Attorney General Calls to Freeze Rabbinical Court Pick Over Corruption Suspicions

Sources in the rabbinical court system say Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau dismissed judge in order to quash a probe into mismanagement of funds in ultra-Orthodox nonprofits in Jerusalem

Rabbi David Lau in Tel Aviv, 2015
Lior Mizrahi

The Attorney General’s Office is seeking to freeze an appointment to the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court due to allegations of corruption.

Sources in the rabbinical court system claim that Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau removed rabbinical court judge Shlomo Shtasman from court to prevent him from investigating suspected corruption in the management of ultra-Orthodox nonprofit groups in the capital.

Deputy Attorney General Ran Nizri therefore asked Lau to hold off on appointing a replacement until these suspicions are investigated.

Shtasman and the Justice Ministry had jointly appointed a special manager to investigate goings-on at the Etz Hahaim religious trust. The special manager, attorney Ronen Matry, recently wrote a very harsh report about the conduct of the trust and an affiliated organization.

The report detailed a series of real estate deals concluded by Etz Hahaim’s trustees that resulted in the trust losing a considerable amount of property and raised suspicions that the trustees' conduct was corrupted. Police opened an investigation after receiving the information.

Meanwhile, Lau announced that he was removing Shtasman from his position. Instead of heading the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court panel that deals with religious trusts, he would chair a panel in the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court.

Sources close to the investigation warned that since Shtasman had led the effort to uncover what was happening at Etz Hahaim and other trusts, his transfer would undermine this effort.

The legal adviser to the rabbinical courts, rabbi and attorney Shimon Yaacobi, had urged Lau not to transfer Shtasman, noting that people in the religious trusts had threatened to get the judge removed from his job.

Lau ignored the request and appointed another rabbinical judge in Shtasman’s place last week.

The rabbinical court sources also charged that Shtasman’s replacement, Rabbi Yekutiel Cohen, is expected to retire soon, and that Lau plans to appoint his brother-in-law, Rabbi Mordechai Ralbag, to replace him.

However, people close to Lau and Ralbag rejected the claim. “It’s a cheap spin,” said a person close to Lau. “To prevent gossip, the rabbi didn’t appoint his brother-in-law, but another rabbinical judge who is currently slated to retire more than a year from now.”