Rabbi loses tenure appeal

Rabbi Benzion Milecki.

FEARS that Sydney’s South Head Synagogue may have to sell its shule have been allayed after the NSW Court of Appeal ruled that Rabbi Benzion Milecki’s contract with the synagogue, as a company, did not include the Jewish legal principle of hazakah, life tenure.

In June last year, after he was dismissed by the shule’s administrators, a NSW Supreme Court Judge ruled he did have hazakah.

The ruling meant he could have claimed a substantial payout from the administrators, which could have resulted in the synagogue having to sell its property.

However, last week the NSW Court of Appeal found against Rabbi Milecki.

“It was not a term of the respondent’s contract of engagement with the second appellant that his appointment as rabbi could not be terminated otherwise than in accordance with the halachic or Orthodox Jewish legal principle of hazakah,” the NSW Court of Appeals judges said.

Rabbi Milecki told The AJN that he is considering his legal options.

“The Court of Appeal decided that the synagogue company, as opposed to the congregation, was not obligated to follow halacha,” said Rabbi Milecki.

Lamenting how the relationship he and his wife had with the community had deteriorated, he added, “We treated our congregation like family, opening our hearts and home to them, and preferring their interests over our own.

“We both worked days and nights, often through the nights, for the benefit of our congregants. We did so because we believed that we were family.

“We also assumed that our relationship with the Orthodox South Head Synagogue was based on halacha. Unfortunately it seems that we were wrong on both counts.”

Rabbi Milecki said it remains his position that the claims between the shule and himself should be decided by a Beth Din.

A long-standing member of the congregation told The AJN that last week’s Court of Appeal ruling will help the shule move forward.

“We won’t need to sell the shule and that is the most important thing,” said the member. “We hope that when everything is resolved with the rabbi and the company is restructured that the liquidator will be retired and the shule will be returned to the members.”

At a public meeting in February last year Rabbi Milecki proposed his solution to the shule’s financial crisis, that he be made CEO.

However the board did not accept his proposal and months later the shule was closed.

While the doors to the synagogue were closed, the secured creditors offered Rabbi Milecki more than $1 million on the condition that he had no control over the future of the shule. Rabbi Milecki did not accept the offer.