Metzger resumes posts as panel declines to fire him

Chief rabbi withstands final challenge from Attorney-General.

metzger 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
metzger 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Dayanim Elections Committee voted on Monday not to dismiss Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger from his position on the Supreme Rabbinical Court and the Dayanim Elections Committee, despite a recommendation by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to do so. The vote marks the final chapter in a controversy that has dragged on for years. During the committee meeting, the third held over the past two months on the matter, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann told the committee members that Metzger had not behaved properly in some matters but did not find that this was sufficient to fire him from these posts. In the wake of a police investigation into allegations of corruption against Metzger, Mazuz published a 30-page decision on April 4, 2006 in which he said he was closing the criminal case against the chief rabbi for lack of evidence, but called on him to resign and added that if Metzger refused to do so, the minister of justice should bring the matter to a vote in the Dayanim Elections Committee. Almost two years later, Friedmann did so and the outcome was decided by the committee on Monday. Metzger's lawyers, David Liba'i and Elad Rath, welcomed the decision. "Had the attorney-general listened to us in the first place, we can assume he would not have published the original version of the report, and the chief rabbi could have been saved from two years of delay of justice," said Liba'i. "We gave detailed answers to the Dayanim Elections Committee to every question and argument raised by the attorney-general. Most of the answers we gave were to be found in the investigation material gathered by the police. "There was no precedent for an attorney-general closing a police investigation, deciding that there was no justification for putting him before a disciplinary court and then recommending his dismissal without granting him a hearing beforehand." Liba'i said Metzger would return to his seat on the election committee and the Supreme Rabbinical Court immediately. Mazuz, meanwhile, said he regretted the committee's decision. "The discussion in the Dayanim Elections Committee was a missed opportunity to establish proper norms of behavior for a public figure on such a senior and sensitive level, and to deliver a message of great importance regarding what should be the ethical behavior in the public sphere of a Dayan in Israel," said Mazuz. The Metzger affair began in November 2004, when a Channel Two news report alleged that the chief rabbi and his family had spent the previous Pessah holiday at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem. They allegedly did not pay for the two rooms they occupied and paid only a nominal fee for their meals. On December 15, Mazuz ordered the police to launch a criminal investigation against Metzger. The police recommended putting the chief rabbi on trial. After studying the evidence, Mazuz decided against indicting Metzger. His opinion was divided into two halves, one dealing with the criminal aspects of the case and the other with non-criminal factors. In the second section of the report, Mazuz went into detail regarding the hotel affair and other questionable behavior on the part of the chief rabbi. At the end of the report, he concluded that Metzger lacked the necessary qualities for such high office and called on him to resign. If he did not do so, Mazuz continued, the minister of justice should consider bringing his dismissal before the Dayanim Elections Committee. Metzger petitioned the High Court demanding that Mazuz's opinion be nullified on the grounds that he had not given the chief rabbi an opportunity to defend himself before issuing such a damning report. During the hearing, the court forced Mazuz to delete from his opinion his call to Metzger to resign and his recommendation to the minister to consider bringing his dismissal to the Dayanim Elections Committee. After Mazuz did so, the court rejected the petition. However, it also stressed that in order for Metzger, who had suspended himself from the Dayanim Elections Committee and the Supreme Rabbinical Court at the beginning of the police investigation, to resume his posts, the question of his dismissal had to be brought before the elections committee. Monday's decision by the elections committee puts an official end to the affair.