South Head: rabbi’s termination void

June 22, 2017 by J-Wire
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A judge in the Supreme Court in Sydney has ruled the termination of Rabbi Benzion Milecki’s contract by the administrator of the South Head Synagogue is void.

Rabbi Benzion Milecki

Following a $1.5 million loan to the cash-strapped synagogue organised by entities associated with three members including the president, an administrator was appointed on April 26 who terminated the employment of Rabbi Milecki.

In a letter to members president James Hochroth wrote: “The most significant risk is that our bank – which was our only secured creditor – would seek repayment sooner rather than later. This potentially puts our property at risk of being sold up or falling into the control of persons unknown who may have differing objectives to those of the majority of members. Three members of the shul – Curtis Mann, Rodney Naumburger and myself – have each loaned (sic) $500,000 to pay out and replace the bank to alleviate this major risk to our property and kehillah.”

When the rabbi refused to sign a document which sought to bar him from preaching or involvement in discussions, he stopped attending the synagogue at which he had been the spiritual head for 32 years.

Security guards were posted by the administrators to bar him from attending the building.

The rabbi took the matter of his termination to law pointing out that the matter should have been heard by a Beth Din before his sacking was actioned.

Justice Brereton has ruled that the termination of Rabbi Milecki’s employment on April 26 is void  because “no properly constituted Din Torah had determined in accordance with Halacha that the termination of the Rabbi’s contract was justified on a ground recognised in Halacha”.

The judge further ruled that the administrator cannot terminate Rabbi Milecki’s contract until a properly constituted Din Torah has determined in accordance with Halacha that the  termination  of the  Rabbi’s contract was justified on a ground recognised in Halacha.

A member of the synagogue told J-Wire: “Now that this matter has been resolved we need to turn our attention to the survival of the Shul. The Administrator advised me that he is going to recommend to the next creditors’ meeting to be held in four weeks’ time on 20/7/2017 that the Synagogue be put into liquidation.”

The bank loan has been replaced by the three lenders from within the membership.

In April, Rabbi Milecki wrote to the members: “For over thirty-two years we have devoted our lives, our souls and our family to South Head Synagogue and its members and friends. We will we continue to do so. We will also continue to work for the viability of the shule even at our personal expense.” His legal representatives said at the time, the rabbi did not accept the termination process”.

In his judgement, Justice Brererton referred to a 1999 contractual document that “any irreconcilable disputes between Rabbi and congregation shall be decided according to Halacha.” The dayanim were to be decided by mutual arrangement or by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.” The judgement outlined the view that they were insufficient funds to pay Rabbi Milecki which income was forecast as $383,000 in this financial year.

Rabbi Milecki maintains “he has life tenure and can only be terminated following a judgement of a Din Torah.

Judge Brererton ruled “the  plaintiffs/cross-defendants  pay  the  defendant’s/cross-claimants costs”.

J-Wire has previously reported on the synagogue’s falling membership.

J-Wire has asked for statements from President James Hochroth and Rabbi Benzion Milecki. We await their responses.


11 Responses to “South Head: rabbi’s termination void”
  1. Clive Kessler says:

    He may have his rights, technically — under an unwise contract that these days would not be offered. But that a rabbi would be ready to bring a whole kehilla, his own, to perdition and extinction simply to uphold those rights, an archaic claim of privilege, and his individual ego condemns him.

    As a university professor I enjoyed “tenure” -– for what it is worth -– for decades. But there comes a time when you have to recognise that you have done what you can, you have achieved all that you ever will in that place. That you have had your chance, and that it is time to step aside and let someone with a fresh approach “have a go”.

    This practical wisdom holds good not only in universities. A careful reading of certain sections of Pirkei Avot will suggest that this kind of “dog-in-the-manger”/rabbi-forever-in-his-pulpit attitude has no moral justification or support.

  2. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

    why dont both parties approach a world renowned independent Beth Din to seek a binding resolution.

  3. Angela-Leah Vered says:

    My grandfather Emanuel Braham founded the South Head Shule which started with an English community in his home. The congregation grew and a cottage was purchased on the current site. The congregation grew further and the cottage demolished and a building erected which housed a still growing congregation. An overflow service behind the main building created a demand for a larger building an yet again the Shule was rebuilt . In my opinion the current financial situation is a result of a congregation which contracted an image too expensive to maintain prior to having an expanding congregation rather than having focused on why the Shule was needed in the first instance.

  4. Jo Kalowski says:

    Like him or not, Rabbi Milecki deserves better than this shabby treatment. After 32 years of loyal service, you don’t discard someone in this manner, and it should never have taken the Supreme Court to tell US, of all people, that this is no way to end a senior rabbi’s career. The whole episode brings shame on the community; those behind it should be ashamed of themselves.

  5. Peter says:

    As an outside observer I cannot judge the merits, but it seems that this is an awful outcome for what was once a magnificent and respected Shule. It is the responsibility of the Board of any organization to make sure it is financially viable. So the Board has to take primary responsibility. Whatever the merits or otherwise of this Rabbi, surely you cannot blame the Rabbi for the financial position of the synagogue. I also feel that whatever Board negotiated the original contract also should be held to account. Why would a Board grant effectively lifetime rights to any Rabbi? Maybe I am just not familiar with the way these things work, maybe that is normal, but not in any organization I have been involved in. On the other side, I think any Rabbi should respect the wishes of the members of the community and negotiate a graceful exit if in fact he is no longer wanted by the majority. It is hard to judge from the outside whether the Rabbi offered a reasonable compromise, but based on Press Reports it seems that the Rabbi may have asked for difficult conditions. All of that said, it amazes me that this could not have been stopped before it got to the Court. Maybe the most sensible way would be for everyone to have agreed that this be put to the decision of a super majority of members (for example). In return for that, the Rabbi would accept the decision of the members and agree a reasonable compensation amount if the members vote against him. He should also accept a reduced term of his contract if the members vote for him. The Board and Rabbi should let the members decide this one directly by secret ballot and move on to try to make the shule a success! Seems like a lack of compromise all round here.

  6. Rex Steiner says:

    So lets convert the Shul to a Chabad house

  7. Zac Ephron says:

    Who cares. Milecki is a has been.

  8. David Mills says:

    This article surprises me. Three members of the Synagogue loaned money to alleviate the risk of the bank foreclosing are the same members/creditors who hired the administrator and who hold the loan that will be putting the synagogue into liquidation.

    What risk did they avert if they are doing the same action they purported to avoid and how will they personally benefit from this liquidation where they are the creditors?

  9. Adrian Jackson says:

    When membership declines it is time to amalgamate with our institutions or close. In my suburb in Melbourne there is no Synagogue nor Mosque and three Christian churches have closed. The last one is just hanging on with a mostly older congregation.

  10. Harold says:

    The Shul hasn’t got a cent to rub together so how will it continue to be viable.The membership will decline so the only solution is to sell off it’s assets and/or go into liquidation.Rabbi Milecki will forever be known as the rabbi who won a battle and lost the war.He and previous Boards are equally to blame for this tragic state of affairs.

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