Shule, rabbi fight it out in court

Former South Head Synagogue spiritual leader Rabbi Benzion Milecki.

THE administrator appointed to South Head Synagogue has commenced legal proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW.

Anthony Elkerton initially took the drastic step to seek a ruling that his appointment as administrator was valid, but that issue has now been resolved and the court will instead be asked to determine if Elkerton has the power to terminate the contract of Rabbi Benzion Milecki.

Elkerton has also asked the court to rule that Rabbi Milecki’s payout should be in line with Australian law.

Rabbi Milecki, who was the rabbi of South Head Synagogue for more than 30 years, was terminated by Elkerton when he was handed the synagogue by the board earlier this year.

Rabbi Milecki is fighting the case and, according to his lawyer Robert Tassell, has filed counter-claims in the Supreme Court of NSW.

Tassell claims that his client can not be dismissed by Elkerton without the involvement of a Beth Din (Jewish court).

“He has always said as a matter of law, the intersection between common law and the Jewish law, that he cannot be dismissed from that position except if a properly constituted Beth Din finds there are grounds for that,” Tassell said.

“That is, we say, an express term written in his contract.”

Tassell also said that Rabbi Milecki has always asserted that he has chazakah, which is life tenure.

The difference, in financial terms, between chazakah and Australian law could be more than $1 million.

The AJN understands that Rabbi Milecki was offered more than $1 million to leave South Head Synagogue.

After a payout could not be agreed upon, and when Rabbi Milecki asserted that he had chazakah, the board called in Elkerton as administrator on April 26.

Two days later, Elkerton wrote to shule members that he had terminated the rabbi’s contract.

“During the administration period the administrators are personally liable for each and every debt incurred by the Synagogue that they have agreed to being incurred,” Elkerton wrote to members.

“For this reason following a review of the Synagogue’s financial position and projected cash flows that I made the decision to terminate the employment of Rabbi Milecki.

“I formed the view that the costs of employing the Rabbi are such that cash flow would be negative during the administration period and I would be assuming a potential personal liability.”

The matter is due to return to court on June 15, when the hearing will take place.