The High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction that forbids the Council of the Chief Rabbinate from ordaining anyone as a rabbi who has not actually passed the required written exams. The Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah (NTA) organization petitioned the court, claiming that the Council’s practice of ordaining rabbis who have not passed the required written exams is not transparent and has been used unequally to dole out patronage jobs to unqualified friends, relative and cronies.
High Court Issues Injunction To Stop Chief Rabbis From Doling Out Patronage Jobs To Unqualified Friends, Relatives and Political Cronies
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Earlier this week, the High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction that forbids the Council of the Chief Rabbinate from ordaining anyone as a rabbi who has not actually passed the required written exams. The Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah (NTA) organization petitioned the court, claiming that the Council’s practice of ordaining rabbis who have not passed the required written exams is not transparent and has been used unequally to dole out patronage jobs to unqualified friends, relative and cronies, the Jerusalem Post reported.
In 2010, NTA asked the rabbinate to provide it with the criteria that a candidate for ordination must fulfill to be ordained without taking the written exams. NTA also asked for a list of rabbis ordained without taking the written exams.
The Chief Rabbinate refused to answer either question, leading to NTA’s High Court Petition.
In November 2012, the state was forced to answer NTA’s petition before the High Court. It claimed the criteria were: that the candidate’s “lifestyle and character” be fitting for service as a rabbi; that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate believe that the candidate is an expert in fields that pertain to duties of a city rabbi; and that the chief rabbis themselves must approve each candidate.
The state’s response also reportedly noted that the Chief Rabbinate is in the process of drawing up new criteria and that it had voluntarily decided not to ordain any more rabbis without written testing until the new procedures drawn up and are approved by the Chief Rabbinate’s Council.
The state also claimed that no new rabbis had been ordained without taking written tests during the past two years – approximately since NTA’s attempts to stop the process began to become public.
To receive the level of ordination required to hold the job of a city rabbi, a man must pass 14 separate written exams that the Post reports are “five hours in length and cost NIS 210 [$56].” [While the Post’s language isn’t clear, usually these tests are taken over a period of months or even years.] Usually it takes about six or seven years of yeshiva study to master the material.
NTA reportedly claims there are several dozen rabbis at the very least who are serving as city, regional, neighborhood or local rabbis in locations across the country who have not passed the Rabbinate’s written qualification exams but who were given rabbinic ordination by the haredi-controlled Rabbinate’s Council nonetheless.
According to the Post, the Council’s right to ordain someone who has not passed the requisite written exams was meant to allow it to quickly approve extremely well-qualified rabbis from the Diaspora who immigrated to Israel so they could assume state-funded rabbinical jobs in Israel.
NTA chairman Shmuel Shetah reportedly said that this well-meaning attempt to integrate Diaspora rabbis has been turned by the haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate into “a tool to allocate jobs to those with connections to the Rabbinate.” NTA claims that the process frequently abused and that rabbis ordained without taking the notoriously difficult written tests almost always have personal or family connections to officials in the Chief Rabbinate.
Aviad Hacohen, the attorney who filed the petition for 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 remains in effect until the High Court rules on the petition. No hearing has yet been scheduled.
NTA’s Shetah welcomed the High Court injunction, and called it an important step. But he also added that deeper changes were needed to fix the problems with delivery 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 reportedly said.
Appointments for these positions are often made through the Chief Rabbinate or though regional religious councils in coordination with the Rabbinate.
And that often leads to seeming bizarre decisions, as Rabbi Haim Sassi, a teacher in the Zionist Orthodox Hesder Yeshiva in Sderot, reportedly found out when he applied for the job as rabbi of a city in Northern Israel in 2010.
Sassi successfully passed the Rabbinate’s brutal written exams, received his special Rav Ha’Ir ordination, and applied for the position.
But his application was rejected by the Rabbinate.
Instead, a rabbi who did not take the written exams was reportedly hired for the state-funded job.
“It’s absolutely crazy that a rabbi can get a job as a rabbi through his personal connections. 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,” Sassi told the Post.
The Chief Rabbinate declined to comment, telling the Post that it could not while the matter was currently being litigated.
[Hat Tip: Seymour.]