Ministry of Religious Services considering firing Chief Rabbi of Rishon LeTzion

Rabbi Wolpe has repeatedly referred those seeking to clarify Jewish status to private organizations rather than letting rabbinical courts decide.

By
December 24, 2013 17:14
2 minute read.
Eli Ben-Dahan

Eli Ben Dahan 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi) has said that his ministry is considering whether to fire Rishon Lezion Rabbi Yehuda David Wolpe.

Such a step would be unprecedented since there is no disciplinary process in place for municipal chief rabbis, although The Jerusalem Post understands that the ministry is in the final stages of drafting a bill to rectify this situation.

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Wolpe has drawn the attention of the ministry for continually refusing to act in accordance with the guidelines of the Chief Rabbinate with regard to registering people for marriage in Rishon Lezion.

Particularly problematic is his ongoing referral of individuals to private organizations to clarify their Jewish status.

Jews seeking to marry in Israel are required to provide documentation proving they are Jewish. In some cases, however, the proper documentation, such as a marriage certificate of their parents, is not available or is problematic.

Of the approximately 42,000 marriages every year in Israel, more than 10 percent require clarification of the Jewish status of at least one of the spouses. Immigrants from the former Soviet Union in particular frequently encounter difficulties proving their Jewish status because of the lack of documentation stemming from the Communist regime’s repression of Judaism.

The correct procedure is for the marriage registrar, usually the chief municipal rabbi of the jurisdiction, to turn to the regional rabbinical court to clarify the Jewish status of a person who lacks the appropriate documentation.

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That rabbinical court can ask a private organization with expertise with this issue to investigate further.

Wolpe, however, has frequently referred people directly to private organizations without consulting the rabbinical court.

In response to a parliamentary question submitted by Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon, Ben-Dahan informed her that “the ministry is examining the continued employment of Rabbi Wolpe.”

He added that the director- general of the ministry sent a request to the Council of the Chief Rabbinate several weeks ago to appoint a replacement marriage registrar for Rishon Lezion while the ministry conducts its investigation into Wolpe.

A spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate said, however, that the request had not yet been received.

As the Post reported earlier this year, the ITIM religious services advice and lobbying group petitioned the High Court of Justice back in February on behalf of a couple who had been referred to one such organization, to force Wolpe to halt this practice.

That case was settled in favor of the couple without a High Court ruling, and Wolpe has continued to refer people to the private organization, called Am Levadad.

Rabbi Seth Farber, the director of ITIM, who is Orthodox, welcomed Ben-Dahan’s comments.

“It’s not acceptable that rabbis who serve in senior positions for public authorities [act in] contempt of the state and it’s institutions,” said Farber.

“Rabbi Wolpe persistently demonstrates a hostile attitude to immigrants from the former Soviet Union, in a city in which a fifth of the inhabitants are immigrants, and works to further a personal agenda, while at the same time humiliating and scorning people who turn to him.

It is fitting that he should end his tenure in public service and that the Ministry for Religious Services puts an end to [the phenomenon] of sending people to private investigators in Rishon Lezion and other regional religious councils.”

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