February 1, 2011
American rabbi sues Australian synagogue
An American-born Orthodox rabbi is suing the board of an Australian synagogue for wrongful dismissal.
Rabbi Yossi Engel, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who served at the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation for seven years until his contract ended in 2006, is claiming more than $600,000 in compensation. Engel believes his termination was a breach of halachah, or Jewish law, which he says guarantees life tenure for rabbis.
But in 2007 a judge found that Engel’s contract had indeed legally terminated, and the judgment was upheld on appeal by the Australian Supreme Court.
The Adelaide Hebrew Congregation, the only Orthodox synagogue in South Australia, will “vigorously defend” the legal action, according to a report in the Australian Jewish News.
Engel could not pursue the suit earlier because in 2009 he and his wife, Chana, were charged with 39 counts of dealing dishonestly with documents to obtain a $50,000 grant for Hebrew classes. The charges were dropped last year.
“The criminal prosecution had placed this matter in a holding pattern, but now we’re here and our claim is proceeding,” said Engel’s lawyer, Ron Bellman.
The case has been adjourned until April. Adelaide has a dwindling Jewish population of fewer than 1,000, and the city’s only Jewish school, Massada College, was placed in administration this week.