Many municipal chief rabbis spending hundreds of days abroad, report finds

Such appointments contravene ministry regulations since they constitute a conflict of interests for the rabbi should he have to take disciplinary action against his relative.

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May 8, 2018 17:58
4 minute read.
Many municipal chief rabbis spending hundreds of days abroad, report finds

An Israeli flag is seen on the first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets, as it lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel August 23, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Large numbers of senior municipal chief rabbis have spent significant time abroad at the expense of their professional duties, a new State Comptroller’s Report has found. Some of the rabbis also failed to accurately report the number of days they spent outside the country.
The report also highlighted nepotistic hiring practices in local religious councils. It noted that several municipal chief rabbis have close family members working in the council of their city.
Municipal chief rabbis are appointed without a term limit and are often paid salaries that are far above those of average Israeli workers.

The State Comptroller’s Office found that from January 2013 to June 2017, 22 out of 95 municipal chief rabbis were frequently abroad. Some spent hundreds of days outside of Israel on trips that had no relevance for the residents of their cities.
One rabbi spent 718 days abroad in that four-and-a-half year period, 44% of his workdays. Two rabbis spent more than 300 days abroad during that time, constituting as much as 20% of their workdays. Several others spent more than 100 days abroad in that time.

Of the 22 rabbis, eight traveled “at a very high frequency,” as many as “dozens of times” during that period. One traveled abroad 87 times. Nine of the rabbis were abroad for more than 26 days each year on average, a figure that by itself accounts for the entire allocation of vacation days for municipal chief rabbis.

In addition, 56% of the trips by 15 of the municipal chief rabbis reviewed were funded by external parties, including Jewish communities abroad, as well as various institutions and NGOs the rabbis head, as well as private businesses such as food importers.

The Religious Services Ministry has not, however, determined that municipal chief rabbis are obligated to seek legal advice before accepting non-state funded travel, so the rabbis in question did not violate ministry regulations.  Government ministers are required to obtain such advice in order to prevent conflicts of interest.

The report said it would not name the rabbis, noting, “In the response of the city rabbis to the State Comptroller’s Office, including a former chief rabbi,” the issue of travel abroad had not been clearly regulated by the Religious Services Ministry.
There are two former chief rabbis who served as municipal chief rabbis in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem during the period under review.

The report also noted that 14 of the 22 rabbis reported less than 80% of their days abroad to the Local Religious Council of their municipal authority, which pays their wages, while three of these rabbis did not report they were abroad at all.

THE REPORT said failure to report absences such as this contravene ministry regulations and mean that the rabbi is getting fully paid for days he was absent from work.

In total, the monetary value of the unreported days absent from work is some NIS 1.3 million.

The report did note however that in light of the State Comptroller’s findings, nine municipal chief rabbis said they would repay their unreported absent days from work, which would reach a sum of NIS 535,000.

One municipal chief rabbi who was asked repeatedly by the head of his local religious council to report the days he was absent from work, said, “I do not need to report to you the essence of my work,” adding, “such chutzpah has never been heard for the head of a local religious council to demand such reports.”

The Council of the Chief Rabbinate, the Religious Services Ministry, and some local religious councils said in response to the report that they accepted the State Comptroller’s position that the issue of traveling abroad should be properly regulated.

Some of the rabbis insisted that a rabbi never has any vacation because he is in the service of his community 24 hours a day, including when he is out of his office or out of his city, and said that they are “always available for consultation by telephone for questions of Jewish law, advice, and direction.”

The report also found that five municipal chief rabbis had at least one relative working in the Local Religious Council where he serves or had been appointed as a kashrut supervisor, under the auspices of the rabbi himself.

Such appointments contravene ministry regulations since they constitute a conflict of interests for the rabbi should he have to take disciplinary action against his relative.

In Ramle, for example, where Rabbi Yechiel Abuhatzeira has served since 1976 as the municipal chief rabbi, two of his sons are employed as kashrut supervisors by the local religious council. Neither son has a kashrut supervision qualification. However, that is acceptable as long as a supervisor obtains such a qualification within six months of being hired.

Abuhatzeira’s sons have since stopped working in their capacity as kashrut supervisors.

In Yokneam, three sons-in-law of municipal Chief Rabbi Michael Vaknin are employed as kashrut supervisors by the local religious council. The report said that this case was particularly severe since Vaknin serves not only as the central kashrut authority in Yokneam but also as the city’s kashrut inspector, whose role is to ensure the proper functioning of a city’s kashrut supervisors.

The Religious Services Ministry said in the wake of the publication of the report that the issues pertaining to extended periods of time spent by municipal chief rabbis abroad was due to misunderstanding and internal arguments about when a journey is considered part of rabbi’s job.

The ministry added that it will formulate regulations to clarify what trips are and are not included as part of a municipal chief rabbi’s work.


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