Three Top Rabbinate Officials Among 10 Charged in Religious-study Certificates Scam

Police, IDF and Prisons Service grant automatic raises upon completion of religious studies equivalent to BA.

Three senior rabbinate officials are among the 10 people charged on Sunday with falsely certifying some 1,500 members of the security forces as having completed a course of religious study equivalent to a bachelor's degree.

Because the police, the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Prisons Service all grant automatic raises of between NIS 2,000 and NIS 4,000 a month to people who complete religious studies equivalent to a bachelor's degree, the fraudulent certifications cost the state some NIS 250 million, according to the indictment submitted to the Jerusalem District Court.

The defendants include the bureau chiefs of both current Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Israel Meir Lau, as well as the deputy chief rabbi of the Israel Police. The other seven are officials of yeshivas in Beit She'an, Haifa, Be'er Sheva, Safed and Gan Ner.

The certificates show that the recipients completed five years' worth of 35-hour-a-week study at a yeshiva. In practice, however, they studied for only 10 hours a week, and for only one to two years.

To obtain the certificates, each recipient paid the institution at which he studied tuition ranging from NIS 10,000 to NIS 20,000. Thus, the scheme brought millions of shekels into the coffers of the institutions involved, which included the Yehaveh Da'at yeshiva, headed by former Sephardi chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef and run by his son, Rabbi David Yosef, and the Darchei Hora'a L'rabbanim yeshiva, headed by former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and run by his son, Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu. However, neither the Yosefs nor the Eliyahus were charged in the case.

The indictment also stressed that the chief rabbis in whose names the certificates were issued knew nothing about them.

Most of the false documents were issued by Yitzhak Ohana, Rabbi Lau's former bureau chief, who at the time headed the rabbinate's examination department. Rabbi Metzger's bureau chief, Meir Rosenthal, was the one primarily responsible for distributing the certificates to the recipients; he was a student at Darchei Hora'a L'rabbanim at the time.

Rosenthal, the indictment added, earned some NIS 2 million from the scam, which he failed to declare to the tax authorities.

Aharon Gottesdiner, the police's deputy chief rabbi, not only participated in the fraudulent scheme, but also took a bribe from one of the yeshivas involved in it, the indictment charged.

The Justice Ministry said it expects dozens of additional indictments in the case, including against some 80 policemen, as well as disciplinary charges against more than 100 recipients of the false certificates. It has not yet decided what to do about recouping the state's money from those who received the unjustified raises.