In a major new scandal, senior officials in the Chief Rabbinate are facing indictment in a wide-ranging ordinations fraud that has cost the state hundreds of millions of shekels, the Justice Ministry said on Wednesday. The announcement follows a four-year joint Justice Ministry and police investigation, dubbed the "Rabbis' case," into the fraudulent ordination of military and police personnel as rabbis.
Analysis: The systematic abuse of a venerated title
According to a decade-old wage agreement, "advanced religious studies," accompanied by a rabbi's ordination certificate, are grounds for additional pay of up to $1,000 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 pay benefits.
The investigation, which was triggered by a tip, involved senior members at the Rabbinate, as well as those attending the schools providing rabbinical certifications, the Justice Ministry said.
"The evidence gathered revealed that some of the suspects formed 'colleges' where armed forces personnel attended religious studies classes... With the cooperation of the Chief Rabbinate's director of ordinations, the suspects received false documents stating they graduated a five-year program in a yeshiva licensed to ordain rabbis," the ministry said.
"These documents were presented to their superiors [in the armed forces], making them eligible for benefits worth hundreds of millions of shekels."
The ministry said that had the fraud gone unchecked, the damage 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 total of 1,500 policemen, military officers and Israel Prisons Service officers were also questioned in the investigation.
The case is expected to lead to scores of indictments and more than 100 disciplinary complaints.