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Rabbi goes to court over layoff

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A prominent Sydney rabbi took his cash-strapped Orthodox synagogue to court over a vote to lay him off.

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick won a last-minute injunction in the New South Wales Supreme Court against the board of the Mizrachi Synagogue after it called an extraordinary general meeting for Tuesday night to address the congregation’s financial crisis with a vote on a motion to make his position redundant.

On Tuesday, Justice Richard White ordered Gutnick and the board of the Bondi-based synagogue to resolve their dispute “by a Jewish tribunal in accordance with Jewish law.”

Gutnick, who has led the congregation for more than 20 years, said he took legal action because the synagogue board rejected his request for the matter to be dealt with under Jewish law in a rabbinical court.

Synagogue president Mark Schneider said the board did not agree to follow the halachic process because it did not believe it was engaged in a contractual dispute.
He said the synagogue’s “precarious financial position” — it has an annual operating deficit of about $25,000 — meant it could no longer afford to retain a rabbi.

Otherwise, Schneider said, they would have to sell the Torah scrolls, which was “not an option.”

White ordered Gutnick to forego his salary until the dispute is resolved by rabbinic arbitration.

In a statement, Gutnick said he was “gratified that the Supreme Court respects and recognizes Jewish law.”

He is the brother of Rabbi Joseph Gutnick, a close confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was widely credited for the “Bibi is good for the Jews” campaign that helped swing the 1996 Israeli election in favor of the Likud leader.

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