Yona Metzger, whose term as Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel ended in 2013, accepted a plea bargain earlier this week on charges of corruption and is now headed to prison. He stood accused of accepting bribes in exchange for conversions and the pocketing of money meant for charitable purposes; his other alleged crimes include breach of public trust, theft, money-laundering, tax violations, and conspiracy to commit a felony. Marc Angel reflects on the implications:
While Yona Metzger is the first chief rabbi of Israel to be convicted as a criminal, others have had reputations tarnished by unsavory words and deeds. One former Sephardi chief rabbi was accused of granting rabbinic ordination to unqualified individuals in order for them to receive higher pay for their government jobs. Another chief rabbi was engaged in ugly battles for political power. While many of the previous chief rabbis were models of scholarship and piety, others have been petty, vindictive, power-hungry—and now one of them is a convicted criminal.
Is it any surprise that the chief rabbinate of Israel is held in low esteem by the Israeli public and by Jews of the Diaspora? Instead of demonstrating the beauty and wisdom of Torah, [chief rabbis] too often have disappointed the public with their negative qualities. . . .
[D]oes Israel really benefit by maintaining the offices of the chief rabbis? Or does the chief rabbinate represent an outdated, inefficient, and disrespected system? The chief rabbinate has little real natural constituency. Ḥaredim rely on their own rabbis. . . . The non-Orthodox have no use for the chief rabbinate. The religious Zionists—the original constituents of the [institution]—are almost totally disaffected from the current system, unless they themselves hold jobs supplied by the rabbinate itself.
In spite of the massive unpopularity of the chief rabbinate, it wields power in the areas of marriage, divorce, and conversion. It claims power in the area of kosher supervision. It has the power to accept or deny the Jewishness of people who are applying for aliyah. . . . We need to come up with something better, and we need to do so promptly.