright Israel. He owns the largest newspaper in Israel, Yisrael Hayom, using it as a publicity machine for his friend and patron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Boteach’s burgeoning relationship with Adelson helped him cultivate an alliance with Elie Wiesel, whose charity lost $15.2 million in Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme a year after receiving a million-dollar donation from Adelson.
In exchange for access to Adelson’s wealth, the revered writer, Holocaust survivor and ardent promoter of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise agreed to lend his name and likeness to the Shmuley Boteach brand. Last year, Boteach hosted a panel with Wiesel and Ted Cruz called “The Meaning of Never Again: Guarding Against a Nuclear Iran.” The clear implication was that if the Iran deal passed, there would be a second Holocaust.
Another major Boteach benefactor is billionaire Michael Steinhardt, who originally introduced Boteach to Adelson. Steinhardt was one of the first major hedge fund managers and was lauded as “the world’s greatest trader” by Forbes for his skill at shorting stocks to provide astronomical returns to investors. Steinhardt donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Jewish Values Network through the Judy & Michael Steinhardt Foundation. His daughter, Sara Berman, has served as secretary of the non-profit’s board for several years.
Steinhardt is the co-founder of Taglit-Birthright Israel, the organization that provides free tours of Israel to young Jews from across the West. An atheist who publically debated Boteach on the subject of whether God exists, he is also an avid Zionist who has claimed that Palestinians didn’t exist until 1967.
After chairing the centrist Democratic Leadership Council in the 1990s, Steinhardt swung to the right, donating to Rudy Giuliani’s senatorial campaign in 2000 and inviting Ted Cruz to his office for a meeting co-hosted by Boteach. Ken Kurson, Boteach’s friend and editor at the New York Observer, described the meeting as a gathering of “about a dozen heavy machers (the Yiddish equivalent of heavy hitters)” including businessman Ken Abramowitz, who runs an organization called the Israel Independence Fund that has served as a key funding mechanism for the extremist settler movement in the occupied West Bank.
Daniel Sieradski, a writer and activist who served as the webmaster for Boteach’s now-defunct personal website for two years, says he sees a pattern of his former client “attaching himself to philanthropists” like Adelson and Steinhardt to see what he can get out of them before moving on to the next available patron. Sieradski says that on the day of the website’s launch, “someone posted [Boteach’s] tax filings and other documentation from his time at Oxford as a comment on his blog, suggesting he had been engaged in embezzlement.” Boteach immediately directed Sieradski to delete the comments and ban the user.
Praise from Jews for Jesus
A prolific author, Boteach has written 30 books in the last 25 years including titles such as Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments and Shalom in the Home (the latter was turned into a primetime reality show on TLC). His most popular book, Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy, sold 65,000 copies in one week when it was published in 1999. The book is a pseudo-religious defense of traditional marriage disguised as self-help, emphasizing the importance of monogamy while including just enough dirty bits to titillate.
His eagerness to dissuade readers from more transgressive forms of sexual experimentation can make for some truly strange reading: “Only when people have become totally bored to death of sex in its natural and instinctive form would they resort to such acts of desperation such as hanging pieces of hardware from their penis to jump-start sexual interest.” To date, Kosher Sex has sold over a million copies and been translated into 27 languages.
None of Boteach’s books was as controversial as 2012’s Kosher Jesus, which he claimed he wrote to bring Jews and Christians together through a “theological bridge” by examining the rabbinic origins of Jesus’ teachings. Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf, dean of a Chabad Hebrew School in Chicago, denounced the book as heresy and declared that Boteach “must be ostracised” for his chutzpah. “To Jews for J[esus] this book will now become the Jewish Rabbinical textbook urging embracing Yoshke [a dismissive nickname for Jesus] as an authentic Jew, urging us to be inspired by him, G-d forbid.”
Sure enough, the book has received acclaim and attention on the Jews for Jesus website. “Shmuley has taken a very major and truly wonderful step in the right direction,” wrote Michael L. Brown, a Jewish convert to Christianity affiliated with the Jews for Jesus movement.
“It’s not the [path] of Chabad to eject their fellow Jew,” wrote Wolf, “yet there are those rare times when it appears as an obligation to do just that.”
In a March column for the New York Observer, Boteach bragged that he presented Pope Francis with a copy of the book; photos show the rabbi in full salesman mode, waving a copy of his book as the Pope regards him with a bemused expression.
Anti-Palestinian incitement and African dictator ties
While earning a nationwide audience with goofy antics and family friendly uplift, Boteach has emerged as one of the most rabid defenders of Israeli policies of military operations against occupied Palestinians. After the Israeli army killed over 1,400 Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, he took out a full-page ad in U.S. newspapers to defend the assault. The ad featured Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel under the headline, “Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,500 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’s turn.” Repeating the popular myth that Hamas had used children as human shields, Wiesel (or whoever composed the text of the ad) described the villains as “worshippers of death cults indistinguishable from that of the Molochites.”
In the 990 forms Boteach files with the IRS, he has declared that placing full-page ads such as the one accusing Palestinians of ritual child sacrifice is part of the charitable mission of his World Values Network, and that the ads “emphasize friendship, mutual values and infinite respect for each and every life.” In 2015, Boteach set off another firestorm after taking out another full-page ad blaming former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for enabling the Rwandan genocide, an apparent reaction to her mild criticism of Netanyahu.
It was an ironic publicity stunt considering Boteach’s close and very public relationship with Rwandan president Paul Kagame, an autocrat who recently changed his country’s constitution to run for a third term. (Kagame is widely suspected of ordering a plane carrying Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana to be shot down in 1994; the assassination is generally regarded as the catalyst for the genocide.) At New York University’s Steinhardt Center in 2014, Boteach honored Kagame, lauding him profusely as a champion of human rights. Appearing onstage alongside the Rwandan dictator were Adelson and Wiesel, who appeared oblivious as Kagame’s security team violently restrained a lone audience member who rose up in protest against the Rwandan autocrat, leaving his face covered in bruises.
In March, Boteach took out yet another full-page ad in the New York Times, this time designating Max Blumenthal (the editor of AlterNet’s Grayzone Project) and his father, Sidney, as Hillary’s “anti-Israel advisors.” While it’s true that Sidney Blumenthal advised the Clintons in the White House and afterward, the charge that Hillary Clinton is anti-Israel seems risible in light of her conduct as Secretary of State and her hardline support for Israel as a presidential candidate.
Boteach’s effort to crowdfund the defamatory ad was initially removed by Gofundme on the grounds that it violated its rule against “fraudulent, misleading, inaccurate or dishonest” initiatives. In the end, Boteach said he turned to one of his oligarchic donors to pony up the fee the Times required (as of 2014, a full-page ad cost $104,000), and which it accepted without vetting the ad’s factually dubious contents. Boteach has not disclosed the identity of his funder, though he has become heavily dependent on Sheldon Adelson’s largesse.
Following his most recent ad smear, Boteach rattled off two venomous (and nearly identical) editorials taking aim at the actor and playwright Wallace Shawn for serving on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish-oriented group that works for Palestinian human rights. According to Boteach, the soft-spoken Shawn “feels the Jews were better off as they were led into Auschwitz’s gas chambers.”
Desperately seeking Donald
Last May, Boteach facilitated a meeting between Adelson and Ted Cruz. Boteach had formed a somewhat unlikely friendship with Cruz, calling him “a phenomenal friend of Israel.” Before Cruz’s presidential campaign came crashing to a halt, Cruz had hoped that Boteach’s connections to right-wing Jewish plutocrats like Adelson would fuel his ambitions. Though the alliance between a “rabbi” and a Rapture-ready Christian dominionist may seem odd, it should be seen in the light of numerous examples of evangelical leaders embracing right-wing Zionism, and of ultra-Zionists studiously ignoring their allies’ troubling beliefs about Jews.
Indeed, Boteach has recently palled around with Pastor John Hagee, the founder of the Adelson-funded Christians United for Israel, and praised him and his wife as “the greatest Christian friends of the Jewish people in the world.” Hagee has blamed the Holocaust on a “half-breed Jew,” described the anti-Christ as “partially Jewish, as was Adolph Hitler,” and claimed that Hitler was sent by God to hunt the Jews. For Boteach, and Wiesel, who accepted $500,000 from Hagee for a single appearance at his church in 2009, Hagee’s unflinching support for Israel’s Likud governments transcended the objectively antisemitic commentary he delivered before his evangelical flock.
As a fire-breathing columnist for the New York Observer, Boteach has forged close connections with the paper’s owner and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. The Kushner family has contributed to Boteach’s charity on multiple occasions, including $10,000 from the Kushner Family Foundation in 2009 and another $10,000 the following year. Three years ago, Jared Kushner brought on his longtime friend Ken Kurson, a Republican political operative who co-authored Rudy Giuliani’s autobiography, to work as editor-in-chief of the Observer. “I will have to earn [readers’] trust,” Kurson said when Kushner hired him to edit the Observer. “I have had a long and honorable journalistic career, calling it like I see it and being a straight shooter.”
Kurson previously worked as a partner of Jamestown Associates, a Republican PR firm. Just days before Trump’s high-profile speech at the DC-based pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, Jamestown Associates claimed credit for producing the bizarre full-page ad painting Max and Sidney Blumenthal as Hillary Clinton’s “anti-Israel advisors.” The ad was published under the banner of Boteach’s Jewish Values Network, whose 2014 IRS financial disclosure forms list Kurson as the “secretary.”
With ghostwriting assistance from Kurson, Kushner drafted the wildly Islamophobic speech Trump delivered at the annual AIPAC conference in March. That same month, Boteach wrote a fawning puff piece on Trump lauding the candidate as “a staunch supporter of Israel.” Defending the Donald against criticism of the incendiary rhetoric that has turned some of his rallies into chaotic mob scenes, Boteach claimed that Trump “has never incited violence against any group.”
Led by Kurson, the editorial board of the Observer echoed Boteach’s praise by officially endorsing Donald Trump for president in a rambling bit of sophistry that applauded him as “someone who has constructed great skyscrapers and gem-like skating rinks.” The editorial almost completely ignored fanatical proposals like Trump’s call to ban all Muslim non-citizens from entering the U.S. The only other paper that had endorsed Trump by this point was the National Enquirer.
Reached by phone at his office, Kurson deflected when asked if he had any personal contact with Trump: “I mean, I’ve seen him a couple times at family stuff, but I don’t know him.”
Kurson said he “assumes” Trump’s son-in-law Jared knows about his position as secretary at Boteach’s Jewish Values Network, but added, “I don’t think he knows everything I do in my personal life.”
In response to a question about whether he accepts money from Boteach’s organization, Kurson snapped, “Of course not!” A minute into the conversation, he hung up.
‘Jewish values’ as a tool for self-aggrandizement
On May 5, the World [formerly Jewish] Values Network commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day with yet another massive fundraiser. Tickets for the gala ranged from $27.37 for balcony seats to $25,759.95 for full table VIP access. The Fourth Annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala honored Wiesel and Adelson alongside Yoko Ono (previous honorees include Ted Cruz and Sean Penn). It’s unclear what Ono has done for Judaism beside claiming she would have stopped Hitler by becoming his girlfriend—“After 10 days in bed, he would come to my way of thinking,” she once said of the Fuhrer. (In any case, she inexplicably failed to appear at the gala.)
Other special gala guests included Boteach’s editor at the Observer and secretary of his non-profit, Ken Kurson, whom he honored with a Champion of the Human Spirit Award. Also onstage at the gala was Pamela Anderson, the former “Baywatch” actor.
Boteach tweeted that Anderson is “a strong and brave advocate for the environment, animals, and women.”
When a reporter asked Anderson for some thoughts on Wiesel, referring to him as “the face of the Holocaust,” she exclaimed, “I can’t wait to meet her!”
On the same day Ted Cruz dropped out of the Republican presidential race, Boteach tweeted his support for Trump, calling him a “great friend of Israel” — the highest compliment Shmuley can give. He also praised the presumptive Republican nominee for his “strong support of Judea and Samaria Jewish communities,” referring to a recent statement by Trump supporting Israel’s illegal settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.
The groveling began at least a few weeks earlier on April 14 at the New York State GOP gala, when Boteach tweeted several photos of himself palling around with Trump. In one, he claimed that Trump had offered him the vice-presidential nomination but that he had “no time” to take his new friend up on the offer. While Boteach appeared to be joking, he and Trump continue to demonstrate that the line between reality and farce is blurrier than anyone realized.