Court forbids Rabbinate ordination without exam

Lobbying organization: This is a good first step in making the test process fair and transparent.

Jerusalem chief rabbinate 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem chief rabbinate 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The High Court of Justice this week issued an interim injunction forbidding the Council of the Chief Rabbinate from ordaining anyone as a rabbi who has not passed the written exams usually required by the rabbinate. The injunction was requested by the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah (NTA) lobbying organization, which claimed in its High Court petition that the practice of ordaining rabbis who have not passed exams is not transparent and has been used in an unequal manner.
According to NTA, there are at least several dozen rabbis up and down the country serving as city, regional, neighborhood or local rabbis who have not passed the rabbinate’s qualification exams, but who nevertheless received rabbinic ordination from the Council of the Chief Rabbinate and were subsequently appointed to their public positions.
The ability of the council to ordain someone who has not passed the requisite exams was originally designed to allow for extremely well-qualified rabbis from outside Israel who immigrated to the country to bypass an unnecessarily lengthy examination process.
But NTA chairman Shmuel Shetah said that this capability has now been turned into “a tool to allocate jobs to those with connections to the rabbinate.”
Attorney Aviad Hacohen, who filed the petition on behalf of NTA, called the decision “a first step towards the goal of totally banning the circumvention of exams for ordination by the Chief Rabbinate.”
“It must be ensured that the examination process is equal for all, fair and transparent, and that ordination to be a rabbi in Israel is carried out according to [a person’s] abilities and not the strength of their connections.”
The injunction will remain in effect until the court rules on the matter. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate is legally permitted to ordain a person who has not passed the stringent rabbinate exams, but NTA claims that the process is open to abuse and that rabbis receiving such ordination invariably have personal or family connections to officials in the rabbinate.
NTA’s petition requests that “equitable criteria” be established for providing ordination for someone who has not passed the rabbinate’s exams, and also requested a list of rabbis who have received ordination without passing the tests.
NTA originally asked the rabbinate in 2010 to provide them with the criteria that a candidate for ordination without examination must fulfill, as well as for a list of such rabbis. The rabbinate was not forthcoming with the information.
The state’s response to the petition, filed in November this year, did however include the criteria.
They require that a candidate’s “lifestyle and character” be appropriate for serving as a rabbi; that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate be convinced that the candidate is an expert in fields pertaining to the duties of a municipal rabbi; and that the chief rabbis themselves approve the candidate.
The state’s response noted that the Chief Rabbinate is in the process of drawing up new criteria for such ordination and that it had voluntarily decided not to ordain any further rabbis in this manner until new procedures are approved by the council.
The state added that in the last two years the council had not ordained anyone who had not passed the exams.
To qualify as a city rabbi, one must pass 14 separate exams that are five hours in length and cost NIS 210. Usually a period of six or seven years of study in yeshiva is required.
Shetah welcomed the High Court injunction, calling it an important step, but added that deeper changes were needed to rectify the provision of religious services in Israel.
“We have to distance the rabbinate from politics in general, and give responsibility for appointing rabbis to the communities themselves,” Shetah said.
Rabbi Haim Sassi, a teacher in the Hesder Yeshiva in Sderot who successfully passed the rabbinates exams for ordination, applied for the position of city rabbi in a city in northern Israel in 2010.
His application was not accepted and the rabbi who was eventually appointed had received his ordination from the Council of the Chief Rabbinate without having passed the exams.
“It’s absolutely crazy that a rabbi can get a job as a rabbi through his personal connections,” said Sassi.
“It’s a joke that this kind of thing has to go to the High Court of Justice, it’s actually a desecration of God’s name, but the chief rabbis are making a joke out of the rabbinate,” he said.
The Chief Rabbinate told The Jerusalem Post that it was unable to comment on the matter since it is currently being dealt with in the High Court.