Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi to Retain Position Despite AG Opposition

Justice Min. panel ignores Mazuz's report calling for Yona Metzger's resignation due to police probe.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger will end his suspension and return next month to his position as a member of the Supreme Rabbinical Court and as a member of the committee that appoints religious court judges, the Justice Ministry's appointments committee approved on Monday.

The committee decided to ignore Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's advice and unanimously endorsed Metzger's decision to end his voluntary suspension.

Metzger is expected to succeed Sepharadic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar as president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court in six weeks' time.

Several organizations of the religious Zionism's progressive wing called on Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann to call off the meeting, citing conflict of interests. They said they deem unacceptable the fact that two members of the religious court judges appointments committee are required to rule who will be their superior at the Supreme Rabbinical Court.

Ne'emanei Torah VaAvodah movement said they intend to petition the High Court of Justice since Friedmann failed to provide sufficient explanations.

"We regret that the Justice Ministry failed to comply with our demand to disqualify the committee, and appoint a Supreme Rabbinical Court president without appropriate credentials, while ignoring the Attorney General's recommendation."

Rabbi Metzger declined to comment on the matter.

In April 2006, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz published a report in which he called for Metzger's resignation as chief rabbi, following a criminal investigation into the rabbi's stays in Jerusalem hotels, free of charge. But at the same time, Mazuz said he would not be issuing an indictment against Metzger, even though he accused him of lying during the investigation.

In reaction to this report, Metzger filed a petition against Mazuz at the High Court, and the court last year criticized the attorney general for calling for Metzger's resignation, saying he did not have the authority to do so, and recommended that he rewrite that section of his report.

But based on the rest of the report, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann asked the rabbinical judicial appointments committee to meet to discuss Metzger's removal from this committee, and that of the Supreme Rabbinical Court.

About a month ago, the committee decided to allow Mazuz to air additional claims before it, and postponed further deliberations until the end of January; but no decision has been made concerning Metzger since.

"We feel there is no cause for continuing the rabbi's voluntary suspension," wrote David Libai, Metzger's attorney. "The criminal file has been closed for almost two years, there is no disciplinary procedure against the rabbi, and the attorney general also has changed his mind about calling for the rabbi's resignation. "To the best of our understanding there is no obstacle for Rabbi Metzger to return to his position as religious court judge and member of the appointments committee for religious court judges," Libai said.

Nevertheless, Libai announced in Metzger's name that he did not intend in participating in the committee's meeting which would discuss his removal.

In response to Libai's announcement, attorney Boaz Arad of the Ometz non-profit organization asked Friedman to prevent meetings of the committee if Metzger returns to serve on the committee - except for meetings to discuss his removal.

"The committee on appointments of religious judges has been unable to reach a decision for a long time, and the circumstances created a feeling for Metzger that the causes that led him to suspend himself at the time from his judicial position and participation in the committee have ended and no longer exist," Arad wrote to Friedmann.

"But the return of a figure with morals such as those of Rabbi Metzger to a judicial role, and even more to a judgeship on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, is unbearable from any public perspective," he said.

Metzger's commitment to suspend himself came as a result of a petition to the High Court by Ometz to force the justice minister to take steps to remove Metzger, as recommended by Mazuz in his 2006 report.

The committee is not empowered to remove Metzger from his post as chief rabbi, but it is unlikely that he will continue to serve in this role if he is removed from his positions as a Supreme Rabbinical Court judge and judicial appointments committee member.

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