Former Chief Rabbi Metzger Gets 4.5 Years in Prison After Court Rejects Plea Deal

Court hands down harsher sentence after criticizing plea bargain reached between the former chief rabbi and the state.

Former Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger in court, January 30, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Jerusalem District Court rejected on Thursday a plea bargain reached with former Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and handed down a harsher sentence of 4.5 years in prison for bribery.

Metzger was convicted in January under a plea deal. Metzger and the State Prosecution agreed on a sentence of 3.5 years in prison, the confiscation of an apartment he owns in Jerusalem, a fine and back taxes. Under the deal, Metzger pleaded guilty to accepting 5 million shekels ($1.3 million) in bribes, down from 10 million in the original indictment, while other charges – including fraud, breach of trust, and money laundering – will be dropped.

On Thursday, the court criticized the plea deal, saying it was too lenient.

Metzger’s associates said at the time that he agreed to a plea bargain because he understood that his trial would likely end in conviction. The police enlisted a state’s witness in the case whose name cannot be published.

Metzger’s trial, which opened last March in Jerusalem District Court, focused on five issues, primarily bribes, which were delivered to him in most cases by his personal driver, Chaim Eisenstadt, who also got a cut.

The first charge dealt with conversions, in which Metzger was accused of accepting bribes from wealthy foreigners seeking to convert to Judaism.

Metzger was introduced to these people by Rabbi Gabriel Cohen, a rabbi in Los Angeles, who would take money from the tycoons and give half to Metzger as a bribe.

The second charge dealt with nonprofits that Metzger helped with fundraising. Metzger would get a cut of as much as half of the funds he raised, without the donors being informed.

The third charge involved the systematic receipt of benefits in exchange for blessings and attending conferences, with payments ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 dollars.

The indictment also accused Metzger of stealing money he had raised for a yeshiva operating in the Tel Aviv synagogue in which he served as rabbi. He was also charged with tax violations and money laundering because he hid his earnings from the authorities by taking payments in cash.