Former chief rabbi Yona Metzger.
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Former chief rabbi Yona Metzger, through his lawyers, asked the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday to endorse the 3.5-year jail sentence and NIS 5 million fine that are part of his plea bargain reached with the prosecution in light of his conviction for bribery last January.
Unusually, Metzger himself did not speak, though he had confessed at an earlier hearing, and did submit several letters of support from famous rabbis to try to garner sympathy from Judge Moshe Yoed Hacohen.
The letters came from former chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, Rabbi Dovid Grossman and former major.-general Gershon Hacohen.
The state prosecution started the hearing by reiterating how severe Metzger’s crimes were, quoting relevant portions of the Bible, the Talmud and Maimonides’ legal code the Mishneh Torah about the grave offense of bribery and how Metzger “was supposed to set an example for others.”
During this part of the prosecution’s arguments, Metzger’s usual smile changed to a stricken and broken stare, looking as if he might be near tears.
But then the prosecution asked the court to accept the plea bargain on the grounds that he was one of very few public figures who had confessed to his crimes early, sparing the state and the country a years-long, expensive and messy trial.
Metzger’s defense lawyers added that the indictment he confessed to was heavily amended to contain fewer charges and much smaller amounts of illegal funds accepted.
They added that he would have had a real chance at beating all or many of the charges at trial, and the deal saved the prosecutions having to take on this risk.
Further, they said that he had suffered more than a typical defendant by the irreparable tarnishing of his public image after years of devoted service to the state.
The final sentence is set to be issued on February 23 and Metzger is expected to enter prison sometime in May.
Metzger was indicted in October 2015 accused of accepting NIS 10 million in bribes and his trial opened in March 2016, but never got deep into the trial phase due to ongoing plea deal negotiations.
Besides bribery, the charges include fraud, breach of public trust, fraudulent receipt of a benefit under aggravated circumstances, theft, money- laundering, tax violations and conspiracy to commit a felony, all while using his position as chief rabbi. He held the post of Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel from 2003 to 2013.
In the original indictment, in the “Conversion Affair,” Metzger allegedly received large bribes from foreigners who wished to convert or to clarify whether they were Jewish under standards acceptable to the Chief Rabbinate.
The indictment said that Metzger and Rabbi Gavriel Cohen, the former head of the Beit Din of Los Angeles, split funds paid to Cohen regarding the issues in question.