Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dismissing the Rabbi by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Five Towns Jewish Times    “How could you have voted against renewing the Rabbi’s contract? He visited my mother when she was in the hospital and took such good care of her! She adored him.  He buried your father!  He Bar Mitzvahed all three of the kids.  Husband, have you no shame?”

“Yes dear, but the other shul is growing more and more popular.  If our shul will continue to survive we need to bring in someone younger, and more dynamic.”

Invariably, the above conversation has taken place in one form or another all over the country, throughout the centuries, and across continents.  Jews, however, have always turned to Halacha for guidance in all matters.  Is there then halachic guidance about renewing the contracts of our providers of halachic guidance? [...]

But things are not always what they seem.

The Aruch HaShulchan writes (YD 245:29) that even though the Rabbi was only hired by the town for a certain number of years, nonetheless, they may never fire him.

There are some Poskim (Ohel Moshe CM 26) who understand that this is the intent of the Ramah, since Part II B of the Ramah seems to contradict Part II A.   How so?  Part B seems to clearly be addressing a city where the custom is to allow hiring for specific periods of time.  If so, what is this further qualification?

These Poskim state that the new Rabbi may not take over the income-producing aspects of the job that the previous person had.  He may, however, take new ones (see Ohel Moshe). [...]

But does he have no leg to stand on whatsoever?  Aside from some untoward or unseemly activity on the part of the pulpit Rabbi, is there no other manner in which he can be dismissed?
There may be an alternative method to resolving the seemingly contradicting clauses in the Ramah.  It could be that the Ramah is saying in Part IIB that even though the congregation has accepted upon themselves this lower status of a Rav, one with only a set time – do not think that this can give others license to come into town and compete with the Rav in any manner.  He is still considered to be a full-fledged Rabbi – notwithstanding the fact that there is a set limit to his term.  Thus far, however, this author has not found any of the Achronim that read the Ramah in this manner.

One can also make an argument that the Aruch HaShulchan and the position of the other Achronim were discussing the situation in Europe where the prevailing Minhag may have been never to discontinue with a Rav even if one had contracted for a set period of years.  Here in America, one can perhaps argue that the prevailing custom is to follow contract law and, sometimes to not renew the contract.  So it could very well be that things are different in America.

Finally, we find that Rav Shternbuch (Teshuvos v’Hanhagos Vol. II #722) does make a qualitative distinction between a Rabbi who takes the mantle of Psak Halacha on his shoulders and teaches Torah to the masses (as has been the role of a Rav in Israel from generation to generation) and a Rabbi whose main purpose is to speak at funerals, weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and in shul on the Shabbos and holidays.  Rav Shternbuch writes that it should be comparable to the citation of the Yerushalmi “Av Beis Din she’sarach ain moridin oso – An Av Bais Din who stumbled – we do not forcibly remove him.”  He writes that the Rabbi must be somewhat comparable to an Av Bais Din in terms of his ability to rule.

Nonetheless, he concludes that even in the case of someone who does not fit into that definition per se, should be treated with respect and not be dismissed until he finds some other suitable and respectable position.

Whatever the case may be, they should come to a mutually acceptable accord, for all three reasons mentioned above – that leadership should continue in Israel, that it is something belonging to another that cannot be taken away and that we only lift up things in matters of Kedusha and we do not lower. a


  1. > Jews, however, have always turned to Halacha for guidance in all matters.

    Then the board of governors of a shul is not Jewish!

    1. "Then the board of governors of a shul is not Jewish!"

      Yes, why does the president and vice president of the shul make all of the arrangements for the Shabbos morning kiddush?!? That should be the Rabbi's job. How do I know if the chulent is kosher if it was ordered from the caterer by a board member? And what about the babysitting during Yomim Noraim davening? The Rabbi should be the one to work out the details with all the parents and babysitters. How else will I know that the davening will remain quiet and the kids will be safe?

  2. chatam sofer was also vehemently against dismissing / not renewing a rabbi's contract.

    that said, many rabbi positions (in america) are understood to be temporary (a few years, subject to contract renewal, etc.) a few such issues are is the rabbi "up to date" with the community, has the community changed, is the positions just a stepping stone to "greater" positions (whatever greaster means.), does the community provide adequate support serrvices to the rabbi (often, small, and not so small communities, lack proper education for the rabbi's children. recently, a YCT rabbi left his position for this reason, so its not necessarily a yeshivish / charedi vs MO (or LWMO, in this case) issue.

    also, there is a lack of dissonance -- the rabbi is allowed to cancel / not renew his contract, while the community cannot not renew?

    all this said, is the rabbi being led out due to halachic or other issues?

    1. If we know the Rabbi is going out on interviews, and is ready to leave us, why can't we dump him if we find a better deal?

  3. another option some synagoges do is continue paying the rabbi, while hiring a new one. (costs $$$, but ...)

    also, i see the article does mention chatam sofer. sorry.


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