Former Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger may be criminally prosecuted over corruption charges, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein stated Tuesday, pending an upcoming hearing on the case.
Metzger has been charged with many offenses, including bribery, fraud and breach of trust, fraud under aggravating circumstances, theft via agent, conspiracy to commit a crime, money laundering and tax fraud, all while acting in his capacity as Chief Rabbi.
It is suspected that during the execution of the offenses and the aftermath, Metzger received bribes amounting to an estimated 10 million shekel ($2.5 million dollars); he allegedly pocketed an estimated 7 million shekel ($1.8 million).
In most cases, according to the accusations, Metzger used his personal chauffeur, Haim Eisenstadt, to represent him in these transactions; Eisenstadt allegedly received a 10% kickback for his participation.
Much of the bribe money was apparently to facilitate conversions – often made difficult in the labyrinthal Rabbinate – as well as foreign residents who had questions and interest in Judaism in general. The accusations include allegations that Metzger made great pains to conceal his involvement in such transactions, as well as claims that he lured in 'clients' by connecting them with local rabbis, then taking half of the money from those transactions for himself.
For example, in one case, a Russian businessman turned to Metzger in 2011, asking for assistance. Metzger referred him to a confidant in the businessman's local Rabbinate, to convert the client's son and daughter – to the tune of $360,000. But after the conversion, the rabbi allegedly transferred to Metzger some $180,000 of that money.
Metzger also allegedly milked NGOs and other institutions under his watch. In one case listed in court documents, Metzger campaigned for donations for a yeshiva [Torah academy – ed.] in his own synagogue, eventually receiving $28,000. Eisenstadt and Metzger then split the entire sum between them, without giving a single shekel to the yeshiva, according to the allegations.
A similar case involved a 72,000 shekel ($18,580) donation given to a soup kitchen under Metzger's jurisdiction; in that case, Metzger allegedly received about 30% of the donation money (roughly 22,500 shekel), without informing the donor.
Still more allegations accuse Metzger of pocketing individual donation money while he was in the Chief Rabbinate between 2003-2013. In every case, Metzger avoided mentioning the funds in his tax returns, to avoid paying income tax, as well.
Weinstein's decision to open the potential for a criminal trial is in accordance with recommendations from the Jerusalem District Court and the State Prosecutor's Office – and elicited a response from the Chief Rabbinate itself.
"The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is troubled to hear that that former Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has been summoned to a hearing," the Chief Rabbinate responded Tuesday afternoon. "The Chief Rabbinate of Israel demands clean business practices from all its workers, as well as transparency, and that is indeed how things are done."