Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger voluntarily suspended himself from a number
of major duties on Sunday, including serving on the Rabbinical High Court, the
Chief Rabbinical Council and the Appointments Committee for Rabbinical
Metzger’s lawyers announced the self-initiated suspensions in a
letter to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
Metzger’s announcement also
stated that he continues to maintain his innocence regarding recent allegations
against him, one of his aides and two heads of charities regarding
money-laundering, bribery and fraud, but that until the investigation is
concluded, suspending himself from some of his duties was the right thing to do
for the state.
Metzger is currently under house arrest and prohibited
from going to his office or interacting with his aides pending completion of the
police investigation against him.
Livni replied quickly to Metzger’s
letter, stating that Metzger’s self-suspension was “fitting and proper in light
of the circumstances.” She added, “even if there is only a short time until he
finishes his term, there is tremendous significance in preserving the
institution of rabbinic judges.”
Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli
Ben-Dahan said the investigation was a sorrowful story.
however, that Metzger “has the right to be considered innocent,” and that his decision to suspend himself from his duties
as a rabbinical judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court and from meetings of the
council of the Chief Rabbinate was “correct, ethical and teaches [us] about the
He said that everyone should hope Metzger will be found innocent,
“especially during this time when we are in a struggle over the character of the
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said that
in light of the fact that one of the delegates appointed by Metzger to the
electoral committee for the chief rabbis, Rabbi Nissan Ben-Tzion Tzioni, is also
under investigation for involvement in the alleged misdemeanors, he should be
ejected from the body.
“Rabbi Metzger was obligated to recuse himself,”
said MQG legal adviser Tzruriya Meidad-Lozon.
“Serving as chief rabbi
under a cloud of suspicions would have been a heavy blow to the institution of
the rabbinate... Now the integrity of the electoral process for the incoming
chief rabbis must be defended to avoid staining it by allowing those suspected
of criminal offenses onto the electoral committee.
The Reform Movement in
Israel called Metzger’s decision “too little too late.”
“As long as the
Chief Rabbinate represents the nexus of power, politics, money and religion, the
corruption will continue to harm it,” said Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the
Hiddush, a religious-freedom lobbying organization,
said the investigation was “another nail in the coffin of established religion
Hiddush director and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev reiterated his
organization’s stance that it favors a communal model of religious services and
that “the Chief Rabbinate with state-granted coercive powers” was no longer
Meanwhile, the Lod District Court ordered that the detentions
of the three other suspects in the Metzger case will end on Tuesday, appealing a
ruling of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court that extended the remands
The court noted the suspects’ claims that it was discriminatory
to hold them in police custody when Metzger is accused of the most serious
crimes and was released to house arrest days ago.
However, it dismissed
these claims, stating that the suspects had been in direct contact with those
providing the bribes, whereas Metzger’s contact had been indirect, which
justified different treatment.
While justifying refusing to immediately
release the suspects based on that distinction, the court said it did believe
the remaining investigative activities that the police need to perform could be
done faster than they claimed.
As a result, the court ordered the earlier
release date, and added that if the police still believed on Tuesday that they
needed more time, they would need to apply for a new order to try to extend the
detention of the other suspects.
Police from the National Fraud Squad
raided the home and offices of Metzger on Thursday, and questioned him under
caution for hours, as part of a bribery, fraud, money-laundering and
breach-oftrust case. Metzger was released to five days house arrest on Thursday
night following about 10 hours of questioning.
Metzger and the other
suspects are alleged to be involved in the pilfering of hundreds of thousands of
shekels from a number of charities.
Following an undercover
investigation, officers went public on Thursday, arresting the three suspects
and seizing documents, computers and other materials from Metzger’s home and
office they believe may be linked to the allegations.
include Haim Nissan Eisenshtat, who worked for years as Metzger’s driver and
personal assistant. Eisenshtat is accused of taking bribes, fraud, breach of
trust and money laundering.
The other two suspects are Simcha Karkovsky –
manager of the Beit Hatavshil charity in Bnei Brak, and Tzioni – manager of a
study hall and rabbinical school in Tel Aviv. Both men stand accused of money
laundering and bribery.
In 2005, a bribery, fraud, and breach of trust
case was opened against Metzger, but then-attorney- general Menahem Mazuz
decided to close the case in April 2006. At the time, Mazuz said he was
disturbed by revelations about how Metzger behaved during the investigation and
called for the rabbi to resign.
Ben Hartman contributed to this report.