Former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, who has signed a plea bargain to serve three and a half years in prison for accepting 5 million shekel ($1,325,000) in bribes, was invited to speak at a conference on the Honor of the Rabbinate in Israel. The invitation to speak was made at the time Metzger, who served as chief rabbi from 2003 to 2013, was facing charges of taking 10 million shekel ($2,650,000) in bribes. The “Eighth Conference of Israel’s Rabbis” will take place at the Ramada Inn in Jerusalem.
Israel, which has already jailed judges, a president and a prime minister, has yet to jail a chief rabbi, Metzger will be the first to so honor the rabbinate.
Rabbi Yosef Shlush, Chairman of the settlement rabbis, who invited Metzger to speak at the conference told Israel’s Army Radio that “the rabbi has accumulated many merits during his term as chife rabbi of Israel, you can’t take them away from him. The rabbi was invited two months ago. He was a suspect, so what? Until last night I had known nothing about the plea deal. This morning the rabbi called me to say he won’t be coming.”
But many other rabbis voiced their surprise at the choice by the conference organizers, including the rabbinic organization Tzohar issued a statement Thursday, saying, “The fact that Rabbi Metzger was even invited to address a session on enhancing honor for the rabbinate is deeply regrettable and should be construed as nothing less than complete disregard for Torah, morality and the integrity of our community.”
Yehuda Yifrach, head of the Makor Rishon legal desk, posted on Facebook Wednesday that the irony in Metzger’s case was in the fact that Haredi politicians who have been fighting to quash nominations of Religious Zionist rabbis to the post of chief rabbi argue that they fear that a non-Haredi chief rabbi would do away with restrictions on improper conversions. Except that the first item in Metzger’s original indictment (before the plea bargain) accused him of selling conversion certificates in exchange for bribes.
According to Yifrach, many are wondering why the prosecution bothered to enter the plea deal, when it presented hard evidence to prove the enormous scope of the former chief rabbi’s corruption. Yifrach accused the prosecution of giving Metzger a celebrity discount.