A se­nior rabbi’s lu­cra­tive leav­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS/ -

Ihave more than once in this col­umn drawn at­ten­tion to the in­dif­fer­ent qual­ity of the in­dif­fer­ent man­age­ment that has been one of the most out­stand­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of An­glo-Jewish com­mu­nal lead­er­ship. In so do­ing, I have been forced to won­der why it is that oth­er­wise ra­tio­nal peo­ple, of proven abil­ity and (of­ten) ex­cep­tional achieve­ment in what­ever worldly pur­suits they have pur­sued, seem to have lit­tle dif­fi­culty in dis­card­ing all this wis­dom and good sense when it comes to or­der­ing com­mu­nal af­fairs.

A year ago, I fea­tured the em­bar­rass­ing ef­forts of those in charge of the Stan­more Syn­a­gogue to choose a suc­ces­sor to Rabbi Dr Jef­frey Co­hen. I have also had the Union of Ortho­dox He­brew Con­gre­ga­tions in my sights — its mul­ti­ple in­com­pe­ten­cies be­ing all the more won­drous be­cause it con­tin­ues to be­lieve that its man­age­ment op­er­ates be­hind closed doors, whereas (in fact) th­ese in­com­pe­ten­cies are the stock-in-trade of ev­ery charedi gos­sip in town. My own Fed­er­a­tion of Syn­a­gogues has fea­tured more than once in my list of com­mu­nal bun­glers.

All th­ese ex­am­ples ought to have in­ured me against any oth­er­wise un­der­stand­able shock should fur­ther ex­am­ples come my way. But they haven’t. The story I have now to tell is breath­tak­ing. And it pos­sesses no hint of the re­deem­ing com­edy that has char­ac­terised some of the other tales I have told.

Some weeks ago, the Span­ish & Por­tuguese Jews’ Con­gre­ga­tion (SPJC) an­nounced the im­pend­ing re­tire­ment of one of its most se­nior rab­bis, Dayan Pin­chas Toledano.

From time to time, the SPJC has ap­pointed a Ha­ham — its own Chief Rabbi. But when the last Ha­ham, the late Rabbi Dr Solomon Gaon, re­signed in 1977, the Con­gre­ga­tion could not agree on a suc­ces­sor.

The older SPJC fam­i­lies favoured Rabbi Dr Abra­ham Levy, Gi­bral­tar-born and Jews’ Col­lege-trained. But the new money in the ke­hilla — brought to the ta­ble through the im­mi­gra­tion into the UK of Sephardi Jews from North Africa and the Arab Mid­dle East — favoured the Moroc­can-born Rabbi Toledano.

So the of­fice of Ha­ham was in ef­fect split. Dr Levy be­came the pub­lic face of the Con­gre­ga­tion, and im­mersed him­self in an am­bi­tious ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme. Rabbi Toledano acted as the Con­gre­ga­tion’s se­nior rab­bini­cal ex­pos­i­tor.

For the most part, this dual king­ship has worked com­par­a­tively well. But it has not been with­out its ten­sions.

In the 19th cen­tury, and for most of the 20th, the SPJC lived in the shadow of the Ashke­nazim. Of late, it ap­pears to have re­dis­cov­ered its self-con­fi­dence. As a re­sult, there seems to be grow­ing sup­port for the idea that the of­fice of Ha­ham, va­cant for 30 years, should be filled once more. How­ever, this can­not be done while Rab­bis Levy and Toledano are si­mul­ta­ne­ously in post. Some­how one or t’other must be eased out.

Ev­ery or­gan­i­sa­tion is faced with such a sit­u­a­tion from time to time, though one hopes it is dealt with in a man­ner which is open and con­sen­sual.

But, it seems, this is not what hap­pened on Novem­ber 27 last, when the Board of El­ders of the SPJC was sum­moned to­gether by its ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee — the Ma­hamad — to dis­cuss some­thing of which (so two of those present have told me) no ad­vance no­tice what­ever was given.

It ap­pears that when the Board of El­ders as­sem­bled (at the Laud­erdale Road Syn­a­gogue, West Lon­don) they were first re­quired to sign an un­der­tak­ing of con­fi­den­tial­ity. Hav­ing done so, they were then pre­sented with an ex­tra­or­di­nary pro­posal: that Rabbi Toledano be asked to give up his con­trac­tual rights (such as they are) in re­turn for the pay­ment to him of a sum that seemed so huge that I had to ask one of my in­for­mants to re­peat it as I thought I had mis­heard. Then there was a vote and, by a ma­jor­ity of 18 votes to 5, the pro­posal was re­port­edly en­dorsed. The pa­pers that had been care­fully dis­trib­uted at the meet­ing were then care­fully col­lected again. And that was that.

I want to make it clear that I am not ques­tion­ing Rabbi Toledano’s le­gal rights and en­ti­tle­ments. His con­tract can pre­sum­ably be ter­mi­nated and, if so, I would cer­tainly ex­pect a Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tion to do the right thing, and of­fer him more than his le­gal en­ti­tle­ment.

But the sum which has been men­tioned to me — £525,000 — is large by any rea­son­able stan­dard. If I were a mem­ber of the SPJC, I would be de­mand­ing to know the ba­sis on which this sum has been cal­cu­lated, and from which par­tic­u­lar cof­fer it was to be taken.

I would also be more than a lit­tle con­cerned at the prece­dent it might set.

Of course, if I were Rabbi Toledano, I would be laugh­ing all the way to the bank.

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