Peace talks aim to avert Beth Din split

DESPERATE peace-making efforts were underway last night to prevent a split between management and staff of Manchester Beth Din.

It follows our exclusive report last week about what appeared to have been an attempt by junior staff, including rabbis, to stage a coup.

A planned meeting yesterday between Dayan Steiner and the Jewish Telegraph to discuss the issues was cancelled at the last minute.

He said that he was “not at liberty to meet with the press at the moment”. There were suggestions last week of a breakaway movement.

It has emerged that Dayan Yehuda Steiner and rabbis Hillel Royde and Yehoshua Sofer, of the Manchester Beth Din, became directors of a company, Manchester Community Badatz Ltd, on October 31, but there is no suggestion that this was connected with any breakaway.

Badatz means an enhanced level of kashrut. The trio are also involved in other similar companies, although there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by them and information on the companies is readily available on the Companies House website.

Manchester Beth Din Ltd is run by directors Henry Brownson and Jeremy Nussbaum.

Solicitors acting for Dayan Steiner said that although he had become a director of some of the companies, “it is denied absolutely that he intends to use them to deprive the Manchester Beth Din of its assets or to use those assets for his personal gain”. The Jewish Telegraph is happy to endorse that.

He added: “Our client was not involved in setting up the listed companies.”

Accountant Brian White, who is trying to broker peace between the MBD management and its staff, said that the Badatz company and other similar ones with which the rabbis are involved, are dormant.

On Sunday, Dayan Steiner and Rabbi Royde addressed a meeting of 40 delegates they had called from a cross-section of Manchester synagogues. The official MBD management were not invited.

Mr White, who was scheduled to chair the meeting, said: “I hope to resolve the situation. Therefore I had to be independent so could not attend.”

The rabbis, who led the meeting, called for community volunteers to assist with publicity and to help streamline and expand MBD services and make them more “user friendly”.

The rabbis wish to maintain the independence of the MBD without having to rely on help from either London Beth Din or the Federation of Synagogues, as envisaged by the official management.

Elected as representatives of the MBD community group were Hale Synagogue president Ben Sallon and Manchester Great and New Synagogue’s Jonathan Dover, a solicitor.

Mr Sallon told the Jewish Telegraph: “I was proud to have been brought closer to something so important as to ensure the best future for the MBD.

“The wider Manchester community clearly has the MBD at heart and were unanimous in support at Sunday’s meeting, providing their expertise and skills towards a harmonious outcome.

“There was an incredible turnout from both north and south Manchester, which gave strong hope towards protecting a much-valued organisation as a sustainable resource for the Jewish community in Manchester and beyond.”

Mr Dover added: “The most important outcome of Sunday’s meeting was that we were tasked to approach the honorary officers to mediate the issues.”

A source, who is fully acquainted with the situation, said that those at the meeting acknowledged there had been a total breakdown in communication between the MBD and the wider community.

Another source said that he wished those in charge had “pulled the emergency cord” and asked for help far earlier.

A spokesman for the new group said: “Despite the success of many of the Beth Din’s endeavours, it was acknowledged that volunteers are needed within the community to ensure that it can continue to not only function, but to grow in step with the burgeoning Manchester community.

“Well-respected and well-meaning lay leaders are needed to run the Beth Din’s day-to-day affairs.

“What the dayanim have been able to achieve on their own, with no support and sometimes even outright opposition, has been astounding, but lay leadership in the non-halachic areas of the running of the Beth Din is sorely needed.”

A meeting between Mr Sallon, Mr Dover and MBD officers was due to take place last night.

Meanwhile, senior dayan Gavriel Krausz, who had been severely distressed by the recent discord between MBD staff and management, resigned as an MBD consultant on October 31 and has retired.

Last summer, he became a MBD consultant rather than a full time employee because of the ongoing discord.

Last week, an MBD office computer went missing. Director Henry Brownson said: “It was not forthcoming where the computer was. I said I would report it to the police and I did. But it turned up while I was reporting it.” There is no suggestion whatsoever that anyone mentioned in this report was involved.

There is also confusion over a mikva appeal letter, signed by Dayan Steiner, Rabbi Warfman, Rabbi Levy, Rabbi Sofer, Messrs White, Zev Brodie and M Clinton.

MBD director Mr Nussbaum maintained that the letter had not been authorised by the MBD directors and honorary officers.

He explained that when the MBD went bankrupt some seven years ago, Mr White’s charity, Manchester Jewish Philanthropic, had bought the mikva back from the liquidator. It had been run previously by the MBD.

But, Mr Nussbaum said: “The MBD is responsible for all its running costs. The mikva has its own registered charity.

“We are wondering why donations should be sent to Mr White’s charity.”

Mr Nussbaum did not want the MBD to have to rely on communal charity which he felt closer working arrangements between the MBD and a London authority would avoid.

Mr White replied: “The mikva appeal was brought to the attention of the honorary officers some weeks ago. The appeal has been well received.”

He added that funds would be used to improve its infrastructure. Dayan Osher Westheim will join the board of rabbis supervising the mikva.

MBD honorary officer Modi Spitzer confirmed that he and his colleagues were due to meet the representatives of Sunday’s meeting.

He said: “The honorary officers have tried for 12 months to build bridges and defuse internal discord. We have never refused a meeting with any interested party. “

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