Supreme Court Cuts Former Chief Rabbi Metzger's Sentence to 3.5 Years

Top court reduces sentence for graft charges from 4.5 years under a plea deal taht a that a lower court had rejected.

Ex-Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger attends hearing at Jerusalem regional court, January 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Supreme Court on Monday reduced former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger’s jail term following his conviction on corruption charges from 4.5 years to 3.5 years.

The shorter jail term had been agreed to by Metzger and the prosecution in a plea agreement on charges including bribery, obstruction of justice and tax offenses. In granting the appeal, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Jerusalem District Court rejecting the three-and-a-half-year jail term.

High Court justices Uzi Vogelman, Daphne Barak-Erez and Noam Solberg ruled that under the circumstances, there was no justification for imposing a prison term different from what the parties had agreed to in the plea agreement. Stating that he did see the shorter sentence in the plea agreement as contrary to the public interest, Justice Vogelman said he did not find any impropriety in the decision by the prosecution to agree to the three-and-a-half-year term. In support of the prosecutor’s consent to the sentence, Vogelman cited evidentiary difficulties in the case, Metzger’s confession to the allegations in an amended indictment against him and the former chief rabbi’s expression of regret and the fact that he took responsibility for his actions.

In the district court, Judge Moshe Yoad Cohen had explained his rejection of the three-and-a-half year sentence by asserting that if not for the agreement, Metzger would have been subjected to a seven-year sentence.

Metzger, who was appointed Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi in 2003, was indicted in October 2015 on a number of offenses allegedly committed over his years in the position, including bribery, fraudulent receipt of a benefit, money laundering and tax offenses. Among the allegations was that he received payment in return for helping foreign residents with the process of converting to Judaism. He was also accused of raising funds for non-profit organizations and pocketing a percentage of the proceeds; and of taking substantial sums of money for attending private events in his capacity as chief rabbi.

Metzger was also indicted for witness tampering involving his personal driver, Haim Eisenstat, who ultimately turned state’s witness. Metzger was accused of trying to dissuade the driver from telling the truth to police investigators, imploring Eisenstat to tell the police that the rabbi had done nothing wrong.

In accordance with the plea agreement, charges of fraudulent receipt of benefits under aggravated circumstances and conspiracy to commit a crime were dropped. The number of bribes that he was said to have taken was also reduced as were the sums involved in the tax offenses. The witness tampering charge was reduced to obstruction of justice.

In addition to the prison sentence, the agreement between the two sides included Metzger’s consent to pay 5 million shekels ($1.4 million) to cover provision for a forfeiture of property and a fine.