Rabbi Acquitted on Bribe Charges

The Tel Aviv District Court acquitted a rabbi yesterday who was charged with accepting bribes in order to speed up conversions. Rabbi Binyamin Bar-Zohar, 54, of Jerusalem was acquited unanimously by the three judges.

Bar-Zohar and Rabbi Michael Dushinsky, 59, of Petah Tikva, were charged three years ago. According to the prosecution, they conspired to accept money from people undergoing conversion in return for speaking to members of the rabbinical tribunal who were dealing with the conversions.

Bar-Zohar, the rabbi of the Mateh Yehuda regional council, claimed that it was not a crime to plead a case on behalf of someone in a rabbinical court and receive payment. He said he was not charged with bribery, and the money was not due to be paid to someone.

In April 2003, the magistrate's court that originally heard the case decided to dismiss the charges, but Bar-Zohar appealed to the district court, saying he wanted an acquittal.

Dushinsky, the kashrut supervisor in the Labor Ministry, was filmed by a hidden camera on a Channel 2 TV program, allegedly accepting a bribe. He then allegedly passed some of the money on to Bar-Zohar, who used his connections to facilitate the conversion.

Dushinsky left the country and proceedings against him were stopped. This fact, the court noted, had led to a prolonged legal process against Bar-Zohar. For this reason, the prosecution also did not object to the acquittal.