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