Former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger Charged With Taking Bribes

Rabbi Gavriel Cohen of Los Angeles is also charged with taking bribes.

Rabbi Cohen told me today via email that these charges are “unfounded.”

Reactions in the Los Angeles Orthodox community seem evenly divided between those who are surprised by these charges against Rabbi Gavriel Cohen and those who are not.

Rabbi Cohen tells me:

Dear Luke: This is a statement from my lawyer May 7 2015: “In my opinion, after a lengthy discussion with law enforcement (US and Israeli) officials in this case and my experience practicing criminal law as a prosecutor and a defense attorney for over 40 years, that Rabbi Cohen did not violate any law, statute or regulation of the United States.”

From Jerusalem Post:

The Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday filed an indictment against former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger for allegedly accepting NIS 10 million in bribes.

The charges also include fraud, breach of public trust, fraudulent receipt of a benefit under aggravated circumstances, theft, money-laundering, tax violations and conspiracy to commit a felony, all while using his position as chief rabbi. The indictment ushers in a new stage in the latest legal drama of a major public figure to grab the country’s attention.

The indictment, filed with the Jerusalem District Court, was filed after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein rejected arguments by Metzger’s lawyer against the charges at a pre-indictment hearing.

Weinstein emphasized that his decision was in keeping with the recommendation of State Attorney Shai Nitzan and other prosecution officials on the case. Such pre-indictment hearings do not usually cause the attorney-general to change his decision.

Previously, Metzger’s defense team said in response to the attorney-general’s prior announcements that he would likely indict Metzger that “we received from the attorney-general the allegations against Rabbi Yona Metzger and the summons to a hearing. Rabbi Metzger denies the allegations made against him. According to the rabbi, he did not receive bribes, not through the state’s witness and not through anyone else, and did not launder money. We will address the allegations against the rabbi at the hearing he has been summoned to after we receive and review the investigative material.”

The indictment said that of the NIS 10m., NIS 7m. had gone directly to Metzger (the numbers are according to exchange rates at the time of the crimes – at current rates the amounts would drop to around NIS 8m. and NIS 5m., respectively.) According to the indictment, in most of the suspected criminal actions, Chaim Eisenstadt, Metzger’s driver, acted as his representative for his receiving bribes…

In the “Conversion Affair,” Metzger allegedly received large bribes from foreigners who wished to convert or to clarify whether they were Jewish under standards acceptable to the Chief Rabbinate.
The indictment said that Metzger and Rabbi Gavriel Cohen, the former head of the Beit Din rabbinical court of Los Angeles, split funds paid to Cohen regarding the issues in question.

It added that sometimes Metzger received the money, but made sure that at least in initial stages that checks were not made payable to him, such that he could better hide his involvement.
In 2011, the indictment said that Metzger and Cohen helped convert the children of a Russian businessman who had made aliya, at a price of $360,000, of which Metzger received $180,000.
Next, the indictment said that Metzger received 30-40 percent of donations slated for charitable organizations in exchange for his support and activities on behalf of those organizations.
One donation for $28,000 which was slated for a yeshiva in Metzger’s synagogue with connections to the Aish Hatorah yeshiva, found its way to Metzger and Eisenstadt instead, said the indictment.
Another donation of NIS 105,000 earmarked for the organization Beit Hatavshil, which helps provide food for the poor, was split between the charity and Metzger, who received around NIS 31,500 of the donation, without the donor’s knowledge, according to the indictment.

The last I knew, Rabbi Gavriel Cohen headed the Beit Din of Beverly Hills. Now, according to a Google search, the first result is for the West Coast Rabbinical Court at

“The West Coast Rabbinical Court, headed by HaRav Gavriel Cohen is authorized to handle all matters of Jewish religious law and is designated by the State of Israel to serve the western United States, Canada, Mexico and the Far East in matters of Halacha (Jewish law). Whether you need Brit Milah, Marriage, Counseling, Ravakut, Conversion, Kashrut Certification, Arbitration, or Divorce, we can help you. As the population is diverse, we can render our services fluently in 8 languages thus creating an efficient network with most communities worldwide – Israel, Europe and the Far East. We are also able to perform tasks in the appropriate nusach (i.e. Sefardi, Ashkenaz) as required by halachah by Rav Elyashiv zt”l and all Gedolei Hador.”

When I last paid attention, R. Gavriel Cohen charged $5,000 per conversion, which sounds a lot more than the other Batei Din (Orthodox Jewish law courts) in Los Angeles, but it apparently included tutoring, while for most other conversion programs, tutoring was extra. I remember one Orthodox rabbi telling me that the Beit Din of Beverly Hills “had a license to print money.”

Rabbi Cohen did fewer than five conversions a year on average.




Rabbi Gavriel Cohen with Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (above).






Rabbi Gavriel Cohen with the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar (above).


Rabbi Cohen and other rabbis visit with President Ronald Reagan (above).


Former Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger (center, above)

FailedMessiah reports:

Metzger allegedly split the proceeds of that scam with as yet unnamed Orthodox rabbi from the Diaspora.

Metzger also took large cuts of donations – and sometimes even the entire donation – made to charitable organizations in exchange for endorsing those organizations. The organizations included a yeshiva located in Metzer’s synagogue and Beit Hatavshil, an organization that is supposed to provide food for the poor.

Metzger also received hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct bribes he tried to conceal by calling them “gifts.” For example, Metzger got a $70,000 “gift” from a close relative of a rabbi who Metzger appointed to an official state position.

And Metzger also allegedly cheated on his taxes.

Metzger was put into office in a backroom deal orchestrated by then-haredi leader Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, despite the fact that Metzger had already had a string of ethical and sexual peccadilloes (including alleged sexual harassment of females and males) while he was the government rabbi of a posh Tel Aviv district.

Elyashiv knew of the allegations against Metzger, and of rabbinic investigations into them that had found Metzger to be extremely problematic, when he made the deal that put Metzger into the chief rabbi job but he backed Metzger anyway. When asked by this writer a decade ago why he had done this, Elyashiv – who had been fighting a decades’ long war against the Chief Rabbinate when he got Metzger the job – responded through a spokesman that he had done so “to return the glory to the Chief Rabbinate.”

* Reminds me of a rabbi in Dallas weakly aligned with AISH. His sole consideration as to whether he would grant a conversion (one that at the time WAS accepted in Israel) was whether or not the applicant could pay the $10,000 fee. If you arrived with cash in hand – the conversion took as long as it took him to walk you to the lake with 2 of his friends.

* I recall Metzger from his days as rabbi at the Adam Hacohen St synagogue in TA. He was not a personable fellow and had weak Torah knowledge, but at least he did his service in Zahal. Like all Jews, Metzger’s weakness is GELT: “The Moshiach will not come until the Jews’s excessive love of money has been knocked out of him!” (Chofetz Chaim 1929 during the Wall St Crash)

Miriam writes: His [Gavriel Cohen] beis din used to be on this list [of recognized conversion courts] for a few years until one day (about two or three years ago) it mysteriously disappeared.”


Harav Gavriel Cohen, Dayan and head of the Badatz West Coast Beis Din which services both the West and East Coasts, has opened this Summer a Beis Din in Lakewood. Rabbi Cohen, primarily located on the West Coast, has expanded the services provided by his Beis Din to the east coast, the Dayan explains to Peretz Baruch Eichler in his broadcast interview.

Rabbi Cohen will also be heading the Kollel and activities of the newly-expanded Tiferes Eliezer Shul, located at 10th Street and Monmouth Avenue.

The Kollel and Shul were built up by father and son Rabbis Gavriel and Rabbi Eliezar Cohen, the Rav’s Son, who was hand picked by BMG and unanimously-approved by the Atlanta community to be the Rosh Kollell of the newly-formed Ner Ha’Mizrach Kollel, in Atlanta.

Read more about Rabbi Cohen’s West Coast Beth Din here.

Listen to the interview below.


About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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