"The Justice Ministry along with the National Fraud Unit (NFU), Military Police and the Police Investigation Unit (PIU), has conducted a comprehensive, complex, four-year investigation into the fraudulent ordination of military and police personnel as rabbis," a statement by the ministry said.
Since 1999, and as part of the Ministry of Education's wage agreement with the Teacher's Association, the ministry has acknowledged "advanced religious studies" accompanied by a rabbi's certificate of ordination as grounds for additional pay benefits.
Various educational facilities aimed at training armed forces personnel as rabbis were soon established. Student at these schools were ordained by the Chief Rabbinate, making them eligible for pay benefits.
"Following a lead given to the ministry, the Department of Financial Crime in the NFU began investigating senior members at the rabbinate as well as those attending the schools providing rabbinical certifications," said the statement.
"The evidence gathered revealed that some of the suspects formed 'colleges' where armed forces personnel attended religious studies classes… with the cooperation of the Chief Rabbinate's director of ordinations, the suspects received false documents stating they graduated a five-year program in a yeshiva licensed to ordain rabbis.
"These documents were presented to their superiors (in the armed forces), making them eligible for benefits reaching hundreds of millions of shekels."
Hundreds of millions in damagesSaid benefits range from $500-$1,000 a month, dating back to 2001. The Justice Ministry estimated the monetary damage to the State in millions, adding that "had this continued, the damage could have gone well into the billions."
All payments were ceased and the ministry is looking into demanding the funds be returned retroactively.
The ministry's statement further revealed that several senior member of the Chief Rabbinate were questioned under advisement, including Meir Rosenthal, head of Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger's office, Yitzhak Ohana, head of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau's office and former director of ordinations at the Chief Rabbinate, former chief police Rabbi Yaacob Gross and deputy chief police Rabbi Aharon Gutsinder.
Other suspects include the owners of the three colleges providing false certifications.
Some 1,500 policemen, military officers and Israel Prison Service officers were questioned as well.
The case, said the Justice Ministry, is assumed to yield dozens of indictments and over a 100 disciplinary complaints against those implicated in the case.
Recommendations regarding suspects in the rabbinate and the regular army are to be made by the military's Judge Advocate General.