Jerusalem police Monday arrested former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger for the second time this year on suspicion of bribery and of pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars was meant for charities.
Rabbi Metzger initially was arrested and then released under house arrest in June, as reported here, on suspicion of charges of bribery, money laundering and pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Monday’s fraud squad arrest charges refers to even larger amounts of money than previously reported, possibly millions of dollars, that he is suspected of using to fatten his wallet by using fictitious invoices.
Besides being faced with corruption charges, the rabbi now also is suspected of trying to convince others not to cooperate with the police and not to testify against him.
After his arrest last June, Rabbi Metzger vehemently denied any wrongdoing and suspended himself from office. Police at the time also arrested two officials of charity funds after an undercover investigation by the fraud squad.
Suspicion of Rabbi Metzger dates back to 2005, when he was questioned, but never charged, with accepting free hotel accommodations.
That is relatively small potatoes but was enough to prompt the attorney general at the time, Menachem Mazuz, to suggest that the suspicions, even if there was not enough evidence for an indictment, made him unsuitable to continue in office.
Since then, Rabbi Metzger ignored Mazuz’s advice, remained chief rabbi and, if the latest charges are true, really went big time.
The Jewish Press’ Harry Maryles wrote here following the initial arrest of Rabbi Metzger last June, “After so many high profile people have been arrested and convicted of crimes like this in the not so distant past, I have to admit that my confidence in his innocence is a bit tenuous at this point.
“Especially as he is now under strict house arrest after an undercover investigation and a 10 hour interrogation. I don’t know what it is about so many high profile people who have spent their lives doing good things ending up as criminals. Perhaps the old adage about people who attain a certain level of power is true in far more cases than we would admit: Power corrupts – Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
More than absolute power, it is the desire for power that corrupts. For that matter, it is the mad desire for anything that corrupts, such as a lavish lifestyle for which Rabbi Metzger is known to keep.
Rabbi Metzger was elected to office in 2003 and was not warmly welcomed by the secular and orthodox community, in which he grow up before becoming under the influence of the late Haredi Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv.
Unlike previous chief rabbis, Rabbi Metzger never served as a religious authority although as chief rabbi, one of his duties was to serve as president of the Rabbinical Court.
Israel has enjoyed remarkably learned and charismatic chief rabbis. In the Ashkenazi community, Rabbis Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, Isser Yehuda Unterman , Shlomo Goren, Avraham Shapira and Yisrael Meir Lau served before Rabbi Metzger.
He could not have filled the shoes of any of them even though some of his supported compared him with Rabbi Lau because of his ties with both the national religious and the Haredi Jewish communities in Israel.
However, having been suspected of accepting free hotel accommodations after only two years in office, he made little positive impression on Israelis.
Regardless of whether there will be indictments, and assuming the arrests on not based on pure fantasy, the suspicions blacken Israel in the eyes of the Diaspora and, even worse, in the eyes of all Israelis who already have lost almost trust in established institutions.