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Shabbat Parashat Yitro 5779

P'ninat Mishpat: Removing a Less than Honest Rabbi part III

(based on ruling 70064 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def) has served as the rabbi of a shul for twenty years. He is paid 5,300 shekels a month and has the right to perform mechirat chametz; he is responsible for certain rabbinic functions, such as giving shiurim and answering questions. After the death of a prominent member of the community (=pmc), his family asked def to lobby for a room in the shul to be named after him. Def agreed but demanded $5,000 for his lobbying efforts. After the shul accepted the proposal, pmc’s family was told that the decision had been unanimous and obvious to board members, prompting them to refuse to pay def, who had claimed that it was a difficult task. The shul used to give tzedaka funds to an NPO run by pmc’s family and around this time, the NPO stopped receiving money from the shul. It turned out that def managed to detour the money to himself in lieu of payment he deemed due to him by the family. Pmc’s family sued def in a beit din, which ruled that def should keep $2,000 and return $3,000. The shul’s board (=pl) demand that, considering def’s moral failings, def should be removed as the shul’s rabbi. Def defended his right to the payment, partly by saying that he was poor enough to deserve the support of the family’s NPO, and apologized for part of the way he went about it.


Ruling: [After background discussion, we get to the practical decision.]

The general approach of the poskim is that an individual sin that was committed privately and does not directly affect the ability of the rabbi to function is not grounds for dismissal. The Divrei Malkiel (III,172), talking about a shamash who broke a rule in officiating a wedding, stressed the matter of a failing being a one-time event, as opposed to a trend. The Mishneh Halachot (IX,317) validates the possibility of a candidate for rabbanut repenting for a sin. There are thus times that a rabbi can even be sanctioned but not removed permanently from a position for which he has been proven to perform capably overall.

On one hand, we do not believe that def should be removed from his position. On the other hand, beit din concludes that def was never given the post of THE rav of the shul, but of A rav who functioned within the shul. Therefore, now that the beit knesset has grown to include populations that are not native Hebrew speakers, a rabbi to deal with that population can be hired (based on Rama, Yoreh Deah 245:22). While some disagree (see Meishiv Davar II:9), this seems so only when the new appointment reduces the first rabbi’s livelihood (see Shut Chatam Sofer, YD 230).

Def can continue to sell chametz, as he had done, but he must not handle the moneys involved. In general, he should not be involved in any collection or dispersion of money, as this is not an essential part of his job. The officers of the beit knesset should review the rules of proper handling of funds by an NPO and restore the members’ confidence in their scrupulousness in this area. Both sides must immediately cease speaking negatively one about the other, which undermines the mainly successful efforts to enhance the religious communal life of the beit knesset.

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