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Shabbat Parashat Beshalach 5779

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

(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 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: [Last time we saw that def had no right to seize the charity money earmarked for pmc’s family’s NPO. Now we will look at the rules of job security and of punishing a rabbi who sinned.]

In general, there is a machloket among poskim whether one who hired a worker without setting an employment period is required to employ him indefinitely (Igrot Moshe, CM 74-77) or that this is not the case unless that is the local minhag (Chazon Ish, Bava Kama 23,1). Regarding the position of rabbi, there is much early discussion. The Rivash (271) rules that once someone has “control” over a rabbinic position, or any position of power, even if he de facto took the job himself, he may not be removed even if someone superior is found. The Rama (Yoreh Deah 245:22) accepts this view. This is so unless the local minhag is that a rabbi’s tenure is not necessarily permanent (Chatam Sofer, Orach Chayim 206).

However, the matter is different if the rabbi was found to have sinned. The gemara (Mo’ed Katan 17a) talks about whether to publicly punish (with nidduy) rabbis who developed a bad reputation on moral matters, and there appear to be different opinions. According to the Tur (YD 334) it depends how severe his sin was. The Beit Yosef (ibid.) says that another factor is how prominent the rabbi is (which impacts on the chillul Hashem of the public element). Another factor is whether the sins were committed publicly (see Radbaz 2078).

[Next time we will put these topics together and deal with removing the rabbi.]
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