JERUSALEM — Israel's new Ashkenazi chief rabbi is facing growing calls to step down amid allegations of misconduct.
The allegations center on sexual harassment charges against Yona Metzger, as well as charges that he engaged in fraud and is not qualified for the post.
Aides to Metzger have rejected the allegations as a smear campaign fueled by political rivals.
Metzger and his Sephardi counterpart, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, were elected as Israel's chief rabbis April 14 by a 150-member public committee.
Since then, however, opposition to Metzger has grown. In the latest development, a Tel Aviv accountant filed a petition Monday in the High Court of Justice challenging Metzger's appointment. It will be heard by a three-judge panel.
The petition claims that allegations of fraud and other improprieties involving Metzger were not fully investigated because of his 1998 pledge not to stand for chief rabbi of Tel Aviv.
Metzger's spokesman, Roni Rimon, told the Israeli daily Ma'ariv that the petition was full of "lies, lies and more lies" produced by "professional slanderers."
Metzger had been accused of forging witnesses' signatures on marriage contracts and unlawfully demanding payment for performing weddings, the daily Ha'aretz reported.
As a result of the allegations, Metzger's permit to serve as a chief rabbi of a major city was revoked. However, it was reinstated several months later after a hearing before three senior Israeli rabbis — including Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, a former Sephardi chief rabbi — who accepted Metzger's explanations and his commitment to leave the Tel Aviv race, the paper said.
The petition also argues that the Metzger, 50, who previously was rabbi of north Tel Aviv, was not qualified to fill the chief rabbi's duties as head of the country's rabbinic court system because he never had been a religious judge or rabbi of a major city.
The petition maintained that the elections committee for the chief rabbi was not adequately informed of the misconduct allegations against Metzger.
In related development, Ma'ariv recently published what it said were sexual harassment allegations involving Metzger.
Three weeks before Metzger's election as chief rabbi, the paper reported, it learned of complaints from four adult men who claimed Metzger had touched their arms, legs and chests and expressed admiration for their muscular physiques.
Aides to Metzger categorically denied the allegations, pointing to polygraph tests Metzger took dispelling the allegations.
Metzger aides accused "well-known rabbinical sources" who they said were stooping low "after earlier accusations of chasing women failed.''
The controversy comes against the backdrop of the contested election that preceded Metzger's appointment to the post.
A few hours before the vote, Israel's attorney general unsuccessfully asked the elections board to disqualify Metzger because of new information he had received
Metzger then scored an upset victory over National Religious Party candidate Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel, who had been favored to win.
Metzger was supported by the non-Chassidic segment of the fervently religious community, led by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.
In the wake of the renewed allegations against Metzger, the head of the Knesset's Legislative Affairs Committee, Likud legislator Michael Eitan, called on the attorney general to order an immediate investigation.
Meretz legislator Roman Bronfman called on Metzger to suspend himself from his duties until the matter is clarified.
But Shinui legislator Ilan Shalgi countered that as long as the allegations are not proven and no charges are filed, there is no reason for Metzger to refrain from acting as chief rabbi.