New car for rabbi sends sparks flying at council

The outraged council workers say they are fighting to be paid their low monthly salaries and are struggling to make ends meet.

Despite a difficult financial situation at the Haifa religious council, council chiefs have chosen to spend NIS 138,000 to buy a new car for Haifa's chief Sephardi rabbi Shlomo Chelouche, reports the Hebrew weekly Yediot Haifa. The purchase has outraged many council workers, who say they are fighting to be paid their low monthly salaries and are struggling to make ends meet. According to the report, the Finance Ministry has withheld funding to the council and it has been battling to pay employees' salaries. Yet council head Moshe Shtetman recently purchased a new Chevrolet Malibu for the chief rabbi, saying that doing so would "provide significant savings, because as long as the honorable rabbi drives in an old car, the cost of repairs is much higher." Shtetman said that legally the chief rabbi was entitled to change vehicles every 150,000 kilometers or every three years, and yet the rabbi had been driving his current car for six years and had notched up more than 300,000 kilometers. "It should be emphasized that the chief rabbi does not receive a salary from the religious council and the only benefits we give him are a car, a driver and a secretary," Shtetman said. "There is no connection between the difficult financial situation of the religious council's employees, which stems from the Finance Ministry's policy towards us, and the rabbi's new car." But religious council employees were not soothed. "I earn just NIS 3,600 per month and from this I am supposed to support a family," one long-standing worker said. "Every day I hear only about the struggles to obtain a budget for a car for the honorable rabbi, but I do not hear about any struggle for how we can live respectably. The time has come for our crisis to be heard. People who work for the religious council do hard, important and responsible jobs and provide religious services for an entire city, and barely manage to live."