By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Power not only breeds paranoia, it also gives free range to greed. The current cluster of investigations of Prime Minister Netanyahu (and members of his family) is a case in point. Several of potential charges have to do with receiving “gifts” that in the eyes of the law are bribes. Though In the end – so the pundits tell us – Netanyahu won’t be charged, it casts a very dark shadow over the elected leader of the State of Israel.
Of course, in the unlikely event that he’ll go to jail, Netanyahu wouldn’t be the first prime minister to do so. One of his predecessors. Ehud Olmert, is currently doing time for crimes committed when he was mayor of Jerusalem. Other government members have been convicted and imprisoned, including Arieh Deri who after completing his sentence and the subsequent cooling off period required, returned to politics and is currently holding the same cabinet portfolio which took him to prison in the past.
Avigdor Lieberman, currently Israel’s minister of defense, has also been under investigation. Files against individuals in his close entourage haven’t been closed yet.
But now Israel is to witness a first: after a plea bargain, the immediate past Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel. Yona Metzger, is about to go to prison for three-and-a-half years for corruption and bribery amounting to millions of shekels. Part of the deal is that he must return some of the illicit money.
Metzger was the youngest chief rabbi in Israel’s history. In his earlier days, he had served as a chaplain in the IDF and done other seemingly good work. He’s said to have authored ten books. Neither patriotism nor erudition, however, seems to protect one against the kind of greed that leads to crime.
Metzger may be the first chief rabbi to go to jail, but he’s by no means the only rabbi in Israel to have been found to be a criminal. These days Rabbi Yosef Pinto, a guru-like kabbalist with a complicated employment history in Israel and abroad, is being released after a year behind bars for having bribed a high-ranking police officer. And some of the politicians who’ve spent time in jail have also been ordained rabbis, including Deri.
Though I’ve served as a rabbi for some four decades I cannot even imagine where the opportunities to such corruption would arise. Perhaps it’s because I’m not part of an establishment that grants licences for kashrut, especially to hotels, and suchlike. I any case, I’ve never been offered and “inducement,” which is further evidence that I was blessed by being powerless.
The fact that leading, ostensibly religious figures in the land aren’t above the law is, of course, very good news. But the fact that corruptible characters with rabbinic ordination have the wherewithal to engage in criminal activities is alarming. Because some of those convicted purport to be pious and observant Jews – claiming fidelity to the Law of Moses – increases the sense of alarm. It suggests that greed can defeat claims to moral and religious integrity.
Unfortunately the Orthodox rabbinate, which uses its power to dominate religious life in the Jewish state, seems to be more concerned with preventing women from reading Torah at the Western Wall – which has become the big political issue here and indeed around the world – rather than making sure that those it has ordained live up to their calling.