Former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger was released Wednesday from prison after serving 22 months of a 3.5-year sentence for taking bribes and other corruption offenses.
A day earlier, a parole board accepted Metzger’s appeal for early release from prison, citing his good behavior.
The State Prosecutor’s Office did not object to the committee’s decision.
Metzger, who served as chief rabbi from 2003 to 2013, entered prison in May 2017 after pleading guilty to fraud, theft, conspiracy, breach of trust, money laundering, tax offenses and accepting millions in bribes, under a plea bargain reached with state prosecutors.
His release comes about six months before the completion of two-thirds of his original sentence — when inmates are usually granted early release — due to overcrowding in prisons. He will be subject to certain restrictions and will be required to attend a rehabilitation program until December 2020, when he will officially finish serving his punishment.
Walking out of Ma’asiyahu Prison with a smile, Metzger recited a Jewish blessing typically said after being released from captivity and said that one must be happy in the current Jewish month of Adar, in which the Purim carnival is celebrated.
Metzger’s wife, Ofra Metzger, said: “It’s a wonderful feeling, thank God.”
In January, President Reuven Rivlin rejected a clemency request from Metzger.
The president said then that “a pardon is not an additional link in the judicial system and is intended for isolated and exceptional cases,” noting that he had reviewed the case and given his opinion on the evidence and the crimes in a letter to Metzger.
Metzger was charged in March 2016 of accepting some NIS 10 million ($2.7 million) in bribes through various nonprofit groups, and keeping about NIS 7 million ($1.9 million) of it for himself.
As part of the plea deal Metzger eventually admitted to taking NIS 5 million ($1.35 million) in bribes.
He stepped down as chief rabbi on July 24, 2013, due to the fraud investigation against him, just before the conclusion of his 10-year term in office.
According to the indictment, various nonprofit organizations connected with the rabbi during his term received millions of shekels in donations, some of which Metzger took for his personal use.
In addition to profiting from donations to charitable causes, he was also accused of taking bribes meant to sway his opinion on matters he attended to as chief rabbi.
Israel has two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi, or of European Jewish heritage, and one Sephardi, hailing mainly from Jewish communities of Arab and Muslim countries. Their responsibilities include running the rabbinical courts and regulating the state’s kosher food supervision authority.
JTA contributed to this report.