'Irregularities in neighborhood rabbis' work'

By JONAH MANDEL
May 11, 2010 22:47

State Comptroller's Report focusing on lack of procedure within Ministry of Religious Services.

3 minute read.



The Jerusalem Rabbinical Court.

rabbinical court 190. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )

The Religious Services Ministry has neither assessed the religious needs of Israel’s Jewish residents nor defined the roles and responsibilities of neighborhood rabbis, who consequently can perform their duties according to their own personal initiative, religious outlook and judgement in a non-regulated manner. These are the main conclusions of the state comptroller’s findings in the section of the report dealing with religious affairs.

The segment in the comptroller’s report dedicated to the Religious Services Ministry focused on neighborhood rabbis employed by religious councils – how they are appointed, what size community they serve, what their duties entail, their self-reported presence at work, supervision over them, additional jobs they undertake and retirement procedures.

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Religious councils are the bodies charged with providing religious services to Jews in Israel – weddings, funerals, Torah lessons, kashrut etc. – and do so via city rabbis and neighborhood rabbis. Beyond the ministry itself, the report examined 68 rabbis in six cities – Ashdod, Jerusalem, Kfar Saba, Lod, Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Following past irregularities in the appointment of rabbis and the regulation of their assignments and retirement, a new body was established in 2008 within the religious councils. But according to the latest comptroller’s report, the two regulating mechanisms are not fully coordinated, creating situations where rabbis are appointed but do not appear in the official records.

There is also no regulation as to the size of congregations under the neighborhood rabbis – both Emmanuel, with its 2,800 residents, and Hadera, home to 71,600 Jews, have one state-appointed rabbi to provide religious services. The growth of the neighborhoods vis-a-vis the diminishing number of neighborhood rabbis, a result of the freeze on new appointments to the position instated in 2003, prompted the Comptroller’s Office to encourage the appointed rabbis to make use of technology to expand the scope of their work.

Another problematic issue pointed out in the report is that the neighborhood rabbis –with the exception of three in Jerusalem – don’t clock in to work. Some are not required to do so by the religious councils and others refuse, with the backing of worker unions. This is also reflected in vacation days, sick days and absences, which are not regulated, and instances can thus arise where rabbis allegedly receive payment for days they did not work. This situation also creates problems in calculating unused vacation and sick days when the rabbis retire.

Besides their duties as official neighborhood rabbis, the report noted that 25 of the rabbis from the six cities worked in additional capacities, some of them for pay, and nearly none obtained the necessary permit from the religious councils.

The State Comptroller’s Office called on the Ministry of Religious Services to assess and map out the religious needs of Jewish neighborhood residents, and to define the authorities and tasks of the neighborhood rabbis, including the task of coordinating between residents and other rabbinical figures active in the field.

The report said the Ministry must also standardize the quotas of rabbis according to the size of community they serve to ensure that rabbis are appointed according to regulated procedures. The ministry must also regulate working norms and form means of reporting presence at work, as well as vacation and sick days.

In its response to the comptroller’s findings, the Religious Services Ministry said that it was acting in coordination with the Chief Rabbinate to form a new procedure regarding appointments of neighborhood rabbis and defining their duties, and would take the comptroller’s comments into account.

The Chief Rabbinate told the comptroller’s office that it was discussing the topic of neighborhood rabbis and, together with the chief rabbis, would guide the Religious Services Ministry on fundamental issues pertaining to the rabbis’ roles.


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