Yona Metzger

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Yona Metzger (Hebrew: יונה מצגר; born 4 August 1953) is an Israeli rabbi and the former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel. On 23 June 2013, he stepped down from his position because of a pending fraud investigation.[1] His counterpart was Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel since their appointments in 2003. He has since been succeeded by Rabbi David Lau.

Yona Metzger

Background[edit]

Rabbi Metzger was born in Haifa in 1953. He served in the Israel Defense Forces as a chaplain, fought in several wars in the 7th Armored Brigade, and was discharged with the rank of captain. At 50, he was the youngest Chief Rabbi in Israel's history, at the time of his appointment. His successor Rabbi David Lau was even younger, having been appointed at the age of 47 in 2013. Rabbi Metzger received his ordination from the Yeshivat Kerem BeYavne hesder yeshiva before working as a religious teacher. He served as rabbi of the Tiferet Zvi Synagogue in Tel Aviv and was later appointed regional rabbi of northern Tel Aviv.[2] Metzger has written ten books, two of which were awarded prizes by the President of Israel. He is also the former head of a publishing house.

While Metzger is from a National Religious family and educational background, he had been closely identified with Haredi Judaism, and often sought the advice of Degel HaTorah's late spiritual leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv. Some observers claimed that this made Metzger an excellent candidate to represent both communities, with one reporter calling him "undoubtedly the most moderate and most Zionist candidate."[3] His supporters have often compared him to his immediate predecessor, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who was seen as having a foot in every camp, which helped him in dealing with different kinds of Jews, particularly secular ones.

Term as Chief Rabbi[edit]

While Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Metzger was active in attempting to reach out to various diverse groups of people, both Jews and non-Jews. His many high-profile relationships and co-operation with leaders of other faiths and nationalities are reminiscent with the "international" reputation of his predecessor, Rabbi Lau. Rabbi Metzger has attempted to facilitate the maintaining of kashrut standards in Israel by employing technology, for instance, by activating steam pumps for cooking meat via cell phone in order to avoid issues of bishul akum, (the cooking of food by a non-Jew).[4] Metzger has also been involved in strengthening ties between Israeli and Diaspora standards of kashrut in order to make them more standardized and consistent.[5]

Rabbi Metzger was a prominent activist in attempting to keep up public interest in the cases of several "lost Israelis", notably Jonathan Pollard and Ron Arad. He repeatedly brought up Arad in the course of official meetings with various Muslim dignitaries.[6][7] Metzger was also involved in keeping up the pressure on both the Israeli and various Arab governments to protect the safety and negotiate the release of various Israeli prisoners taken captive by Hezbollah,[8] culminating in the 2004 release of Israeli businessman Elchanan Tenenbaum.[9]

In 2004, Metzger announced an initiative to insert a special prayer for Jonathan Pollard into the daily prayer service. The prayer was written by Metzger and is written in the style of a "Mishberach prayer" intended for people in dire straits. Many Orthodox synagogues announced that they would adopt the new prayer into their liturgy.[10]

Interfaith dialogue[edit]

A major priority for Rabbi Metzger was to encourage friendly relationships with other religious communities. One idea that Metzger repeatedly proposed was the establishment of a religious United Nations in Jerusalem. He first advocated this in late 2004 after mediating a highly publicized dispute between Jerusalem haredim and the Armenian Christian community.[11] He raised the idea again in February 2006, at an ecumenical meeting between several high-profile rabbis and Muslim clerics with the 14th Dalai Lama in Israel, and again in March 2006, while attending the International Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace in Seville, Spain.

Under Metzger's plan, the new body would contain representatives of the world's religions as opposed to nations. Metzger has also suggested that the Dalai Lama could lead the assembly. At their 2006 meeting, Metzger was quoted as saying, "Instead of planning for nuclear war and buying tanks and fighter jets, it will invest in peace.... Religious leaders will get the opportunity to meet one another and discover that they have more in common than they may have realized...." The Dalai Lama was reportedly very excited at the idea and pledged to help Metzger realize his plan.[12][13] Other supporters include Frederico Major, the co-president of the Alliance for Civilizations, a Spanish lobby group for international conflict resolution.[14]

On a February 2007 trip to India, Metzger joined other prominent rabbis in signing a declaration against violence with local Hindu leaders, as part of a summit organized by the World Council of Religious Leaders. One of the points emphasized by the participants was the commonality between Jews and Hindus, particularly in regards to ongoing violence at the hands of Muslims.[15] Metzger noted in his remarks "Jews have lived in India for 2,000 years and have never been discriminated against. This is something unparalleled in human history."[16]

Metzger with Polish president professor Lech Kaczynski

In March 2008, Metzger enthusiastically supported an interfaith conference proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Metzger said, "I give my blessing to every initiative that can prevent bloodshed and terror, especially in our area of the world," adding that most terror in the twenty-first century was religiously motivated and therefore religious engagement and interfaith dialogue was crucial to solving the problem of terrorism.[17]

Metzger was part of a delegation of religious leaders that met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Moscow in April 2008.

In his welcoming notes to Pope Benedict XVI at the Heichal Shlomo Great Synagogue, rabbi Metzger opened by congratulating the pontiff on his arrival to "our holy land—the land to which we prayed to return during 2000 years of exile.... And, with God's help, our meeting today is taking place in the Land of Israel, in our city of Jerusalem—the eternal capital of the Jewish people."[18]

Accepting[edit]

During the "bus conflict" about mixed seating between men and women, Metzger stated that this is not a "haredi country". And urged the ultra-orthodox to not push their opinions on the others and be more accepting.[19]

Relationship with Armenians[edit]

During his term Metzger was involved in several notable incidents of rapprochement with the global and Israeli Armenian communities.

In December 2004 Metzger was instrumental in easing tensions between Jerusalem's haredim and Armenian Christians following an incident in which a Haredi yeshiva student spat on an Armenian Archbishop. Metzger gained further attention in November 2005, during a visit to the Memorial of Armenian Genocide and Genocide Museum in Yerevan. He laid a wreath and gave a short speech in which he acknowledged the pain of the Armenian people and emphasized that though Israel does not formally recognize the Armenian Genocide as a genocide, he does "use that term". Metzger went on to say "no other nation can understand the pain of the Armenians better than Jews."[20] Metzger's comments received a very positive reaction in Armenia, particularly at the implication that more Israelis are changing their positions on using the term "Genocide" to refer to the Armenians.[21]

Turkey's Jews, on the other hand, themselves a vulnerable minority population, reacted with some discomfort at Metzger putting them in an awkward situation. The spokesman for Turkey's Chief Rabbi commented, "Let the historians do their job and then we will see."[22]

Controversy[edit]

2003 election[edit]

Metzger's appointment was controversial as he was not considered a halachic authority.[23] Metzger had never served as a religious judge (dayan), though his role as Chief Rabbi would require him to sit as President of the Rabbinical Supreme Court for five years, before switching with his Sephardic counterpart to be head of the Chief Rabbinate Council.[3]

Allegations[edit]

In February 2005 the Israeli police began a formal criminal investigation of Metzger regarding allegations of fraud and bribery related to benefits Metzger received from a Jerusalem hotel.[24] Metzger was questioned twice and denied any wrongdoing, but suspended himself from the Rabbinical High Court in June 2005 while waiting to see if the Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz would decide to indict him.[25] No charges were ever brought, and Metzger and his supporters dismissed all of the accusations against him as part of an ongoing smear campaign against him.

Disputes and disagreements[edit]

Rabbi Metzger with Rabbi Amar

On 3 April 2006, Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced that he was closing the Metzger investigation and would not seek an indictment against him, citing a lack of sufficient evidence. He added, that in light of various "disturbing" information that came to light during the investigation, including contradictory statements given to the police, that the Chief Rabbi should resign. Mazuz also called on the Justice Ministry to consider bringing Metzger's case "before the Dayanim Selection Committee ... to consider ending his term in office" if Metzger did not resign.[26][27]

The rabbi's supporters included some of Israel's most notable religious figures: Metzger met with a group of high-profile rabbis, including his political patron, leading Lithuanian rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, as well as former Chief Rabbis Ovadia Yosef, Mordechai Eliyahu, and Avraham Shapira. The rabbis praised his character and integrity, heavily criticized Mazuz's behavior, and promised that they would help the rabbi in fighting the public cries for his resignation. Rabbi Shapira reportedly told Metzger that he was being "watched over" by a "special angel in heaven", and Rabbi Eliyahu commented that in his judgment, Metzger was "pure and clear as snow".[28]

Rabbi Metzger said that the ruling had been issued "without giving me the opportunity to defend myself. This was a violation of the basic rights enjoyed by every individual." Shortly after Mazuz's comments, the rabbi's spokespeople declared that he had no intention of resigning, and criticized Mazuz for convicting Metzger in the public square by tarnishing his reputation. Some in the Israeli media castigated Mazuz for overstepping his role as Attorney General.[29]

Rabbi Metzger filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Israel to protest Mazuz's public declaration on 27 April 2006, alleging that his image had been destroyed without a chance to tell his side of the story, and accusing Mazuz of engaging in "child-like" tactics. Metzger's lawyer charged that Mazuz's report on Metzger contained unverifiable information and that it constituted a personal attack on the rabbi without giving him the benefit of a defense or hearing. The petition requested that the second half of Mazuz's 30-page report, in which he harshly attacked Metzger's conduct and recommended his removal, be stricken from the record.[30]

In late May 2006 the new Justice Minister Chaim Ramon told reporters that he intended to follow up on Mazuz's recommendation and attempt to force Rabbi Metzger's resignation. It was also reported that outgoing Chief Justice Aharon Barak had attempted to mediate between the parties, proposing a compromise in which all of Mazuz's report would stay in, but that Mazuz would sign a statement retracting his personal criticism of Metzger's character and declaring "there is nothing which obliges the Minister of Justice to take administrative measures against Metzger", in effect leaving further action to the discretion of the incoming Justice Minister. Metzger's lawyer refused the deal, saying that the damage to Metzger's reputation from the report was too important to be left in as part of a compromise. The court has yet to reach a final decision on Metzger's petition.[31][32]

In March 2007 the recently installed Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch recommended that Mazuz rewrite the report and remove the allegations she called "gossip and rumors".[33]

Return to office[edit]

In February 2008, after an investigation prompted by Mazuz's report and a recommendation by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann that Metzger be impeached,[34] the Justice Ministry appointments committee authorized the end of Metzger's suspension, permitting him to return to his position on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.[35] However in late March the Knesset Interior Affairs and Environment Committee ratified an amendment to the Chief Rabbinate Law that effectively prohibited Metzger from trading positions with Shlomo Amar, as is standard practice halfway through their ten-year term. The author of the amendment claimed that it was not specifically directed against Metzger, arguing that it in fact would allow for future "flexibility", permitting Chief Rabbis lacking training as rabbinical judges, as Metzger does, to "forgo" becoming President of the rabbinical courts. Some Metzger critics, however, argued that the law was only relevant to Metzger because he is the first ever Chief Rabbi to be elected to the position who has no experience as a rabbinical judge.[36]

Potential long-term effects[edit]

When Mazuz asked Metzger to resign in 2005, the story initially sparked some debate over the necessity of having two Israeli Chief Rabbis at all,[37] or of maintaining the Chief Rabbinate as an institution.[38] Some suggested that one way of preserving the integrity and relevance of the office might be to convince the religious Ashkenazi communities of Israel decline to hold elections to replace Metzger, should he resign. This move would, by default, consolidate the post from two seats to one, and help eliminate one of the most public representations of the office's perceived anachronism often cited by its critics.[39][40] However since then there has been little follow-up.

On 12 December 2011, the Israeli daily Israel Hayom reported that Metzger had received an offer to serve as Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland after Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks ends his term of office in 2013.

Comments on the Palestinians[edit]

Metzger gave an interview with the British Jewish News paper in January 2008 in which he advocated transferring the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to the Sinai Peninsula, adding that though Israel welcomed peaceful Muslims, the world's Muslims needed to recognize that Jerusalem "belongs" to the Jewish people, saying, "You have another place, Mecca and Medina, you don't need a third place." Metzger also challenged the idea that Muslims had any connection to Jerusalem at all, noting that when Muslims pray to Mecca, their backs face Jerusalem. Metzger received some criticism from moderate Israelis for these remarks as well as by some in the Arab world.[41]

2013 fraud investigation[edit]

In June 2013 the Israeli National Fraud Unit raided the home and office of Metzger on new suspicions of bribery, fraud and money laundering. He and his associates are suspected of pocketing hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts from donors destined for NGOs. On behalf of Metzger his attorneys have denied all allegations.[42]

Published works[edit]

  • Miyam Ha halacha (From the Sea of Halacha), an anthology of Metzger's responsa while Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv
  • Sufa Bamidbar (Storm in the Desert), a collection of responsa concerning the first Gulf War
  • B'Magalei Hachaim (The Circles of Life), a two-volume work that received the Gold and Platinum Prizes from the President of Israel

References[edit]

  1. ^ Yair Ettinger (23 June 2013). "Israel's Ashkenazi chief rabbi suspends himself amid fraud investigation". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  2. ^ "Rabbi Yona Metzger". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Shahar Ilan (15 April 2003). "Analysis / The most inexperienced rabbi of all". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ "Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Metzger, On Visit to OU, Hails Accomplishments of Kashrut Division in Certific". OU Kosher. 26 September 2005. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  6. ^ [2][dead link]
  7. ^ [3][dead link]
  8. ^ [4][dead link]
  9. ^ [5][dead link]
  10. ^ Menachem Rahat (29 September 2004). "Initiative of the Chief Rabbi: Pollard Prayer Added To Siddur". 
  11. ^ [6][dead link]
  12. ^ [7][dead link]
  13. ^ [8][dead link]
  14. ^ Danny Wood (20 March 2006). "Rabbi calls for 'UN of religions'". Seville: BBC News. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  15. ^ [9][dead link]
  16. ^ Madhur Tankha (7 February 2007). "Hindu and Jewish religious leaders sign declaration". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  17. ^ [10][dead link]
  18. ^ [11][dead link]
  19. ^ "Chief rabbi: Israel isn't haredi land: Rabbi Metzger speaks out against sex segregation on buses, says ultra-Orthodox public cannot impose its opinion on rest of population". Ynet News. 18 December 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  20. ^ [12][dead link]
  21. ^ [13][dead link]
  22. ^ [14][dead link]
  23. ^ Amiram Barkat (14 April 2003). "Metzger, Shas' Amar elected to chief rabbinical posts". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  24. ^ "Chief rabbi questioned for 11 hours: Police question Yona Metzger under warning for allegedly accepting illegal perks". Ynet News. 20 February 2005. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  25. ^ [15][dead link]
  26. ^ Amiram Barkat; Yuval Yoaz (3 April 2006). "Attorney General Mazuz calls on Chief Rabbi Metzger to resign". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  27. ^ Yuval Yoaz (5 April 2006). "Chief Rabbi Metzger can be ousted, says Justice Ministry". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  28. ^ Ilan Marciano (6 April 2006). "Leading rabbis back chief rabbi". Ynet News. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  29. ^ [16][dead link]
  30. ^ [17][dead link]
  31. ^ [18][dead link]
  32. ^ [19][dead link]
  33. ^ [20][dead link]
  34. ^ Yuval Yoaz (14 December 2007). "Fraud charges could topple Ashkenazi chief rabbi at January 3 meeting". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  35. ^ Yair Ettinger (18 February 2008). "Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi to retain position despite AG opposition". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  36. ^ [21][dead link]
  37. ^ [22][dead link]
  38. ^ [23][dead link]
  39. ^ [24][dead link]
  40. ^ [25][dead link]
  41. ^ Avshalom Vilan; Maurice Stroun (18 February 2008). "The rabbi lights the fuse". Haaretz. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  42. ^ Senyor, Eli (June 20, 2013). "Chief Rabbi Metzger suspected of bribery, fraud; police raid home". YNetNews.com. Retrieved 2013-06-20. 

External links[edit]

Jewish titles
Preceded by
Yisrael Meir Lau
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel
2003–2013
Succeeded by
David Lau