WE, the general community, want to look up to rabbis and dayanim of batei din as paragons of moral rectitude, well-versed not only in the minutiae of halacha but also in exceptional midot, the highest ethical standards in terms of personal relationships.
Today marks the beginning of the nine days before Tisha b’Av when we mourn the destruction of the two Temples.
The destruction of the Second Temple, we are told, was due to sinat chinam — causeless hatred, interpersonal strife between supposedly religious Jews.
I am still very much in mourning mode, having witnessed in Manchester behaviour which should not have been emanating from such a lofty source as Beth Din rabbinic staff.
I should not have been put in a position where I had to decide whether an email, leaked to the Jewish Telegraph and purporting to be from all the rabbis employed by the Manchester Beth Din, was not only defamatory according to English law but also whether it fell into the halachic category of lashon hora (derogatory speech), rechilut (gossiping) or motsei shem ra (spreading untruths).
How did we get to this sorry state during these Three Weeks of Mourning?
Fear of mainstream Judaism is at the root cause of the recent ills which have come upon the MBD.
Junior MBD personnel have panicked at the thought that they may become tainted as a result of coming into contact with the mainstream United Synagogue, with whom MBD honorary officers were in talks with a view to procuring the long-term financial viability of the organisation while preserving its halachic independence.
But any mention of the United Synagogue is like a red rag to a bull to so many of the Manchester rabbinate, who tend to be becoming more and more charedi every day.
At the beginning of this millennium, the previous Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, found this to his detriment. One of his first acts was to set up a Review of Women in the Jewish Community, under the halachic authority of previous MBD Av Beth Din Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu.
But that was not good enough for Manchester rabbis who effectively killed the Review findings just days after it was launched.
As a member of the Manchester Review team, together with a colleague on the team, I visited every single rabbi of Manchester mainstream synagogues, including those who had been vehemently against the Review, to explain the Review findings and listen to their concerns.
They had none to tell me.
They had just been scared of potential change without having thoroughly explored the facts.
I suspect that a similar situation has now arisen at the MBD where junior rabbis appear to have panicked without having bothered to sit down and discuss the situation rationally with the honorary officers and perhaps asked for one of them to represent them at the talks to make sure that their concerns were genuinely addressed.
Instead, they appealed for support from charedi askanim (communal activists), who would just love to get their hands on the MBD and make it even more charedi than the Machzikei Hadass.
The less inflammatory part of the letter which was leaked to the JT refers to “an uproar by the Manchester rabbis and the Greater Manchester community”.
But there was no uproar from the “Greater Manchester community” who have largely been kept in the dark about recent MBD goings-on.
This is because for around a decade there have been no MBD delegates’ meetings, which used to be made public in this news paper so that community members could be conversant with what was going on in their communal institutions.
The reason for this was that the MBD had changed its status into a limited company and there was no longer a legal requirement for such meetings. But honorary officers have a communal requirement to be accountable.
They should have realised, with the current fall-out over the Brexit debate, that it is not sufficient to say, “We will let you have a say on the final deal.” People want to be involved all along.
Failure to keep the mainstream community in the loop gave an opportunity for charedi askanim to try to hijack the whole community.
As we reported last week, the situation caused enormous distress to MBD’s most senior dayan, who certainly did not deserve such stress after all his long years of service.
I sincerely hope that any of his junior colleagues who may have added to that stressful situation will rapidly repent of their ways and seek to make peace where there has been unnecessary strife.