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Beit Midrash Series P'ninat Mishpat

Chapter 490

Removing a Less than Honest Rabbi – part I

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.
Various RabbisShvat 2 5779
9
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Based on ruling 70064 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts
P'ninat Mishpat (576)
Various Rabbis
489 - Undelivered Windows – part III
490 - Removing a Less than Honest Rabbi – part I
491 - Removing a Less than Honest Rabbi – part II
Load More

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: [First we will look at the propriety of def’s actions or the lack thereof.]

The request for $5,000 for lobbying, especially when it proved to be largely unnecessary, is exaggerated. Although it is hard to put a set price tag on such an action, it certainly is forbidden to receive money based on a misrepresentation of the situation. Similarly, even if def might have deserved the support of pmc’s family’s NPO, this must not be accomplished through deceit. While pl claims that this makes def a thief, who is unfit to serve as a witness, as a beit din ruled that he did not deserve $5,000, that categorization is exaggerated. We do not have evidence that def did not think he deserved the money, which is plausible even if wrong.

While def admits to have diverted funds to himself, he argues that it is permitted to seize funds due to him, based on the right to take the law into one’s hands (see Choshen Mishpat 4). The gemara (Moed Katan 17a) does say that a talmid chacham can take such action when he knows that he is owed money. However, many commentaries explain that this does not increase the rights to seizure for a talmid chacham, but only allows a talmid chacham to the same rights in this regard as others. In the case of a tzedaka fund that withheld its fundraiser’s salary, the Mishneh Halachot (XVII, 116) allows him to keep some of the money he collected, but makes it conditional on informing them that he is doing so, so that it not appear that he is stealing.

In this case, def misused the right to seizure for several reasons: 1. It was unclear that he deserved the money; 2. The money was due not to pmc’s family but to an NPO they run, which definitely did not owe money to def. 3. It involved forging checks, which is illegal and therefore an invalid act even if seizure were permitted.

[We continue next time with consequence for def.]
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