SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – 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 cash-strapped 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.
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 three judges ruled that although there was no “clear indication as to what was agreed between the parties,” 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 facing financial ruin, the judges then ruled that Gutnick should be paid $168,000 immediately and about $4,000 a month from 2012 until 2024.
The judges also said Gutnick is entitled to recover costs incurred during the injunction proceedings because the synagogue board “bluntly refused” to resolve the issue in front of a rabbinical court “despite repeated requests.”
Gutnick is the brother of Joseph Gutnick, who was a special emissary of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe and a close confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.