Ministry Flip-flops on Dismissal of Israel's Ethiopian Chief Rabbi

Religious Services Ministry now wants to extend tenure of Rabbi Yosef Hadane, after previously saying he had to leave office.

Rabbi Yosef Hadane
Religious Services Ministry

Following a day of public pressure on the Religious Services Ministry over its planned dismissal of the chief rabbi of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, the ministry is now seeking a way to extend his tenure.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Rabbi Yosef Hadane, the ministry's director general, Oded Flus, wrote that Minister David Azoulay (Shas) had instructed him to extend Hadane’s tenure by six months, until the end of February 2017.

The ministry had originally insisted that Hadane’s tenure had to end this August, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age for civil servants. Whereas the employment terms of municipal rabbis can be extended beyond the official retirement age, there is no such provision for civil servants, the ministry said.

The notice given to Hadane led many to suspect that the real reason was his confrontations with the Chief Rabbinate over the refusal of its branch in Petah Tikva to register the marriages of Ethiopian-Israeli couples, including those converted by the state’s conversion courts. An alternative theory held that he was being eased out due to disputes with other rabbis and kessim (religious elders) in the Ethiopian-Israeli community.

In Tuesday’s letter, the ministry stuck to its claim that Hadane, a civil servant with a status equal to that of a department head, cannot legally remain in office past the mandatory retirement age. There is no guarantee, Flus wrote, that he will be able to comply with Azoulay’s desire to extend Hadane’s term. Nevertheless, the ministry has asked the Civil Service Commission to make an exception in Hadane’s case, on the grounds that the extra six months are needed “to prepare his department” for the transition.

The decision to end Hadane’s term in office apparently sparked a dispute between Flus and Azoulay, in which the Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis were both on Azoulay’s side, at least publicly. It also sparked a media uproar.

In his letter, Flus wrote that he has “no interest at this stage in discussing the events of the past few days, and the issue will be discussed at a separate meeting.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) waded into the fray on Twitter, saying he had spoken with Hadane. “I urge all parties to find a solution quickly and not, heaven forbid, allow a rabbi to be ousted because of his battles on behalf of his community,” Bennett wrote.