Metzger's character faces another test

Committee convenes to weigh Ashkenazi chief rabbi's fitness to become High Rabbinic Court head.

metzger 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
metzger 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Committee for the Appointment of Rabbinic Judges will discuss on Thursday whether or not Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger is fit to become the president of the High Rabbinic Court in April. Presently, Metzger stands at the head of the Chief Rabbinate's Council, which is responsible for kashrut supervision, marriage registration and other religious services, while Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar is the president of the high rabbinic court. The position of president of the high rabbinic court, who is responsible for settling the most difficult contemporary cases of Jewish law involving divorces, torts and conversions, is considered particularly intricate and demanding. In contrast, the head of the Chief Rabbinate's Council deals with issues that are more commonly encountered by a community rabbi. It is customary that the two chief rabbis rotate at mid-term. In April, Metzger and Amar will be halfway through their 10-year stint and are supposed to switch functions. However, Metzger's fitness for the job of High Court president has been called into question by Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz. Over a year ago, criminal charges of bribery against Metzger were dropped for lack of evidence. Nevertheless, in a caustic 30-page report, Mazuz criticized Metzger moral and ethical behavior. The attorney-general concluded that, while Metzger was cleared of criminal charges, he should step down from the Chief Rabbinate post. But Metzger appealed to the Supreme Court, demanding that it force Mazuz to strike from his report the recommendation the chief rabbi resign. Metzger won the case. The court and the attorney-general requested that Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann look into the matter. Friedmann decided that it was proper for the entire committee for the appointment of rabbinic judges to provide Metzger with a hearing. Metzger is not expected to appear Thursday before the committee. Rather, his attorney David Liba'i will represent him. Attorney Sharon Shinhav, a member of the committee, said it was "very unfortunate" that Metzger was not planning to appear. "Based on documentation of the investigations and interrogations that I have read, serious questions arise about his attempts to cover up his misdeeds and put the blame on others," said Shinhav. "Metzger's behavior is questionable and he is not giving us a chance to get the answers." The nine-member committee for the appointment of rabbinic judges is made up of two rabbinic judges, two Shas MKs, an opposition MK, two lawyers, the chief sephardi rabbi, and the justice minister. In a related development, Ne'emanei Torah Ve'avodah, a moderate Orthodox activist organization, sent a letter to the justice minister asking him to disqualify the two judges and Amar from voting on Metzger's appointment as president of the High Rabbinic Court. The organization claimed that these three had a conflict of interests since all of them already had working relations with Metzger. Hadar Lifshitz, a member of the organization, said that Metzger lacked the halachic authority needed to be the president of the High Rabbinic Court, which deals with the toughest divorce cases. "Metzger simply lacks the needed rabbinic clout to deal with heavy halachic issues such as agunot, while Amar has it," said Lifshitz. "Appointing Metzger would also hurt the credibility of the rabbinic courts."