Sydney Beth Din vs Melbourne shul

South Caulfield Hebrew Congregation.

A WAR has broken out between the Sydney Beth Din (SBD) and South Caulfield Hebrew Congregation after the SBD issued ‘a siruv’, an order, banning any rabbi, minister or member of the clergy from leading services at the shul.

The ruling, which the synagogue has declared “outrageous”, is the latest blow in the battle between the synagogue and its rabbi, Yacov Barber, who claims his position was effectively terminated earlier this year when the shul board sought to “drastically” reduce his duties and salary.

The board claims Rabbi Barber walked out on the congregation in protest, insisting it had treated him “fairly, with compassion and respect”.

The rabbi, who held the pulpit in South Caulfield for 27 years, referred the matter to the SBD.

A statement released by the shul last Sunday states, “Without conceding that SBD has any jurisdiction in the matter,” the shul “sought to facilitate Rabbi Barber’s choice of forum, so long as that forum respected and honoured the parties’ agreement to the applicable [Victorian employment] law”.

However, according to the statement, the Beth Din failed to follow “the usual procedure” of producing an arbitration agreement, which is for it to be drawn up by a zabla – two rabbis nominated by each of the parties and a third rabbi chosen by those two rabbis – instead relying on an agreement drawn up by Rabbi Barber himself.

According to the synagogue, the SBD set a deadline for the shul to accept the agreement which did not give the board enough time to suggest amendments to aspects they weren’t happy with and resolve disputed sections with Rabbi Barber.

When the shul did not meet the deadline, the SBD, which denies the shul’s account of the unacceptable timeline, issued the siruv, which states, “No rabbi, minister or clergyman is permitted to perform any service for the synagogue including any extracurricular activities other than the teaching of children in cheder.

“No board member will be permitted to have an aliyah or be counted to a minyan.”

The siruv added, “Any board member who does not want to be subject to these orders should resign from the board,” and concluded, “Rabbi Barber is now entitled to seek relief in any court or jurisdiction he desires with the full permission of the Beth Din.”

Describing the siruv as “outrageous”, the shul’s board noted that aside from synagogue services, the congregation “has hundreds of members with spiritual and pastoral needs which obviously must all be attended to. SBD’s orders would unduly interfere with the lives of … members in circumstances where neither they nor the … committee has done anything remotely justifying such orders.”

It concluded, that the congregation “does not regard the orders as valid or binding”, and “therefore intends to continue to operate and provide all its services to the community as usual”.

A spokesperson for the SBD confirmed that the rabbis who issued the siruv are Rabbis Moshe Gutnick, Yehoram Ulman and Michoel Chriqui. The spokesperson also clarified that the siruv does not apply to existing employees of the shul.

He added, “As in any judicial situation, it is of course inappropriate for the Beth Din to make any public comment especially as the matter is ongoing.”

Rabbi Barber declined to comment when contacted by The AJN.

ZEDDY LAWRENCE