(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Former minister of religious affairs, NU-NRP Knesset member Rabbi Yitzhak Levy, said Tuesday that Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger should step down from his position, temporarily at least, in the wake of Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz's call for the chief rabbi's resignation.
"If he wants to fight to clear his name he should do so, but until he proves his innocence he should remove himself from office," claimed Levy.
Conversly, Chief Rabbinate Council member Rabbi Ratzon Arusi harshly criticized Mazuz for urging Metzger to resign. "He has not even been allowed the elementary right of being heard, he has explanations," Arusi exclaimed.
Another member of the council, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, stressed that the public should not hasten to judge Metzger on the basis of Mazuz's proposals. "I find it difficult to come to terms with Mazuz's management of the situation," Eliyahu told Army Radio. "He views himself as a judge who can determine the fate of the accused without allowing him the right to prove his innocence," he added.
Mazuz had called on Metzger to resign voluntarily because he appeared to lack the necessary qualities for such high office. In a sharply worded summary of the Metzger investigation, Mazuz announced on Monday that he was closing the criminal file against him for lack of evidence.
Among other allegations, Mazuz charged that Metzger had frequently lied to police during his investigation.
Police began to investigate Metzger in December 2004, following an investigative report on Channel 2 television which charged that he and his family had stayed at the David Citadel hotel in Jerusalem over the week-long Pessah holiday without paying for room or board.
In his report, Mazuz wrote that "a very close examination of the evidence in the file indicated... that investigators had not found a sufficient factual basis that offered a reasonable chance of indicting [Metzger,] as required in order to win a criminal conviction, even though some of the incidents approached the required threshold.
"At the same time, we found that in view of the significant flaws in Metzger's behavior and his way of conducting himself, it would be appropriate in these circumstances were he to assume personal responsibility and decide himself to resign from his job as a judge of the Supreme Rabbinical Court and as chief rabbi. He should do so out of recognition of the importance of the dignity and status of the institution of the Chief Rabbinate and the system of rabbinical courts. I hope he will do so."
Mazuz added that if Metzger did not voluntarily resign, "the Minister of Justice ought to consider bringing his case before the Dayanim [rabbinical court judges] Selection Committee in accordance with Article 16a of the Dayanim Law, to consider ending his term in office."
Meanwhile, Metzger announced on Monday night that he would petition the High Court because Mazuz had failed to grant him a hearing before issuing his opinion. "We regret that the attorney-general found it necessary to make a personal recommendation regarding Metzger before granting him the right to a hearing," said his lawyer, David Liba'i. "We will respond after studying the opinion."
Metzger's associates said he had no intention of resigning.
According to Mazuz, police investigators ended up looking into more than just the affair reported by Channel 2. One investigation dealt with allegations that Metzger had stayed over with his family at the Kings Hotel in Jerusalem over Shavuot in 2003, after being invited to speak at the nearby Yeshurun Synagogue. The Chief Rabbinate paid for his room, while the synagogue paid for a room for his children.
The second investigation had to do with the rental contract he negotiated for an apartment in Jerusalem paid for by the Chief Rabbinate. Metzger signed the contract on November 11, 2003 but made it retroactive until August 27, even though he had not lived there during those months. During the retroactive period, Metzger stayed several times at the Ramada Renaissance Hotel. This meant that on these occasions, the Chief Rabbinate was paying twice for his accommodation for the same nights. In his rental contract, Metzger also agreed to move out of the house for Jewish holidays if the owners gave him 45 days advance notice.
Regarding the David Citadel Hotel, police found that Metzger had stayed over for four holidays, not just one. He took rooms during Succot 2003, Pessah 2004, Shavuot 2004 and Succot 2004. On all but the last, he was also paying rent for his Jerusalem home.
Police also investigated the "much reduced rates" that Metzger paid for his David Citadel rooms. Among other things, the police investigated whether or not the hotel rabbi had helped obtain the low rates for Metzger and whether he had received anything in return for his alleged help. The police found that the Chief Rabbinate later put the rabbi in charge of its system of supervising milking by video.
Although Mazuz concluded that there was not enough evidence to convict Metzger on criminal charges, he said he had proven by his conduct that he was not suited for his office and that in his actions, he had repeatedly demonstrated "contempt in his attitude toward public funds, readiness to accept favors on the basis of his status as chief rabbi and entanglements because he did not speak the truth or accept responsibility for his actions but put the blame on his subordinates."
For example, when asked why he stayed at a hotel over Pessah when he had an apartment in Jerusalem, Metzger explained that by the time he found out that the owners were not coming to Israel, it was only two or three weeks before the holiday and he did not have enough time to make the apartment kosher. Mazuz wrote that not only was this enough time, but it turned out that Metzger had hosted a holiday reception in his apartment and would obviously not have done so had it not been made kosher.
When asked about why he had signed the rental contract and made it retroactive by two-and-a-half months, Metzger replied that he had in effect lived in the apartment during that time. But when asked why he had stayed at the Ramada Renaissance several times during the same two-and-a-half months, he gave several different explanations, including the fact that he had only been able to stay over at the apartment because he was a friend of the owner.
Mazuz's report elicited several calls for Metzger's resignation, including one from the Movement for Quality Government and another from Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines. The Israel Religious Action Center of the Progressive Movement warned that if Metzger did not resign, it would petition the High Court of Justice.