Former chief rabbi jailed for graft to be released early

A parole board on Tuesday accepted an appeal for early release from prison by former chief Ashkenazi rabbi Yona Metzger, citing his good behavior.

Metzger, currently serving a three and a half-year prison sentence for corruption, will be freed on Wednesday after less than two years behind bars at Ma’asiyahu Prison, in the central Israeli town of Ramle.

The rabbi will be released on probation and will be required to attend a rehabilitation program.

Metzger, who served as chief Ashkenazi rabbi from 2003 to 2013, entered prison in May 2017 after pleading guilty to fraud, theft, conspiracy, breach of trust, money laundering, tax offenses and accepting millions in bribes, under a plea bargain reached with state prosecutors.

In January, President Reuven Rivlin rejected a clemency request from Metzger.

The president said then that “a pardon is not an additional link in the judicial system and is intended for isolated and exceptional cases,” noting that he had reviewed the case and given his opinion on the evidence and the crimes in a letter to Metzger.

Metzger was charged in March 2016 of accepting some NIS 10 million ($2.7 million) in bribes through various nonprofit groups, and keeping about NIS 7 million ($1.9 million) of it for himself.

As part of the plea deal Metzger eventually admitted to taking NIS 5 million ($1.35 million) in bribes.

He stepped down as chief rabbi on July 24, 2013, due to the fraud investigation against him, just before the conclusion of his 10-year term in office.

According to the indictment, various nonprofit organizations connected with the rabbi during his term in office received millions of shekels in donations, some of which Metzger took for his personal use.

In addition to profiting from donations to charitable causes, he was also accused of taking bribes meant to sway his opinion on matters he attended to as chief rabbi.

Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi, or of European Jewish heritage, and one Sephardi, hailing mainly from Jewish communities of Arab and Muslim countries. Their responsibilities include running the rabbinical courts and regulating the state’s kosher food supervision authority.

JTA contributed to this report.

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