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East London rabbi keeping the community in limbo

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It’s been more than two years since the East London Hebrew Congregation (ELHC) fired Rabbi Chanoch Galperin after he was found guilty of 13 counts of misconduct in a disciplinary hearing.

The relationship between the community and the rabbi has completely broken down. In addition, the rabbi is accused of forging the will of the late Israel Bayer, and diverting funds meant for the community to himself.

The rabbi and his wife continue to live in the community’s rabbinical home in defiance of his employment contract, which instructs him to vacate the home on its termination.

Says a member of the community, speaking on condition of anonymity, “This community has died because of this rabbi staying in that house. The house goes together with employment. He has been fired. Therefore, he’s got to get out of that house. The impact of his actions is that the community no longer functions. It’s the Beth Din and the chief rabbi’s duty to do something – to come and tell him to get out of there. They are standing by and watching a community die because of this rabbi, and they are doing nothing.

“Nobody in this tiny community can conduct services, which means we have to bring somebody down. There are no people who keep kosher who live near the shul. We need the house, which is next door to the shul. We could function, even on a part-time basis, by occasionally bringing someone down. For a Shabbos, for a weekend, just to restart. He has killed off this community. It’s tragic.”

The ELHC took the rabbi to court because he refused to vacate the house. In her judgment handed down last week, Judge Belinda Hartle (sitting in the East London Circuit Local Division of the High Court), found that the rabbi’s “services were, as a fact, terminated on 3 February 2020 upending their [the rabbi and his wife’s] contractual entitlement to remain in occupation of the property”.

The judge found that the rabbi and his wife were “unlawful occupiers” and the ELHC was, “in principle, entitled to an eviction order”. In so finding, the judge stated that “it was hard to discern the real nature of the defence to the eviction claim”.

The judge, however, found that she wouldn’t at this time order their eviction, but would on just and equitable grounds stay the eviction application. This is based on the possibility that the Beth Din may one day adjudicate the rabbi’s labour claims and possibly reinstate the rabbi in his employment contract with the ELHC.

The Beth Din, however, has already ruled that it can’t determine the labour dispute as the ELHC wasn’t prepared to submit itself to the Beth Din’s jurisdiction, and gave the rabbi its blessing and consent to proceed with his labour claims in secular courts.

The rabbi, in an act of defiance of the Beth Din’s ruling, took the Beth Din to court to force it to hear his labour claims. In the judgment handed down on 18 January 2022 in the Eastern Cape High Court, the rabbi’s application was dismissed with costs by acting Judge Mabenge, who found that the rabbi was obliged to accept the decision of the Beth Din and there was no reason for the court to interfere with its decision. In addition, with the relationship between community and rabbi in tatters, it was unlikely he would ever be reinstated.

“The rabbi has applied for leave to appeal against the decision of Mabenge AJ, which application will be heard next month,” says Advocate Stanley Pincus SC. “If the rabbi is granted leave to appeal, the eviction application will have to await the outcome of the appeal. If leave to appeal is refused, the ELHC will go back to court in order to request the court to grant the eviction order and to determine the date when the rabbi and his wife will have to vacate the home which they have unlawfully occupied since 3 February 2020.”

“The Beth Din has done everything in its power to intervene in the dispute between the East London community and Rabbi Galperin,” says Steven Weinberg of Moss Cohen and Partners, representing the Beth Din. “Unfortunately they have both refused to co-operate with the Beth Din, and have chosen to resolve their various disputes in the High Court. This is something the Beth Din cannot prevent. The Beth Din has no authority or power to force Rabbi Galperin to vacate the premises unless Rabbi Galperin submits to the Beth Din adjudicating this dispute, which he has refused to do. The Beth Din again urges both Rabbi Galperin and the East London community to refer all of their disputes to the Beth Din for mediation and/or arbitration.”

The ELHC and East London Chevrah Kadisha have said they will submit themselves to Beth Din adjudication on all matters regarding the rabbi as long as there are trained legal professionals present. However, according to Pincus, the rabbi has refused this request.

The SA Jewish Report reached out to Galperin and his legal team for comment but didn’t receive a response by the time of going to print.

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