Watchdog calls to clarify criteria for city rabbi appointments

Watchdog calls to clarif

In a move to reduce the mixing of politics with religious appointments, a legal issues watchdog threatened this week to petition the High Court of Justice against the Religious Services Ministry unless the ministry publishes clear criteria for the appointment of Sephardi and Ashkenazi city rabbis. In a letter to Religious Services Minister Ya'acov Margi (Shas), the Movement for Fairness in Government demanded an immediate freeze in all rabbinic appointments until the ministry explained the criteria it used for deciding when to appoint a Sephardi or an Ashkenazi rabbi or both. There has been much controversy over whether there is a need for two chief city rabbis - one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi. Some argue that it is important to maintain the two distinct traditions. Others say that taxpayers should not have to pay two salaries and that one rabbi can provide religious services for everyone. In 2007, former religious services minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) amended the directives for the choosing of two rabbis for a city. According to Cohen's amendment, the "character" of the city would determine when to appoint a Sephardi rabbi and when to appoint an Ashkenazi. In the past the municipality voted on the issue. The amendment takes the decision out of the hands of the municipality and puts it in the hands of the religious services minister. The municipality has a vested interest in appointing only one rabbi in order to cut costs. Religious parties, on the other hand, have an interest in increasing the number of jobs they can offer to their constituency. But attorney Mordechai Eisenberg head of the Movement for Fairness in Government believes the wording of the amendment is unclear and allows the religious services minister too much leeway. "What does it mean that a city has a character that necessitates the appointment of a Sephardi rabbi?" asked Eisenberg. "That makes no sense whatsoever." The Religious Services Ministry said in response that Margi had yet to have the opportunity to see Eisenberg's letter since he was out of the office all day. Margi said that he would read the letter and answer it in a thoughtful way on Thursday. Eisenberg also demanded that in cases where there are two chief rabbis - Sephardi and Ashkenazi - there would be a clear allocation of duties. "When two rabbis share responsibilities it is a recipe for infighting and dispute," said Eisenberg, whose organization specializes in religious issues. "Each rabbi must receive his own duties and know when he is interfering with the duties of someone else."