'A rabbi isn't a headless nail you can't pull out'

In unusual move, West Bank rabbi announces referendum on his job

Rabbi Zeev Weitman’s reelection statement follows criticism of colleagues for allegedly lacking accountability

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Rabbi Zeev Weitman gives a lecture on a kosher dairy in Jerusalem, in 2019. (courtesy, Maor Hakashrut/YouTube)
Rabbi Zeev Weitman gives a lecture on a kosher dairy in Jerusalem, in 2019. (courtesy, Maor Hakashrut/YouTube)

The rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut, Zeev Weitman, announced earlier this month that he is running for reelection even though he can keep his job without a vote.

Weitman’s unusual statement coincides with a government debate about a bill that would regulate the position of a municipal rabbi, a salaried post that critics say has become a frequent source of corruption.

The current nomination process for municipal rabbis involves an election committee where half of the delegates are from the city councils and the remaining half are divided equally between local representatives called upon by the religious services minister and representatives from local synagogues. The process has become a reliable hub for partisan strong-arming and horse-trading that the Israel Democracy Institute and other critics maintain compromise democratic principles.

Once voted into office, a municipal rabbi is not required to run for reelection and many end up serving for decades until his retirement. This, the critics say, has severely eroded accountability and has led to negligence and apathy to criticism among some municipal rabbis and employees of their offices. Advocates of the current system have said it means rabbis do not need to pander to their communities, making them more effective clergymen.

Stopping short of delving into this debate in his reelection announcement, Weitmen wrote that “a rabbi isn’t supposed to be a headless nail that you can never pull out and replace with someone whom his congregation believes is better and more worthy than he — or at least better suited to the job,” according to religious news site, Kipa.

Weitman has served as Alon Shvut’s municipal rabbi since 2017. He is also a top rabbi at the dairy company, Tnuva.

Voting residents of Alon Shvut, which is home to some 3,000, may fill out a referendum on Weitman, as they cast their vote in the local election on October 31, Weitman wrote. If a majority want him gone, he will resign and make room for a successor, he added.

Israel has about 300 salaried municipal rabbis, including city and neighborhood rabbis, according to the Israel Democracy Institute. New legislation being promoted in the Knesset may triple that figure, the IDI has said.

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