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RCV’s new president oversees own contract at MBD

September 3, 2014 – 1:33 pm11 Comments

By Yaron Gottlieb:


In the last month the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) elected a new president – Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, and was announced with the usual run of press releases and congratulatory articles in the AJN.

So what?

Well, they all seemed to miss the elephant in the room: Rabbi Gutnick is also a senior judge (dayan) on the Melbourne Beth Din (MBD).

The MBD was reformed a few years ago following some serious allegations of corruption (and worse). The new Beth Din was set up with many checks and balances that if they would be more than window dressing would be the best practice the world over. There is an appeals board, an independent board and no tenure for the dayanim.

It is in this last point that the problem arises: the contract of the dayanim has to be renewed every two years by two organisations – the COSV and the RCV.

That’s right – a judge on the Beth Din is president of the organisation that has the responsibility to renew his contract.

Now I know that there are many other things that the RCV do between the biennial meeting to renew contracts, and I do not think it would be necessary for the dayanim that sit on the RCV to resign, so long as they absent themselves from that particular meeting.

But to have one of the senior dayanim of the MBD sit as president of the RCV constitutes a major conflict of interest.

If a situation like this existed in the secular courts the public would be beating down the doors in protest, and it would be likely that any judges would have to resign from one of the two organisations. But in the Jewish community there is not a peep.

And this is where the scariest part of this comes in. I have mentioned this to several people. In all but one case the response ranged from resignation to irrelevance, and in the odd case the response was anger. No shock or disbelief.

We have reached the point where nepotism and conflict of interest is expected in our rabbis, and even accepted. This is the profession that is supposed to give us moral guidance, and they should be the best of us, but now we are happy to accept a lower standard than we would expect from the wider secular community.

Heaven help the world if we are indeed a light unto the nations and this is the direction we are giving.

And people wonder why I reject the title rabbi for myself.

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  • Joe in Australia says:

    I think you misunderstand the nature of conflicts of interest. They occur when someone has a personal interest that conflicts with their duty, such as when a judge owns shares in a company that is being prosecuted. I suppose it would be proper for Rabbi Gutnick to recuse himself when the RCV is actually voting on his salary or position, but in that respect he is no different from, say, a company director at a corporate meeting. It certainly has no bearing on his fitness as a dayyan: the best dayyanim will very often be congregational rabbis, and eliminating them would drive the Beth Din’s perspective to a less “hands on” rabbonim. I, for one, think this would be a very great pity.

  • I am surprised Yaron’s article has generated no response.
    Perhaps there is nothing to say to Yaron’s glaring revelation. There is no defence. There is not even a politically smart response to Yaron’s observation.

    Here is another dimension to consider – the rabbinate is becoming [is making itself] more and more irrelevant to and difficult to be respected by, the community. They are required for HM&D – just like the waiters are required for the catered service – as long as they get the job done and do not interfere with our celebration – let’s get on with our life and celebrations; we don’t give them a second thought.

    But I believe, there is a growing recognition of our ancient Heritage. There is an increasing desire and understanding that our traditions provide a very rich elixir to enhance our lives. The community seeks guidance and will find it elsewhere if our rabbis do not polish their [also self-tarnished] image.

    When our traditions have so much wisdom, and rabbis have such great opportunities to guide and invite the community to the inspiration of our ancients, surely there are those who posses the qualities, who we must invite to step forward, to be wise and honest ambassadors. They will be the creative and constructive builders who will illuminate the beauty of our abandoned heritage.

  • Elijah says:

    Dayan on Beth Din remunerated or receives other indirect benefit is reinstated by himself in position of power (possibly with remuneration or other indirect benefit) on a controlling body of the Beth Din.

    “I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
    Quote from John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton 1887

    Rabbi Rabi are you a case of the “pot calling the kettle black”.
    I of course refer to the appropriation of the famous stamp designer, G. Hamori’s work for your own benefit as the primary design of your hechsher certificate.
    Readers can visit Pitputim to read the article “Guest post on the propriety or otherwise of R’ Meir Rabi’s business practices”.

  • Joe in Australia appears to ignore the Halacha and Gemara, which disqualifies the High Priest from participating in the Beis Din that calculates the addition of a second Adar in order to ensure the lunar and solar years remain synchronised.

    Joe, do you know why the High Priest disqualified?

    It is because he has a conflict of interest.

  • R B says:

    (potentially defamatory material removed)

    Nepotism is an understatement when it comes to describing the presence of the (x) clan in the Melbourne Jewish community.

    And, regarding the Beth Din – can anyone tell why are all the Dayanim of the MBD Lubavichers? Why isn’t there even one Mizrachi/Modern Orthodox Dayan?

  • Probably closer to an “Old Boys Network” with nepotism as a garnish.

    Anyway, the real problem is that there is little desire and almost no need to respond to criticism, the rabbis and their associated lay leadership groups are, in spite of serving the community, a private business. There is no need for transparency. They do not need to answer our questions.

    My point however has not been addressed – the community is charged with the responsibility to find those who posses the qualities, who we must invite to step forward, to be wise and honest ambassadors. We must generate the community that seeks their guidance. They will be the creative and constructive builders who will illuminate the beauty of our abandoned heritage.

    But the task is onerous, the obstacles numerous and we are busy.

    So it will emerge as a natural process of engagement between those seeking guidance and those capable and willing to guide, meeting one another and developing – just as the present established communities established themselves in the past. The world does not change – very much, and only slowly.

  • Chaim says:

    Yaron -,conversely, did you ask yourself how other Rabbis would feel if you were to adopt the title “Rabbi” for yourself?

  • There is probably another factor – no-one wants to undertake those positions.

    There is little room to act freely and reflect true Halacha and Torah values, nor address the issues that trouble the community. Please try to imagine the discussions at one of these conventions. Is there one novel idea that is discussed? When is the last time a local Rabbi or a Rabbinical Council made an important announcement? Was it relevant, meaningful or just HoHum.

    And remember, there is a segment of the community that likes it that way, or could not care less about it.

    If there is an issue, has that not already been through the faceless people and the convention is merely rubber stamping the predetermined policy. Apathy. Why bother?

    Try to recall any arrangement in which the community interacts with the Rabbanim; are there any questions without notice?

    So the Rabbanim have little appetite and we, the community have grown apathetic and is motivated seek alternative approaches. Not necessarily such a poor outcome.

  • Menachem Shmoy says:

    Rabbi meir g rabi

    You are vineyard of sour grapes.

    R B . Why indeed aren’t there other Dayanim produced by Mizrachi and the modern orthodox?
    If they qualify, they might well be invited to join.
    There is such a thing as rotating dayanim within a community.

  • Avigael says:

    Thats normal for Australia. Complete lack of transparancy and accountablily on all levels. What else can one expect from Chabad only run organisations? If you want to complain about MBD – you can only to the Dayanim involved – and you cant complain about the Beth Din itself – only the administration. Who dreams this stuff up? Well they do, and they get away with it also. For now.

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