The High Court of Justice this week issued an interim injunction forbidding the
Council of the Chief Rabbinate from ordaining anyone as a rabbi who has not
passed the written exams usually required by the rabbinate. The injunction was
requested by the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah (NTA) lobbying organization, which
claimed in its High Court petition that the practice of ordaining rabbis who
have not passed exams is not transparent and has been used in an unequal
According to NTA, there are at least several dozen rabbis up and
down the country serving as city, regional, neighborhood or local rabbis who
have not passed the rabbinate’s qualification exams, but who nevertheless
received rabbinic ordination from the Council of the Chief Rabbinate and were
subsequently appointed to their public positions.
The ability of the
council to ordain someone who has not passed the requisite exams was originally
designed to allow for extremely well-qualified rabbis from outside Israel who
immigrated to the country to bypass an unnecessarily lengthy examination
But NTA chairman Shmuel Shetah said that this capability has now
been turned into “a tool to allocate jobs to those with connections to the
Attorney Aviad Hacohen, who filed the petition on behalf of
NTA, called the decision “a first step towards the goal of totally banning the
circumvention of exams for ordination by the Chief Rabbinate.”
be ensured that the examination process is equal for all, fair and transparent,
and that ordination to be a rabbi in Israel is carried out according to [a
person’s] abilities and not the strength of their connections.”
injunction will remain in effect until the court rules on the matter. A hearing
has not yet been scheduled.
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate is legally
permitted to ordain a person who has not passed the stringent rabbinate exams,
but NTA claims that the process is open to abuse and that rabbis receiving such
ordination invariably have personal or family connections to officials in the
NTA’s petition requests that “equitable criteria” be
established for providing ordination for someone who has not passed the
rabbinate’s exams, and also requested a list of rabbis who have received
ordination without passing the tests.
NTA originally asked the rabbinate
in 2010 to provide them with the criteria that a candidate for ordination
without examination must fulfill, as well as for a list of such rabbis. The
rabbinate was not forthcoming with the information.
The state’s response
to the petition, filed in November this year, did however include the
They require that a candidate’s “lifestyle and character” be
appropriate for serving as a rabbi; that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate be
convinced that the candidate is an expert in fields pertaining to the duties of
a municipal rabbi; and that the chief rabbis themselves approve the
The state’s response noted that the Chief Rabbinate is in the
process of drawing up new criteria for such ordination and that it had
voluntarily decided not to ordain any further rabbis in this manner until new
procedures are approved by the council.
The state added that in the last
two years the council had not ordained anyone who had not passed the
To qualify as a city rabbi, one must pass 14 separate exams that
are five hours in length and cost NIS 210. Usually a period of six or seven
years of study in yeshiva is required.
Shetah welcomed the High Court
injunction, calling it an important step, but added that deeper changes were
needed to rectify the provision of religious services in Israel.
to distance the rabbinate from politics in general, and give responsibility for
appointing rabbis to the communities themselves,” Shetah said.
Sassi, a teacher in the Hesder Yeshiva in Sderot who successfully passed the
rabbinates exams for ordination, applied for the position of city rabbi in a
city in northern Israel in 2010.
His application was not accepted and the
rabbi who was eventually appointed had received his ordination from the Council
of the Chief Rabbinate without having passed the exams.
crazy that a rabbi can get a job as a rabbi through his personal connections,”
“It’s a joke that this kind of thing has to go to the High
Court of Justice, it’s actually a desecration of God’s name, but the chief
rabbis are making a joke out of the rabbinate,” he said.
Rabbinate told The Jerusalem Post that it was unable to comment on the matter
since it is currently being dealt with in the High Court.