Lobbying group urges new coalition to review necessity of municipal chief rabbis

There are still no disciplinary measures the ministry can take against a rabbi not fulfilling his duties or who violates ministry regulations and guidelines.

March 24, 2015 18:40
3 minute read.
Jewish youths study religious texts

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish youths study religious texts at a synagogue in Jerusalem April 7, 2011.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Ne’emanei Torah Ve’Avodah lobbying group is calling on the next coalition government to re-assess the need for municipal chief rabbis, claiming that many are out of touch with their city’s residents and are frequently too old for the job.

In a comprehensive document, NTV outlines a series of proposals for various religion and state issues and recommends they be adopted by the new coalition as part of the agreements currently being drawn up between the various partners who will form the new government.

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“It is vitally important to fix the issue of municipal chief rabbis since there is an ever-growing disconnect between city residents and those who are supposed to be their spiritual leaders,” Hanan Mandel, chairman of NTV, told The Jerusalem Post.

“The main tasks for providing religious services and spiritual leadership should be devolved to the [statepaid] neighborhood-rabbis who are closer to their communities and better connected to them, in contrast to the disconnect that is frequently present between municipal chief rabbis and their city residents,” Mandel asserted.

NTV, a liberal national-religious organization, notes in the document that since there are several parties in the likely coalition vying to take control of the Ministry of Religious Services, which yields significant power in the appointments process for city rabbis, it would be better to freeze the municipal chief rabbi appointments for the current Knesset term and evaluate whether the position is really needed.

The lobbying group pointed out that some of those currently serving as municipal chief rabbis are of an extremely advanced age and earn extremely high salaries, but are not functioning as expected from a publicly appointed official.

The organization pointed to Rabbi Yaakov Edelstein, the chief municipal rabbi of Ramat Hasharon who was appointed in 1950 and is currently 91, as one example.

Likewise, municipal chief rabbi of Netanya Rabbi David Chelouche is 94 and NTV claims he not performing the functions required of him as a city rabbi, a complaint also voiced by sources in the Ministry of Religious Services.

Rabbi Chelouche and his secretary could not be reached for comment.

Rabbi Edelstein’s son, Rabbi Yitzhak Edelstein, told The Jerusalem Post his father was fulfilling all the tasks and requirements of his post, saying he deals with issues of kashrut, eruvs (Shabbat boundaries), mikvaot (ritual baths) and others, and that he is well liked within the community.

Appointments to the post of chief municipal rabbi are conducted by a small regional electoral committee, and are lifetime appointments with no term limit.

However, there are still no disciplinary measures the ministry can take against a rabbi who does not fulfill his duties or who violates ministry regulations and guidelines.

A small change was made recently to allow municipal chief rabbis to serve only until age 75, but it applies only to rabbis appointed after 2007.

In the likely event that NTV’s principles for religion and state are not adopted by the new coalition, the organization is still urging the nascent government to impose a 10-year period of service for new municipal chief rabbis, as well as the neighborhood-rabbi positions, and any state-funded community rabbinical posts that may be created, as was proposed by the current Deputy Minister of Religious Services Eli Ben-Dahan.

Along with other proposals by NTV for reforming religious choice and life in Israel, the group’s religion and state principles urge the new government to adopt “new arrangements for marriage and divorce” including allowing people who currently are not able to marry in Israel to enter into civil unions.

NTV’s proposals also call on the government to address the issue of divorce refusal, and the implementation of the contentious conversion-reform law formally adopted by the last government but which has not been implemented due to opposition from the chief rabbis and other political elements.

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