U.S. rabbi reportedly involved in Olmert probe

A U.S. pulpit rabbi turned businessman is apparently involved in a financial scandal that could fell Israel’s prime minister.

Earlier this week, the New York Post reported that Rabbi Morris “Moshe” Talansky, 75, an American multimillionaire, was willing to provide details to Israeli authorities about alleged financial wrongdoing involving Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he was mayor of Jerusalem in the 1990s. An Israeli government gag order has barred the country’s media outlets from reporting some details of the story, including Talansky’s identity.

As mayor Olmert was well known for his ability to raise funds from Americans and other non-Israeli Jews. Israeli authorities long have explored whether Olmert, crossed the line of legality in the process, but they apparently did not have a material witness to wrongdoing until a few days ago.

The case became public last week when Olmert was questioned “under caution” by police in his home. Olmert’s advisers are purportedly preparing for the possibility that he could be forced to resign or take a leave of absence over the matter.

Talansky, an Orthodox rabbi who used to sit on the board of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary, supports Orthodox causes in Israel, sources say.

It is not known exactly what role Talansky played in the Olmert affair. He may have financed Olmert, been the conduit through which someone else funneled foreign money to Olmert or merely have knowledge of financial wrongdoing involving Olmert.

Talansky was ordained at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1956, according to a Yeshiva spokeswoman, and led congregations in Portland, Ore., and Far Rockaway, N.Y., before going into fundraising.

He was executive director of American Friends of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, holding the position from the mid-1980s until 1997, according to the organization’s current director, Paul Glasser. Talansky helped start the New Jerusalem Foundation, a civic group closely associated with Olmert. He also has been active with the Mesorah Heritage Foundation, which raises money for the Jewish book publisher ArtScroll.

Talansky’s fortune grew over time and he became involved in supporting a number of Jewish organizations, most of them Orthodox.

Though he is a registered Democrat, according to The New York Times, Talansky also has donated to hawkishly pro-Israel U.S. Republicans. He gave $1,000 to the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2003 and some $5,000 to an exploratory committee for Rudolph Giuliani in 2000.