Rabbi Yitzhak Cohen Arazi, a former senior Chief Rabbinate official who was in charge of issuing kashrut certificates to imported products, will face criminal indictments in court next week for receiving bribes worth NIS 150,000 ($44,000) over several years.
On Monday, Kan 11 News showed a compilation of videos taken by a hidden camera in Rabbi Arazi’s vehicle, showing him receiving envelopes full of money from importers seeking his services. Police investigators received a court order to plant the camera when they learned of the suspicions that the Rabbinate senior official was giving kosher permits in exchange for bribes.
Rabbi Arazi claims that he transferred all the money he received from importers to charity. He served as director of the Chief Rabbinate import department from 1997 until the start of the investigation against him.
Rabbi Arazi worked with kashrut supervisors, importers and consultants who sought to obtain kosher certificates – which he had the exclusive authority to issue – for all the food products imported into the State of Israel except meat. Which means he had a wide discretion in prioritizing applications submitted to his office.
The bribes allegedly came in the form of cash, large amounts of alcoholic beverages, and the very consumer goods for which importers were seeking kosher certificates.
In some cases, the bribe was allegedly given to Rabbi Arazi after he had told the importers that the cash money was intended for families in need, as financial support for yeshiva students, or to alleviate his own financial distress.
The Chief Rabbinate issued a statement saying that “without taking lightly the suspicions regarding the employee’s behavior, we would like to note that according to the police and the prosecutor’s office there is no suspicion of misleading the public in terms of kashrut.”
In other words, even if the senior Chief Rabbinate official did receive bribes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of shekels, the products he approved were kosher and so no harm was caused to the public.
Question: How do you know? Has an inquiry been conducted on the kashrut status of all products that have received Kosher certification from Rabbi Arazi? The Chief Rabbinate’s statement did not address this issue.
Attorneys Adi Keider and Yuval Keinan, representing the importer Tamir Products, indicted for offering bribery, said in a statement:
“Tamir is the victim of an ongoing and false extortion by someone called Rabbi Arazi, who took advantage of Mr. Tamir’s kindness and generosity by lying to him that this is a donation to the needy – which turned out to be a total lie. Even more upsetting is the prosecution’s conduct, which, after hearing and accepting these allegations, decided to indict our client, as well as discriminate against him compared with many others who bribed the rabbi and the case against them was closed.”
MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), who wears a knitted yarmulke, noted: “There are no boundaries to shame. The entity which is in charge of upholding Jewish Law, denies abandoning its most basic values: ‘Do not distort justice nor show favoritism, and do not accept a bribe, for a gift blinds the eyes of the wise and twists even the words of the Righteous (Deut. 16:19).’ I regret that this is not the first time we have witnessed a bribe in the rabbinate. I would have expected that a body which symbolizes Judaism would make headlines thanks to its actions in the fight to glorify Judaism by representing its values in their many aspects.”
MK Stern is not a particularly well-liked person in the national-religious camp, but for the time being, no senior official in that camp has come out in condemnation of the Chief Rabbinate for the failure of one of its trustees.
Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a religious-Zionist movement that seeks to return Religious Zionism to its roots, promoting the values of tolerance, equality, and justice in religious society, issued a response to the shameful indictment, saying “the current case proves once again the extent to which the monopoly of the rabbinate in Israel causes corruption, and the extent of the acute need to create healthy competition in religious services, which would clean the stables and bring efficiency.”