(JTA) — A disgraced rabbi who had been awarded Israel’s highest national honor shortly before being accused of sexual abuse and rape, including of children, has died.
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav died at 62 on Wednesday in Jerusalem, where he had been hospitalized for more than a year since attempting suicide amid mounting allegations against him.
Meshi-Zahav was the founder of Zaka, an emergency medical services organization that has provided search-and-rescue aid after disasters around the world as well as in Israel, where the group ensured that Jewish victims would be handled in accordance with Jewish law. Zaka’s work made Meshi-Zahav a hero in Israel, which enlisted him in an effort to recruit more haredi Orthodox Jews into national service and last year announced that he would receive the Israel Prize, the country’s highest honor.
But shortly after the announcement, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported multiple allegations against Meshi-Zahav from men and women who said they had been raped, molested and threatened by him, some while they were teenagers. The report revealed that many in his community had known about the allegations, which he denied, and that police had investigated Meshi-Zahav previously.
Meshi-Zahav denied the allegations against him but turned down the Israel Prize. Six weeks later, he attempted to end his own life and never recovered. He is survived by a wife and seven children who have reportedly asked for privacy at his funeral.