Who's Rabbi Shmuley Boteach? How is he tied to Israel-Gaza?

Who's Rabbi Shmuley Boteach? How is he tied to Israel-Gaza?
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is a staunch defender of the state of Israel. Two of his children are fighting with the IDF.
3 min read
13 March, 2024
NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES - 2018/03/08: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder and Executive Director of the World Values Network, speaking at the Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala in New York City. [Getty]

Shmuley Boteach, a controversial American rabbi, is a colourful figure who has made recent headlines due to his unfettered support for Israel's war on Gaza, emerging as a peculiar defender of its genocidal actions in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Beyond defending Israel, Shmuley combines other ventures in his public persona, with his career spanning a close relationship with the gifted but problematic late American popstar Michael Jackson to collaboration with the 2024 presidential campaign of Robert F Kennedy and even a 'kosher sex' empire involving his daughter Chana Boteach

He is also a regular contributor to the Times of Israel and other pro-Israel outlets, publishing recent 'blog' posts with such titles as 'Jews Must Be Feared Rather Than Loved'; and 'Why I Took Down Norman Finkelstein on “Piers Morgan Uncensored'.

But just who is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach?

The outspoken rabbi cum author and media personality often dubbed "America's Rabbi," is controversial even within the Jewish American community and has been banned from preaching by other rabbis in their synagogues.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Boteach is an ordained Orthodox Jewish rabbi. Boteach's educational journey began at the Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy in Los Angeles. He then continued his religious studies at various yeshivas in Los Angeles, New York, and Jerusalem, with a significant period spent at the Torat Emet Yeshiva in Jerusalem. As part of the Chabad movement (a Hasidic Jewish branch), Rabbi Shmuley was chosen as one of ten students to establish a yeshiva in Sydney, Australia.  His formal rabbinical training culminated with his ordination (semicha) in New York in 1988.

He has built a public persona centred on promoting Jewish values to a wide audience. His numerous bestsellers, like "Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy," and his frequent media appearances have made him a familiar face to many Americans interested in spirituality and relationships.

However, many find his perspectives on homosexuality and gender roles outdated. 

Rabbi Boteach's daughter, Chana Boteach, further complicates his image. Inspired by her father's writings, she established "Kosher Sex," a Tel Aviv shop selling intimacy products (i.e. sex toys) designed to align with Orthodox Jewish interpretations of marital intimacy. While the store emphasizes pleasure and marital connection, its focus on "kosher" products has alientated many Jews. Some see it as a creative approach to promoting healthy sexuality within religious marriage, while others find it a controversial commercialization of religious beliefs.

Rabbi Shmuley famously drew controversy as a close confidante of Michael Jackson. Their complex relationship resulted in the book "The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation," based on private recordings. Some have criticised the Rabbi for capitalizing on Jackson's vulnerability.

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 01: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (R) embraces a friend before he goes into military service on November 01, 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel. In the wake Hamas's attacks that left an estimated 1,200 dead and 230 kidnapped, Israel launched a sustained bombardment of the Gaza Strip (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Unwavering support for Israel

Rabbi Boteach is a staunch defender of the state of Israel. He consistently speaks out in support of its right to 'defend itself' -- code word for launching wars on Palestinians -- and frequently condemns resistance groups fighting Israel, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Rabbi Boteach often volunteers to defend Israel against any and all criticism, which he considers in any context or situation as 'antisemitic' while working with figures who made antisemitic comments but are supportive of Israel.

Boteach also supports illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Since the October 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel/Gaza envelope, Boteach has expressed unreserved support for Israel's indiscriminate reprisals against the civilian population of Gaza. He flew to Israel in November to offer support for soldiers going into Gaza.

Two of his sons are fighting in the Israeli army.

In his articles he has called Palestinian militants "savages and monsters", described the two-state solution as a Nazi-like 'final solution', and appealed for 'kosher hate' of Israel's enemies.