Shul that barred its minister

Over the past four months, I have been asked to interest myself in no less than three disputes between ministers and their congregations. Legal considerations prevent me from writing about two of them. But in neither case have I encountered anything approaching the venom that characterises events at the Croydon outpost of the Federation of Synagogues.

I accept that, whatever harmony may have existed in the relationship between the Reverend David Gilinsky and his Croydon congregants when he began his ministry there has largely evaporated. On January 25, Rev Gilinsky gave notice, as required by his contract, that he intended to relinquish his Croydon appointment on August 29 next.

In so doing, he accepted that, together with his wife and young family, he would have to vacate the apartment provided for him within the building complex that incorporates the synagogue.

So the Gilinskys were on their way out - if not of the London Borough of Croydon then certainly out of any contractual relationship with the synagogue. Come August 29, they would be gone. But evidently this was not soon enough for some of the Croydon worthies. They lodged with the Beth Din of the Federation - as they were entitled to - a claim (or rather two claims, but that against Mrs Gilinsky appears to have been abandoned) to the effect that Gilinksy's "presence" was "detrimental to the ongoing existence" of the synagogue.

Telling a fellow Jew she is not welcome in synagogue is almost beyond belief

On February 3, the claim against Rev Gilinksy was heard and upheld by the Beth Din. He was, with immediate effect, "precluded" from serving as Croydon's Minister. But the judgment did not stop there. It ordered him "not [to] attend any services held under the auspices of the Croydon Federation Synagogue."

The phrase "any services" means and can only mean that, notwithstanding that the Gilinsky family live within the synagogue complex, David Gilinsky cannot now - or indeed (as I read it) ever - attend, even as a simple worshipper, any religious service (for example, any Shabbat service or at Purim, in a month's time) held either in the synagogue itself or under the synagogue's auspices - say, in a hall or private house.

He has in effect been locked out. Two weeks ago, literally so. Because on February 7, once the Beth Din had issued its ruling, the synagogue president wrote to him asking for various synagogue keys to be returned and informing him that the synagogue locks were going to be changed.

Not content with this level of exclusion, on February 9 the synagogue authorities emailed members with the news that "in order to prevent unnecessary tension" the forthcoming Shabbat services (11/12 February) would not be held at the synagogue at all, but in a private residence which (according to Google) is over an hour's walk away.

So here we have a Beth Din formally barring a Jew from attending divine service either at his own synagogue (the only one for miles around) or at service organised under that synagogue's auspices, and thus from praying with a minyan and from hearing the Reading of the Law. No doubt the dayanim felt they had very good reason for this draconian ruling, and that they were on rock-solid halachic grounds in making it. No doubt they will make these grounds public in due course.

And what of Mrs Gilinsky? The fact that there is no Beth Din finding against her did not prevent the Croydon president from telling her (by letter dated February 17) that "you are not welcome at services," which she should "refrain from attending," adding ominously that "our security officers have been informed of this decision."

In fact, Mrs Gilinksy and her children did attend the Shabbat service on February 19, I understand without serious incident. But that is hardly the point. Barring someone from attending divine service is one thing. Barring, locking and bolting the synagogue is quite another. And telling a fellow Jew, in writing, that she was "not welcome" in the synagogue is almost beyond belief.

In taking these extraordinary steps, did the synagogue management give a moment's thought to the Gilinskys' young family, who surely could not be expected to walk an hour each way to enjoy a Shabbat service, let alone enter the synagogue itself without either of their parents?

If the management did give these matters some thought, they've some explaining to do. If they didn't, they've some apologies to make.

    Last updated: 12:32pm, February 28 2011