In the face of an impending ruling by the High Court of Justice, the Chief Rabbinate has promised not to grant ordination to candidates who have not undergone the examination for qualification to serve as a chief municipal rabbi.
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate is authorized to grant rabbinic ordination to an individual without him having taken the requisite exams, but the practice has been brought into question in recent years with allegations that such ordination is open to nepotism and has been used to bestow lucrative positions on those with connections to the rabbinate.
A petition brought by the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah lobbying group in December 2012 against the practice demanded to see the criteria, if they exist, by which such ordination is bestowed by the Chief Rabbinate.
A hearing on the case was scheduled in the High Court two weeks ago, but shortly before it was held, a legal representative for the Chief Rabbinate informed NTA it had agreed to the demands made by the organization in its petition.
Details of the agreement were published on Monday.
NTA says the chief rabbinate has granted hundreds of rabbis the status of being qualified to serve as a municipal chief rabbi without passing the necessary exams, and that there are at least several dozen rabbis up and down the country serving as chief municipal and district rabbis, as well as in state-paid neighborhood rabbi positions.
The organization described the practice as “discriminatory and unequal,” and says it asked the Chief Rabbinate on five occasions to halt the practice, or at the very least to publish the criteria by which such decisions are made, before filing its petition to the High Court.
NTA said that just before the High Court hearing on January 15, the Chief Rabbinate informed the group that it would no longer grant such qualifications without examination, and that if in the future it would seek to do so again, it would give such qualifications in accordance with clear and publicly available criteria.
On the basis of this agreement, NTA retracted its High Court petition but said it was requesting the Chief Rabbinate cover the costs of the petition.
During the hearing, Supreme Court Deputy President Miriam Naor said that if NTA had not agreed to retract its petition, the court would have issued a conditional court order against the Chief Rabbinate.
Justice Elyakim Rubenstein said the petition revealed a “bleak and sad picture,” and noted that the Chief Rabbinate has still not produced a list of people who received ordination to the level of chief municipal rabbi without having taken the exams.
NTA’s legal council, attorneys Rachel Hacohen and Prof. Aviad Hacohen, said that practice was “illegitimate and discriminatory,” and constituted “an injustice to thousands of people who have dedicated many years to their studies in order to pass tough exams, while others have gained access to a shortened process and an exemption from examination, mostly due to their connections and not their abilities.
“We expect that because of the petition, this illegitimate practice that contradicts the values of the Torah of Israel and does not conform with the basic principle of equality, which is required in a democratic state, will cease.”
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.
The ability of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate 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 process.
But NTA claims this capability has been turned into “a tool to allocate jobs to those with connections to the rabbinate.”