The London Beth Din ordered the board of an Orthodox synagogue in Sydney to make a six-figure payout to a prominent rabbi it tried to lay off.
Last Friday’s ruling by the rabbinical court ends a bitter dispute between the Mizrachi Synagogue in Bondi and Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, who won an injunction in the New South Wales Supreme Court in March to stop synagogue members from voting on a resolution to lay him off.
In a statement, Gutnick, who worked part time as the synagogue’s rabbi while also serving as a judge on the Sydney Beth Din and rabbinic administrator of the New South Wales Kashrut Authority, said he had been “fully vindicated” by the ruling.
The synagogue’s board had argued that it could no longer afford to retain the services of the rabbi, who was first appointed to his post in 1987, due to financial difficulties.
But Gutnick had argued that he was granted life tenure, which entitled him to retain his salary until he is 80. The board argued there was never a formal agreement.
The Beth Din found that “at some point after September 1990 an agreement was reached that Rabbi Gutnick would be entitled to Life Tenure” and further in Paragraph 34 the Beth Din determined compensation “because of his employment on life tenure”.
Referring to the proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW, the Beth Din stated that “there are clear Halachic grounds for a claimant to recover his costs from a defendant, where, after a defendant has refused to attend a Din Torah for the resolution of a dispute, the claimant has taken action in the civil courts”.
The judges also found that “we are satisfied on the basis of the correspondence of the parties… that the Rabbi made repeated requests for a Din Torah and the Synagogue bluntly refused to attend.” Therefore, “the Rabbi is entitled to recover the costs of the Court proceedings from the Synagogue.”
The three judges ruled that Gutnick should receive his annual salary of $67,000 until he reaches the normal retirement age of 65 – a total of $1 million over 15 years. But because the synagogue is in dire financial straits, the ruling states that Gutnick should be paid $168,000 now and about $4,000 a month from 2012 until 2024.
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