(photo credit: INIMAGE)
The Jerusalem District Court on Monday sentenced a who’s who of top rabbinical officials to prison sentences of as long as seven years on convictions for fraudulently awarding rabbinic ordination to members of the security services who were not qualified.
Among those Judge Amnon Cohen sentenced were Rabbi Meir Rosenthal, who served as former chief rabbi Yona Metzger’s chief of staff, who was sentenced to seven years in prison and a NIS 500,000 fine.
Rabbi Yitzhak Ohana, who was director of the Chief Rabbinate’s examinations and ordination department, and before that chief of staff to former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, was sentenced to 10 months in prison.
Rabbi Aharon Gotschneider, former deputy head rabbi of the Israel Police, was sentenced to four years in prison and a NIS 100,000 fine.
Rabbi Meir Roimi, who ran the Michlelet Beit She’an college, was sentenced to three years in prison and a NIS 200,000 fine.
Former chief rabbi Bakshi Doron has been indicted on charges relating to the case but the legal proceedings have not yet been completed.
The rabbis were convicted in April and are set to start their prison sentences at Nitzan Prison in Ramle on December 28.
Another three rabbis who were also convicted have yet to receive their sentences for various reasons.
The indictments were handed down in November 2007 and related to activities carried out between 1998 and 2003.
At the time, “advanced religious studies,” accompanied by a rabbi’s ordination certificate, entitled IDF and police personnel to salary bonuses of between NIS 2,000 and NIS 4,000 per month each.
Those convicted were found of guilty of offenses that included aggravated fraud, use of forged documents, money laundering, bribery and fraud.
To operate the scheme, the convicted figures formed colleges where the security services personnel attended religious studies classes.
With the cooperation of Ohana, Rosenthal and others, the IDF and police officers received false documents stating they graduated a five-year program in a yeshiva licensed to ordain rabbis, although in reality they completed only a fraction of the required course.
Those convicted of coordinating and directing the scam received millions of shekels for their part in the scheme.
According to the verdicts, Rosenthal, who was involved in issuing and distributing the fraudulent certificates to the recipients, earned NIS 2 million from the plot.
In total, the costs to the state of the rabbinic ordinations fraudulently handed out totaled some NIS 300m.
Uri Regev, director of Hiddush, said that the sentences recalls one of the darkest chapters of the Israeli rabbinate and said it was hard to imagine a lower point for the rabbinate to fall to.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.