Religious-Zionist movement Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Chief Rabbinate on Wednesday, demanding that it set clear, equal and uniform criteria for the ordination of rabbis who have not taken written exams, particularly city rabbis.
The movement and its executive director, Shmuel Shattah, also requested that the public receive the names of all rabbis who have been given certification to serve as city rabbis without taking a written exam, from 1983 to this day.
The movement's representative, Attorney Aviad Hacohen, demanded that in the meantime the court issue an interim order prohibiting the Rabbinate to exempt applicants from taking written exams until the High Court delivers its ruling in regards to the petition.
The petition was filed in response to ordinations granted to rabbis who were not required to take written exams, according to the movement, "while practicing discrimination and arbitrariness, and seriously impairing the basic principle of equal opportunities and freedom of occupation for those planning to serve in the Rabbinate."
The movement argued that the Chief Rabbinate Council was ordaining its associates through this "loophole."
"Through this gate, which is wide open, enter not only righteous people and outstanding scholars – but sometimes also rabbis whose competence to serve is questionable… including rabbis who have failed exams," the petition stated.
According to information received by the petitioners, "Sometimes, the applicant receives the 'authorization' to serve as a rabbi within weeks or months - thanks to his personal connections rather than his skills."
The petitioners noted that "the shortcut" was designed in the first place for unusual cases, but soon became "the highway."
They noted that as far as they knew, since the State's establishment, dozens or even hundreds of rabbis have received a certification to serve in the Rabbinate – or as city rabbis – without being required to take these exams.
"In the absence of full transparency, the content of the exam, as well as its length and difficulty, are vague, creating serious concerns of favorable treatment," the petition stated.
The Rabbinate refuses to provide data on the number of applicants who pass the test, but according to information obtained by the petitioners, the number stands at about 100%, raising suspicions of unequal treatment in the oral exam. The refusal to publish criteria prevents proper criticism, the petition claimed.
Dr. Aviad Hacohen said after submitting the petition that "the defective practice of 'shortcuts' must end immediately, and every person applying to serve in the Rabbinate must be required to pass equal and similar exams."
According to Hacohen, "Every public leader – all the more so a rabbi in Israel
– must make sure that there is no stain on his hands and that his skills, rather than his connections, will serve as the examination for his appointment.
"Taking a discriminatory policy toward certifications granted to rabbis impairs the basic value of equality, which is a key value both in democracy and in Jewish Law, and humiliates the rabbinical institution."