Deputy Minister for Religious Services Eli Ben-Dahan has proposed a new bill whereby chief municipal rabbis who fail to adequately perform their job can be disciplined and even lose their jobs.

Currently there is no process whatsoever to discipline a municipal rabbi, many of whom earn extremely high salaries – frequently in excess of NIS 500,000 a year.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the election to the post of chief municipal rabbi, conducted by a small regional electoral committee, is a lifetime appointment without any term limit, and the rabbi can continue in his position until the age of 75.

According to the ministry, in the last year there have been at least 45 reports about chief municipal rabbis not fulfilling the demands and requirements of their office.

Under the terms of the proposed legislation, upon receipt by the ministry of a significant complaint or an accumulation of several complaints, the minister for Religious Services will be authorized, in consultation with one of the national chief rabbis, to establish an investigative committee into the rabbi.

The committees will be comprised of one rabbinical judge, a separate chief municipal rabbi and a legal adviser to the ministry, who will examine the complaints and the activities of the rabbi in question.

The rabbi himself will be granted the right to a hearing before a decision is made.

The complaints can relate to any official function of the municipal rabbis, including a failure to abide by ministerial and chief rabbinate guidelines when processing requests through the religious bureaucracy, general attitude to the public requesting the rabbi’s services and that of his local religious council and other aspects of a municipal rabbi’s public duties.

If the committee finds that the rabbi is not fulfilling his tasks in an appropriate manner, it can recommend to the minister for Religious Services that certain disciplinary actions be taken, such as initiating a trial period for him to improve the fulfillment of his official duties. The committee may even recommend that the rabbi be dismissed from his post.

Ben-Dahan’s office said the bill was drafted in cooperation and agreement with Chief Rabbi David Lau.

“Our central goal is to make religious services more approachable and friendly for all Israeli citizens,” said Ben-Dahan.

“A chief municipal rabbi is publicly elected and we have to deal with him in that way, including when we see a failure [on his behalf] to function appropriately,” he said, stating his hope that the bill would help restore public trust in the religious service system.

One egregious case in which a chief municipal rabbi failed to satisfactorily carry out his official duties is Rabbi Yehuda David Wolpe of Rishon Lezion.

Wolpe has, according to the ministry, continually refused to act in accordance with the ministry and Chief Rabbinate guidelines – with regard to registering people for marriage in his jurisdiction.

In an unprecedented step, largely due to the absence of official disciplinary procedures, the ministry announced last month that it was considering ending Wolpe’s tenure as chief rabbi, and requested that the Chief Rabbinate appoint a new marriage registrar in Rishon Lezion while it weighs this decision.

The Council of the Chief Rabbinate did not discuss this issue at its most recent meeting several days ago.

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