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Municipal chief rabbis serve for decades, average age are pensioners

CM 05/09/2021

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The average period of tenure of a municipal chief rabbi is three decades, the average age of municipal chief rabbis is over the age of retirement, and all serve without term limits until at least the age of 75, and in numerous cases beyond.
The longest-serving municipal chief rabbi has held his office for the last 64 years, two municipal chief rabbis are 90 or older, seven are over 80, and one has a criminal conviction for witness tampering.
This is just some of the data revealed by statistics obtained by the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah organization from the Religious Services Ministry and seen by The Jerusalem Post.

There are some 88 municipal chief rabbi positions in cities and local authorities up and down the country, with significant authorities over religious services in their jurisdictions, including critical issues such as marriage registration, kashrut licensing and other issues, and in all cases they enjoy generous salaries.
But once elected by a special electoral body, municipal chief rabbis have the position for life without any term limit or any need for reelection.
They can serve up to the age of 70, with an option to extend their service until the age of 75, although those elected before 1974 have no mandatory age of retirement.
There are currently 14 municipal chief rabbis without any mandatory age of retirement.
This has led to a situation in which municipal chief rabbis can become disconnected from the residents of their cities, can verbally attack entire population groups without fear of consequence, and can even be convicted of severe crimes and remain in position, Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah argues.
The longest-serving rabbi currently is Rabbi Moshe Hadaya of Eilat, who was appointed in 1957, before the advent of the integrated circuitת at the age of 22 and has served in his post for the last 64 years.
Another seven rabbis have served for more than half a century, 17 have served for four decades and another 17 for three decades.
The average of a municipal chief rabbi is 68.5, a year and a half older than the statutory age of retirement.
There are also 11 cities where there are two chief rabbis, an Ashkenazi one and a Sephardi one.

SEPHARDI CHIEF RABBI Yitzhak Yosef speaks at a Shas Party election rally at the Yazdim Synagogue in Jerusalem last year. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)SEPHARDI CHIEF RABBI Yitzhak Yosef speaks at a Shas Party election rally at the Yazdim Synagogue in Jerusalem last year. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The minimum wage for a municipal chief rabbi is NIS 22,772 a year, or NIS 273,000 a year, for those who serve cities of up to 5,000 residents, while those serving in cities of over 250,000 people receive more than NIS 400,000 a year, or NIS 34,000 a month.
There is no mechanism to remove a municipal chief rabbi who is not functioning, such as Chief Rabbi of Rehovot Simcha Kook, who is 91 years old and has held his position for 49 years.
In order for religious services to continue being provided in the city, an acting municipal chief rabbi has been appointed in Kook’s place, although Kook continues to receive his salary.
And the Chief Rabbinate is extraordinarily reluctant to discipline errant rabbis.
So Rishon Lezion Chief Rabbi Yehuda Wolpe, age 90, has served in his post for 51 years, even after being convicted of witness tampering in 2018 after an employee in the local rabbinate filed a police complaint against him for alleged bribery
Wolpe remains in his job, however, since the Council of the Chief Rabbinate has refused to remove him from office.
In other situations, the municipal chief rabbi has turned against parts of the population he is meant to represent, and certainly supposed to serve.
In 2014, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar received votes during the tight election for the position from liberal and non-Orthodox representatives on the electoral body, and met with a prominent Conservative rabbi to secure this support.
In 2017, however, Amar denounced non-Orthodox Jews as worse than Holocaust-deniers, and described homosexuals as “a cult of abomination” and asserted they should get the death penalty according to Jewish law.
Tani Frank, head of the religion and state department of the religious-Zionist Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah lobbying group, which has advanced the cause of term limits for municipal chief rabbis, says these circumstances have led to a situation in which many municipal chief rabbis are simply disconnected from the public they are meant to serve, citing Amar as a prime example.
In order to reform the institution, NTA advocates for a term limit of 19 years for all municipal chief rabbis, with an option to be re-elected.
The organization also says that the position should be elected by the local municipal council and not the special electoral bodies that currently select municipal chief rabbis, since municipal councils more fairly represent the democratic makeup of the rabbi’s constituents.
These changes would make such rabbis more accountable to the public they serve, says Frank.
“If the rabbi is totally disconnected from the community, and on occasion, reality, it does not give honor to anyone,” said Frank.
“It is just so basic that there should be some accountability to the community that the municipal chief rabbis serve, in order to be their actual spiritual leader,” he continued.
“When you hold a public office, it is not reasonable that you can become an extremist without consequences.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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