Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate has rarely, if ever, summoned a rabbi to a council meeting in order to determine whether or not to extend his tenure, ITIM religious services advocacy group said.
Citing official Chief Rabbinate documents the organization obtained after making legal demands for their release, ITIM pointed out this information on Wednesday, following the furor over the council’s Monday decision to call in Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin for a hearing on whether to grant him another five years in office.
Chief municipal rabbis appointed before 2007 may serve until the age of 75, which Riskin will shortly reach, but they can obtain a five-year extension if the Council of the Chief Rabbinate approves it.
Such extensions are usually a formality, and in the past the council’s approval has been quick, without the rabbi in question having to appear at a hearing, ITIM and others claim.
Riskin has strongly backed a conversion-reform law that the chief rabbis and the council have vehemently opposed, and that move has sparked the Chief Rabbinate’s ire.
ITIM recently made legal demands to obtain the protocols of the council’s monthly meetings, which are not available to the public or media. The documents include all council’s decisions – which require a simple majority in a formal vote at the council meetings – between 2008 and 2013.
According to ITIM, these documents – some of which The Jerusalem Post has also seen – show that in those five years, 23 rabbis had their terms extended, and that there was no decision to summon any of them for a hearing like Riskin’s. Furthermore, in those years, there was never a decision to deny a rabbi’s tenure extension.
ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber strongly criticized the Chief Rabbinate’s decision to summon Riskin, in light of its apparent policy of not doing so with other rabbis.
“The treatment of Rabbi Riskin is inappropriate and does not serve the interests of the people of Efrat, the rabbinate, or the Jewish people.
It makes a mockery of the religious authority and appears to be a case of political jockeying rather than a substantive issue,” said Farber.
He added that his organization “calls upon the rabbinate to review its decision to invite Rabbi Riskin for a hearing, and instead asks them to quickly affirm his tenure for the coming five years.”
In response to ITIM’s claims, a spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate noted that the 2008-2013 period had been before rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef were in charge of the rabbinate.
The spokesman said that when Lau had received his first extension request, from Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern, he had informed Stern that he had changed the rabbinate’s policy and that all municipal chief rabbis requesting tenure extension would now need to come in for a hearing and bring appropriate medical documents.
On Wednesday evening, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky issued a statement in support of Riskin.
“The Jewish people and particularly the people of Efrat deserve the continued service of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a Jewish leader and Israeli patriot,” he said. “Rabbi Riskin’s contributions to aliya, to building the State and Land of Israel, to connecting the Jews of the Diaspora to their homeland, and to connecting all Jews to the Torah are of historic proportions...
there should be no questions about his qualifications for his continued service.”
Rabbi Haim Druckman, one of the country’s most senior national-religious rabbis, also spoke out against the rabbinate’s treatment of Riskin.
“It is forbidden for the Council of the Chief Rabbinate to use its power regarding tenure extension for [a purpose for] which it is not intended,” said Druckman. “No one is obligated to agree with every position of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, but to deny him his position by using a formal reason regarding his age would be outrageous, and it would be impossible to reconcile oneself to such an injustice.”