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Need for Chief Rabbinate Questioned After Israeli Chief Rabbi Asked to Quit

With scandal threatening the tenure of one of the top rabbis, some Israelis are asking whether Israel’s Chief Rabbinate is needed. In a move unprecedented in the Jewish state, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz issued a public call Monday for the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, to resign.

Mazuz, an anti-corruption crusader, cited suggestions that Metzger illicitly accepted discounted rates for himself and his family at a luxury Jerusalem hotel during High Holidays in 2003 and 2004. He is also accused of staying at hotels at the taxpayers’ expense despite having been provided with an apartment by the state.

“It would be appropriate if Rabbi Metzger took personal responsibility and decided on his own to step down,” the Justice Ministry said in a six-page statement.

Metzger, 52, denied wrongdoing and vowed to petition the High Court of Justice against Mazuz.

“The attorney general has sentenced me without giving me a chance to defend myself,” Channel 2 television quoted Metzger as saying.

A police probe against Metzger did not come up with enough evidence for formal charges.

There is already plenty of irritation with the Chief Rabbinate, a government-backed institution that many believe have little relevance.

Secular Jews in Israel turn to local rabbinates for Orthodox services, while more religious Jews generally have their own community sages to turn to.

After the secular Shinui Party had the Religious Affairs Ministry dismantled under Israel’s previous government, many now wonder if the Chief Rabbinate should be next.

“The rabbinate is entirely superfluous,” said Nitzan Chen, religion reporter for Channel 1 television. “The post has no impact in terms of Jewish law or spiritual authority.”

Metzger’s Sephardi counterpart, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, has already lost much of the public’s trust. His son was jailed in January for kidnapping and assaulting his sister’s suitor. Amar himself was not charged in the case, but the apparent involvement of his wife, and the fact that the attack took place in the rabbi’s home, are widely remembered.

Mazuz has said that if Metzger does not resign of his own accord, the Justice Ministry will act to have him removed.

With prosecution not an option, the attorney general could convene the Committee for Selecting Religious Judges — to which Metzger is subject — and demand they revoke his credentials.

“Even if Rabbi Metzger’s conduct is not daubed in the black of criminal law, it is gray and dark gray — the realm of administrative procedures, civic ethics and disciplinary measures,” legal expert Suzy Navot said.

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