Rabbinate fraud trail leads to leading seminaries

Institutions linked to sons of Ovadia Yosef and Mordechai Eliahu are among those under investigation.

jerusalem rabbinate 248.88 (photo credit: Knesset Channel)
jerusalem rabbinate 248.88
(photo credit: Knesset Channel)
A vast case of fraud relating to rabbinical ordinations, which has cost the state millions of shekels and allegedly involves senior officials in the Chief Rabbinate, has also led investigators to Jewish seminars run by senior Israeli rabbis, officials said Thursday. The Justice Ministry announced Wednesday that senior officials in the Chief Rabbinate are facing indictment following a four-year joint Justice Ministry and police investigation, dubbed "The Rabbis' Case," into the fraudulent ordination of military and police personnel. The Jewish seminaries where these security personnel studied, the officials said, included the flagship Shas seminary run by Rabbi David Yosef, the son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef; the study hall of Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu's son Shmuel Eliahu, and a seminary run by Haifa Chief Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Hacohen. Hacohen said Thursday that the sole purpose in creating these evening classes, which were set up with the authorization of the Chief Rabbinate, was to help security personnel and to promote Torah study. He noted that he did not notice any fraud or wrongdoing at his seminary, and voiced regret that some people may have exploited the opportunity for non-religious purposes. "It appears that some people disguised themselves as religious observers," he said. Hacohen has given testimony to investigators. According to a decade-old wage agreement, "advanced religious studies," accompanied by a rabbi's ordination certificate, earn the security personnel additional pay of up to NIS 4,000 a month. After the accord was reached, various educational facilities aimed at training security personnel as rabbis were established, and students at these schools were ordained by the Chief Rabbinate, making them eligible for the salary benefits. In return, the seminaries in question would receive registration fees for the classes from the security personnel. The security personnel, who studied for five to 10 hours a week for a period of one to two-and-a-half years at most, received certification that they had taken a five-year yeshiva program, enabling them to receive the pay bonus. In all, 1,500 security personnel received these salary increases as a result of the program. The investigation, which was triggered by a tip-off, involved senior members at the Rabbinate, as well as those attending the schools providing rabbinical certifications, the Justice Ministry said. The ministry said that had the fraud gone unchecked, the damage to state coffers could have reached billions of shekels. Several senior members of the Chief Rabbinate were questioned under caution, including Meir Rosenthal, head of Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger's office; Yitzhak Ohana, a former director of ordinations at the Chief Rabbinate who was head of Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau's office when he was Israel's chief rabbi; and former chief rabbi of the Israel Police, Ya'acov Gross. A Justice Ministry spokesman said Thursday that officials were still checking the involvement of other rabbis in the affair, and that a final decision on the indictments would be made only next month. The case is expected to lead to scores of indictments and more than 100 disciplinary complaints.