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Shabbat Parashat Toldot 5776

P'ninat Mishpat: Bribery in Rabbinate Election

(based on Shut Chatam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat 160)

Case: The members of a certain community agreed on four candidates for the position of rabbi. Whoever’s name would be taken out of the ballot box was to be the subject of a vote to see if a majority supported him. The first two candidates whose name arose failed to receive a majority. The third candidate received a majority. Rumors circulated that bribes were given to oppose the first candidates and support the third. A letter, from a member of the community to his brother who lives in the city from which the winning rabbi came, was seized. It contained a demand for payment to a group of people from members of the elected rabbi’s hometown based on previous promises of payment. The members of the community were at odds over what to do and enlisted the Chatam Sofer to guide them.


Ruling: We must distinguish between cases in which there are two kosher witnesses (not from the people of the community, their relatives or relatives of the rabbi) that bribes were given and other cases. If there are kosher witnesses, the election results are void. Even though one votes for whom he desires and it is not a matter of identifying truth, votes must be cast based on sincere intentions (see Rama, Choshen Mishpat 163:1). As the Torah tells us, bribes blind one’s judgment. 

Not only is the selection of the third candidate void, but so are the rejections of the first two candidates, which could have been due to the bribes. Even if only a minority of people were bribed and there was a majority for the third candidate without tainted votes, one can still attribute some of the votes on his behalf to the fact that the first two candidates had been eliminated. Even if a dayan who received pay to serve is invalid only Rabbinically, one who was bribed is certainly invalid based on Torah law, and one who is invalid to serve as a dayan due to sins may not serve in a communal post.

If there are witnesses that the rabbi was involved in the scheme, he cannot serve as rabbi, even if he was otherwise fit, until it is proved that he has fully repented. However, if suspicions were substantiated only regarding associates of his, the rabbi maintains his presumption of innocence, and since he was chosen by consensus to be a candidate, he remains one. Thus, they should redo the election.

Those who received bribes are not permitted to take part in another election process until they can demonstrate they have repented, and they must swear that they will never act similarly again. In any case, they may not take part in these elections, after they already expressed an opinion in an invalid manner, which affects their opinion. Even if the disqualified form a majority, the elections will be handled by the remainder, as the consensus already approved the candidates, and in any case, there is no choice.

If there are no witnesses to anything, the rabbi should not lose his position without evidence. If someone admitted to receiving a bribe, he must return the money to its source, but he is not believed that he did this act of evil or that the rabbi is disqualified. The letter that was intercepted is not proof of wrongdoing on behalf of the rabbi [Ed. note- it is not clear to me if this is because it could have been planted by opponents of the rabbi.] On the other hand, a cherem can be made on anyone who knows of wrongdoing and does not reveal it. I have not written the source of each detail because many of them are simple.

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