Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger in Berlin,  Aug. 21, 2012.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger in Berlin, Aug. 21, 2012. Photo by AP
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Israel's religious leadership under investigation
Israel's religious leadership under investigation

Former chief rabbi Rabbi Yona Metzger was arrested Monday morning on suspicion he had received bribes and committed other crimes during the period he had served as Ashkenazi chief rabbi. A gag order was lifted on the case on Monday.  

Metzger is suspected of bribery, money laundering, obstructing an investigation, fraud and other violations.

Police suspect that Metzger had accepted bribes of money and goods from the heads of various nonprofit associations in return for advancing their interests. Police said the amounts involved totaled millions of shekels.

The Israel Police National Fraud squad has been investigating Metzger for several months. It was decided to take Metzger into custody because the investigation has made significant progress, with strong evidence available to back the allegations, police said. The police also suspect that in recent months, Metzger had tried to suborn witnesses and obstruct the investigation. Additional suspects have been detained for questioning.

That Metzger was under suspicion was made public in June on the approval of the attorney general and the state prosecutor. Metzger was questioned under caution at the time for 10 hours and was released to house arrest for five days. Metzger, who at the time was in the final weeks of his tenure as chief rabbi, suspended himself from several of his tasks.

Metzger was elected chief rabbi in April 2003, and was also named a dayan (rabbinic judge) on the Supreme Rabbinical Court. In 2005 he was investigated on suspicion he had received tens of thousands of shekels in benefits from Jerusalem hotels that accommodated him and his family during the holidays, even though the state was renting him a luxury apartment in the capital.

In a detailed legal opinion, then-Attorney General Menahem Mazuz decided that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to put Metzger on trial; however, Mazuz called on Metzger to take responsibility for his actions and draw the proper personal conclusions, and also recommended that he be removed from his post. In February 2008, the Rabbinical Court Judge Selection Committee decided not to remove Metzger.

Back in 2003, there were reports that Metzger had allegedly sexually harassed other men. Then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein decided not to launch a criminal investigation. Two of the four men who had told the Maariv newspaper that Metzger had harassed them took polygraph tests and were found to be telling the truth. Metzger, however, presented his own polygraph tests that showed he was telling the truth and that no harassment had ever occurred.

A series of documents published by Haaretz in 2003 described how the Chief Rabbinate decided to ignore serious suspicions that had accumulated against Metzger when the latter was a candidate for chief rabbi of Tel Aviv in 1998, in exchange for him dropping out of the race. Then Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron was aware, in 1998, of at least one complaint of sexual harassment against Metzger, but despite this, he signed a document in which he committed to drop an investigation of those suspicions.

Thus, the various allegations of Metzger’s violation of halacha and the law that remain open include: sexual harassment, forging signatures on ketubot (marriage contracts), improper conduct toward couples seeking to get married and their families, extortion and threats against Rabbi Shlomo Dichovsky and more. According to the documents obtained 10 years ago by Haaretz, Dichovsky had complained in 1998 that Metzger had tried to extort and threaten him so that he should not compete against him for the post of Ashkenazi chief rabbi in Tel Aviv.