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#################### Geoff Seidner
THE president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA) has stepped down from the role after three-and-a-half years, ruing the disrespectful and antagonistic behaviour of some of his colleagues and criticising them for their apathy and lack of courtesy.
In a letter sent to members last Friday, Rabbi Dovid Freilich said he had already held the role at the Orthodox roof body for far longer than the two years he had intended when taking up the post in 2008, and now wanted to focus on his community in Perth.
“I accepted the position only because the Australian rabbinate had given so much to me and I appreciated the opportunity to give some service back to them in return.”
However, the letter also referred to the sometimes fraught relationship between rabbis. “Simply because colleagues may not agree with each others’ views, this should not chas v’sholom lead to open antagonism, threats and blackmail. What type of example are we showing the ba’alei batim [laymen/congregants] from whom we expect respect, if we show no respect for each other?”
Elaborating on his comments in an interview with The AJN this week, Rabbi Freilich said he had had personal experience of such hostility on certain occasions when he had taken it upon himself to represent the rabbinate.
“I was made to feel uncomfortable over statements that I felt were necessary to come out with,” he said, adding he now felt he was “persona non grata” among some of his colleagues, and that arguments during “turbulent times” had left him feeling “despondent”.
The letter also saw Rabbi Freilich lament the lack of response from members of the rabbinate when he had asked for suggestions in pre-yom tov newsletters. Stating he “rarely had the courtesy of a reply”, he said, “This was both disheartening, but also illustrated great apathy.”
But it wasn’t all negative. Rabbi Freilich said that during his presidency he hoped he had raised the profile of ORA.
And announcing his successor, he described Rabbi Moshe Gutnick as “very capable and level-headed”, expressing no doubt “he would do an outstanding job”.
Paying tribute to his predecessor, Rabbi Gutnick said, “He is a respected senior colleague who I will continue to turn to for counsel and advice.”
Looking ahead to his own term in office, Rabbi Gutnick added, “We are challenged both from within and without by the dual threat of radical secularism on the one hand and
radical fundamentalism on the other.
Rabbi Gutnick went on to state his intention “to ensure that the authentic and at the same time tolerant voice of Judaism is heard loud and clear”.
“To that end, among other initiatives, I will be seeking to strengthen the voice of the rabbinate as well as strengthen our ties with the lay leadership of the community, especially with bodies such as the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
“Our community must not only be united, it must be seen to be united, and in a united voice represent Judaism,” said Rabbi Gutnick.
Rabbinical Council of Victoria president Rabbi Yaakov Glasman also praised Rabbi Freilich as “an excellent ambassador for Australian Jewry”, adding, “He has never shied away from speaking out about the religious and ethical issues affecting our community and more importantly, he has done so with the giant heart that has so characterised him within his own community in Perth.”
Rabbi Yosef Feldman, president of the Rabbinic Council of New South Wales, was unavailable for comment.