The rabbis of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate.
(photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)
A bill proposed by Deputy Minister of Religious Services Eli-Ben Dahan of Bayit Yehudi which would allow the ministry to fire municipal chief rabbis who fail to perform their duties in an adequate manner passed its first reading in the Knesset plenum Tuesday night.
Municipal chief rabbis are elected for a lifetime position and can serve until aged 75, and in some cases longer. In addition, there are currently no procedures in place to discipline or dismiss such rabbis if they do not do their job or if there are other problems with their job performance. According to the ministry, such instances are “very common.”
In September this year, complaints were leveled by immigrants from Ethiopia who converted to Judaism that their conversions were being rejected by the municipal chief rabbi of Petah Tikva Rabbi Binyamin Attias when they sought to register for marriage in the local religious council in the city.
In 2013, the chief municipal rabbi of Rishon L’Tzion Rabbi Yehuda David Wolpe was accused of serially sending engaged couples to private firms to clarify their Jewish status, in contravention of regulations.
And sources in the Ministry of Religious Services have expressed frustration with what they described as the failure of Chief municipal rabbi of Haifa Rabbi Shlomo Shalush to perform even the basic functions of his office. Earlier this week Shalush was taken severely ill and is currently intubated and on a respirator in the Carmel Hospital in Haifa.
“A rabbi is a part of the local authority, and a central and important part of his job is public trust,” said Ben-Dahan in presenting the bill Monday night.
“We must strengthen this trust in city rabbis, and this bill comes to do just that. It is balanced, and amends a shortcoming in the law that does not allow action to be taken against a rabbi who is not working properly,” he continued.
The bill was developed in cooperation with Chief Rabbi David Lau.
A municipal chief rabbi is an elected public servant with statutory powers, serving, for example, as a marriage registrar, but is not subject to re-election.
The purpose of the bill is to give the ministry the tools to deal with errant rabbis, and remove them from their positions if necessary.
The legislation, if passed, would enable the Minister for Religious Services to appoint a investigative committee including a rabbinical judge, a separate municipal chief rabbi, and a legal adviser to examine the activities of the rabbi in question if there is a concern that he is not working appropriately.
On the recommendation of the committee, the minister would be able to fire the rabbi if it is deemed necessary. The rabbi in question would have the right to a hearing in front of the committee before he is dismissed.
The bill was approved 55 to 11, with MKs from Shas and United Torah Judaism opposing the legislation.
MK Yitzhak Cohen of Shas accused Ben-Dahan of “besmirching” the reputation of rabbis in Israel, while UTJ’s Moshe Gafni railed against the law arguing that it was unnecessary.
Ben-Dahan retorted angrily that the haredi MKs were defending corrupt practices and accused Shas, which was previously in control of the Ministry of Religious Services, of “reducing Torah” during its time in charge of religious services in the country.