Legal adviser examining possible breach of trust in rabbinical court appointment

Rabbi Eliyahu Amar, the son of Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar, was appointed as a rabbinical judge in the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court for Property Claims of the Jerusalem Religious Council.

November 26, 2015 23:23
3 minute read.
Mayor Nir Barkat

Mayor Nir Barkat shares a toast with chief rabbis Arye Stern and Shlomo Amar.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

A controversial appointment to a rabbinical court in Jerusalem has been flagged as a possible breach of trust and is being scrutinized by the legal adviser to the Religious Services Ministry.

Rabbi Eliyahu Amar, the son of Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, was appointed as a rabbinical judge in the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court for Property Claims of the Jerusalem Religious Council several weeks ago.

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Council chairman Yehoshua Yishai asked Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern and Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Amar to recommend candidates for the court and Amar nominated his son, Eliyahu, who was duly appointed following the agreement of the head of the court, Rabbi Baruch Shraga.

Amar took up the post approximately three weeks ago after being recommended by his father.

There are 15 seats on the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court for Property Claims, although currently only 10 are filled. Serving as a rabbinical judge on the court is done on a voluntary basis and is an unpaid position.

Few rabbinical courts for property claims are directly linked to a local religious council, as the one in Jerusalem is, but none of them is considered to be a state court. The court is akin to a court of arbitration, in that both parties must agree to bring their case before it.

However, the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court for Property claims is a prestigious institution and has served as a springboard for appointments to higher positions, including the state’s regional rabbinical courts.

In the recent round of appointments in September to the 12 regional rabbinical courts, 22 rabbinical judges were appointed, of whom six came from the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court for Property Claims.

There is no set procedure for appointments to the court for property claims, but the appointments need to be approved by Shraga after receiving applications and recommendations.

In light of Shlomo Amar’s recommendation, a former chairman of the Jerusalem Local Religious Council from the Shas Party, Moshe Nimni, sent a letter last week to the legal adviser to the Religious Services Ministry and the Attorney-General’s Office asking for Amar’s appointment to be annulled on the grounds it constituted a breach of trust.

“There are many rabbinical judges who for a long time during my tenure and today would have wanted to be appointed to this rabbinical court. The fact that the chief rabbi [Shlomo Amar] appointed his son screams nepotism,” wrote Nimni.

“In matters of transparency and fairness in public institutions it is of utmost importance that justice and respectability are visible to all,” he added in his letter.

Nimni also pointed out that, in 2009, Amar was given an exemption by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate from passing the requisite exams in order to obtain a qualification allowing him to serve as a municipal chief rabbi.

His father was then serving as the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and a member of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate.

The granting of such an exemption was legal and several dozen rabbis gained the extra qualification to serve as a municipal chief rabbi through this exemption. However, the High Court of Justice effectively banned this practice however in 2014 out of concern that it was being abused to favor those with connections to the Chief Rabbinate when applying for state-paid positions.

In a recent interview with Scoops, a haredi telephone news service, Eliyahu Amar noted specifically that his father had recommended him for the position, but said he had received other recommendations as well.

He also stated that he has passed all the required exams for qualification as a rabbinical judge.

Efforts to contact the rabbi were unanswered.

David Malka, a senior official in the Jerusalem Religious Council, told The Jerusalem Post that the post is unpaid and that the rabbinical judges of the court are also not entitled to claim expenses.

He also noted that workers in the Jerusalem Religious Council are not able to have a case heard in the court, and nor can the council sue its suppliers or connected businesses or personnel in the court.

“As such, we did not see that there was any conflict of interests in this appointment and we did not think that the advice of a legal adviser was necessary in this matter,” said Malka.

“If the legal adviser to the Religious Services Ministry sees something we didn’t see and tells us that there is a problem then we can reverse the situation. There is no gross breach of trust here and nothing that can’t be reversed,” affirming that should the legal adviser say so, Amar would step down from his position.

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