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Moshe Sharify
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

The Sharify Family. "Moshe is an adult in a boy's body" say his parents.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Nisan Sharify and his son Moshe
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Moshe Sharify
Photo by Rhonda Spivak


By Jonah Mandel and Rhonda Spivak, October 12, 2010

A 14-year-old boy petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday to force the Chief Rabbinate to check his ordination exam, so that he may be able to be ordained as a rabbi.

After being tested over the course of a year by 10 senior rabbis, Moshe Raziel Sharify of Netanya had filled the necessary forms and was invited by the Department of Examinations and Certifications of the Chief Rabbinate for the rabbinate’s written exam in July.

How young can a rabbi be?
Young rabbi-wannabe struggles for recognition

However, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar who came to wish the examinees luck, noticed the young face and ordered that his form not be checked and graded in line with the rabbinate’s policy that the minimum age for ordination is 22.

In a preliminary meeting of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate over Sharify’s ordination, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger had been in favor of allowing the young man to become a rabbi. However, as director of Metzger’s office Rabbi Haim Hemdinger told The Jerusalem Post in August, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi’s opinion did not win out, with Amar leading the opposition.

All the same, the invitation for the exam was sent to Sharify, but according to sources in the rabbinate, only out of the desire to encourage his exceptional skills and ambition, without the intent to actually consider his candidacy. The rabbinate later said that the invitation was a mistake.

Following the incident, Sharify’s father Nissan, who has a doctorate in law, said he would petition the High Court of Justice to have his son’s examination marked and counted, like the examinations of all other candidates.

On Sunday the court received the petition, filed by Nissan and his firm, which demanded that the young Sharify’s test be checked, and to overrule the rabbinate’s policy that determines 22 as the minimum age for ordination, or at least to order the forming of a committee to examine exceptions to the rule.

For earlier related story see:

By Rhonda Spivak, August 13, 2010

Fourteen Year  Old Moshe Sharify, A  Quiet, Pious Genious Desperately Wants to become A Rabbi- The Youngest In The World. Several prominent Rabbis Across Israel Have Given Him Their Backing, And Even Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger Thinks He’ll Make A Great Rabbi. He was invited by the Chief Rabbinate to take an ordination examination.  But After Completing the Test, He Was Told His Paper Wouldn’t Be Marked.  The Reason? An Unofficial, Internal Rabbinate Ruling That Doesn’t Allow Anyone Under 22 To Even Take The Examination.

Fourteen year old  boy wonder, Moshe Raziel Sharify  who lives with his  family in Ramat Poleg, Netanya  would like to become the youngest Rabbi in Israel, and most likely the word , after having  recently written examinations for the Rabbinate which were held in Jerusalem and administered in by the Chief Rabbinate.
In the last year, the young student has been tested by some 10 well known and senior Rabbis for his knowledge of Jewish law, all of whom have been clearly impressed with the  the  length and breadth of his knowledge and intellectual capabilities. The consensus among them appears to be that he is a genius.
However,  Sharify’s proposed route to the Rabbinate has already become  a matter of significant controversy.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo  Amar remains steadfast in maintaining that notwithstanding that Sharify  was tested,  his examination  ought not  to be marked as he is not eligible for the Rabbinate until he reaches age 22.  Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, on the other hand, had initially supported Sharify’s  quest to become a Rabbi at age 14. 

Oded Weiner, Director General of the Chief Rabbinate’s office told the Jerusalem Post that “There is an internal decision made many years ago by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate   that  no one under the age of 22 is eligible  to be examined  for the rabbinate.”

He clarified that this internal decision “is  not a  formal regulation. It is not something  that is on the books of the Knesset. It is an internal decision.”

Sharify’s father,  Nisan Sharify who has a doctorate in law from Bar Ilan University and practices  taxation law, says he will petition the High Court of Justice to have his son’s examination marked and counted, like the examinations of  all other candidates.

“There is no legal regulation that says he must be 22 to become a  rabbi, and he has already been tested after being recommended by many rabbis as the genius of his time.  His test should be marked officially and since I have no doubt he has passed, he should become a rabbi now.”

He notes that even  if his son were to become a  Rabbi at age fourteen, he will not be permitted to deal with matters of marriage and divorce as this is “something that only a rabbi who is a dayan can do.”

When asked whether anyone has ever taken examinations for the rabbinate, before they were age 22, Weiner responded, “As far as I can remember in the last five years , there was never such an outstanding exception. Maybe  the Department of Examinations of the Chief Rabbinate allowed it if someone  was within a few months of being  age 22 or within a year of being age 22.”

The young man’s mother Ronit who has a doctorate of political science from Bar Ilan University   she spoke to Metzger   directly and he supports  her son’s examination being given a formal mark so that it can be counted and Moshe will get this Rabbinical ordination.  “Metzger is in favor of this, “ says Ronit.
Haim Hemdinger, the director of  Metzger’s office confirmed  that  after Metzger had initially expressed this attitude there was a meeting of the  Council of the Chief Rabbinate, at which Metzger’s opinion did not win out.  According to Hemdinger “at the meeting  Rabbi Amar led the opposition to allowing  a 14 year old to be allowed to write the test,” and Amar’s position was adopted by the Council. 

Nevertheless, the young Sharify was sent a letter from the Department of  Examinations and Certifications  of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to invite him to  take the examinations for the rabbinate on July 12, 2010 in The International Convention Center. He paid the examination fee and arrived early.

Nisan, Moshe’s father, says that once his son got that letter calling him to the examinations he thought that  it had been decided finally to allow his son to take the examinations and have them marked just like anyone else’s.

But, Hemdinger told the Post that the father “knew that we were allowing the son to take the test  so as to encourage him, but that it wouldn’t be counted as he was too young.”

THE ELDER SHARIFY, for his part contends, that there was some talk of that happening originally, but that he understood that that position had changed and that in the end his son received permission to write the exam and have it counted like anyone else.

“It makes no sense to have him take the test if it can’t be counted,” Nisan  said.

The father notes that in the letter his son received there was nothing suggesting  that his son’s test results wouldn’t be counted.”

Furthermore, Nisan says, “I have  learned that Rabbi Amar tried to convince the examiners to stop my son from completing the test, but gave way when  one of the examiners said they convinced him  it would  hurt my son’s  feelings to do so. But, afterward, I understand that Rabbi Amar said my son’s  examination booklets were not to be checked and ought not be considered .”

Moshe says  that during the examination itself  which “lasted  from about 11 o’clock a.m. to 4:30 p.m-  an examiner , whose name he didn’t know  came in and  flipped through his examination booklets and  said “very good.” 

The young man says that at the beginning of the Examination “ Rav Amar appeared and wished everyone luck in the examination” but that “ later he appeared again in the examination and spoke to someone for a few minutes. I didn’t see who it was. I saw that he was delayed there”

When  the young  Sharify went to hand in his examination paper, he says that  he was told that “ Rabbi Amar did not want to have his examination booklet  checked.”

When contacted,  the  head of Rabbi  Amar’s office, Yitzhak Peretz told the Post that  “No one can be examined for the Rabbinate until they reach the age of 22, and Moshe Sharify is no exception.”

Peretz added “ What is so urgent? Why can’t he [Moshe]wait?”

When asked why the Rabbinate sent him a letter telling him where to appear for the examination, Peretz responded he went to the post office and paid the fee but that the Rabbinate didn’t know he was 14 years old. “ He didn’t tell anyone that.  Anyone can go and pay the fee.  The letter was sent to him because he didn’t tell  anyone he was 14,” says Peretz.

However, Nisan Sharify  has shown the Post  the application document he filled out for the examination. The application  states his son’s birthdate.

“We didn’t try to hide my son’s age at all.”

When Peretz was  asked why  Sharify was let in the exam room, he answered “It was a mistake” that he was let, and that he wasn’t let in by Rabbi Amar.
SHARIFY, A QUIET,  well mannered, modest, and pensive  boy has been raised in a  “Dati Leumi” (national religious)home.

“He  has never once raised his voice even if he has been  angry or upset with any of  his five  younger siblings, “ says his mother Ronit, the daughter of Libyan Jews who immigrated to Israel in the 1950’s.

“ My son Moshe  is an adult in a boy’s body,” says Nisan Sharfiy, who notes that neither parent has ever had to punish him for any misbehavior.
Nisan, the descendent of Iraqi Jews  remembers that when his son Moshe was  only one years old, every time he walked by a painting with a Rabbi in it, he would say ‘Here is a Rabbi!.’

The young toddler’s  grandmother,  Nissan’s late  mother  Hannah Sharify,  used to say “Moshe will become a  great Rabbi in Israel.”

Nisan remembers that  one Shabbat in 1998 when  he didn’t take Moshe to synagogue due to a bad hail storm, “Moshe  cried all through the night until seven the next morning, when I took him to synagogue and then he stopped.”

When Sharify was10 years old he won the City of Netanya’s Bible Quiz, and at age 11 he won the Bible quiz for the  Central Region of the Country.

“Three years ago, we enrolled him in the world centre of Limudei Dat, which is in B’nei Brak . It is like open university. They send you material , you complete it, and then send it back. He advanced very quickly, ”says his father.

“ In the last year he has been tested thoroughly  and repeatedly by all sectors of  Orthodox Zionism,”  Nisan says.

On June 16, 2010, his teacher Rabbi Erez Alharad from Limudei Dat wrote  a recommendation letter saying  that the young Sharify has  wonderful abilities  and  that his name will be “one of the great names of this land.”

The Chief Rabbi of the city  of Safed,  Shmuel Eliyahu  wrote on  July 21, 2010 in a certificate of  approbation:

“I hereby confirm that I tested the student Sharify Moshe at length and in great depth on the topic of the Laws of Shabbat and he answered all my questions correctly and precisely quoting each law and its source from the Talmud until the very last one…May he continue to persevere with his learning and to grow in the Torah; good attributes and fear of heaven and to become an adjudicator among the People of Israel.”

Rabbi  Chaim Bazak,  a dayan of  the Rabbinical Court of Safeded-Tiberias wrote “ I tested the young man, Moshe Sharify, who came with recommendations from important rabbis who tested him on the Laws of Sabbath and found him proficient in all the laws. I too tested him and found him to be filled with glorious knowledge, unbelievable that such a young boy has succeeded in attaining such tremendous and broad knowledge in the Laws of the Sabbath. I will state in particular his proficiency both in the sources of the law from the Mishna, and from the first adjudicators in the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries up until the last commentaries of modern times.”

Rabbi Nissim Toledano from the Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai Kollel  in Safed and Meiron, who prepares young men for their test for the Rabbinate, wrote in his letter of recommendation, “ I tested him [Moshe]on the laws and he answered with great expertise, [with]concise well-thought out answers, of which those double his age would still be having trouble with.” 

He concluded “ I hereby recommend him as worthy to be tested “ for the rabbinate.

Rabbi Yehoshua David Rosenberg of Netanya wrote that Sharify “ will be a great Torah Scholar.”

Rabbi Gideon Ben Moshe the head of Beit Din Beit Hahoraa in Jerusalem  wrote a  recommendation  in which he referred to Sharify as “an extraordinary phenomenon that I have seen with my  own eyes”, and that “Moshe is  worthy of testing  for the Rabbinate, by way of an exception to the rule.”
He went on  to note that “all the letters of recommendation extol Moshe’s immense knowledge on the material he was tested on and lavish praise upon him for seeking out such lofty knowledge while others his age engage in less lofty pastimes and they all heartily recommend him as being fully prepared for testing for the rabbinate.”

Nissan Sharify says that  Amar does not alter his instruction not to check his son’s test and not to consider it like any other test taken by the other contestants, he will be forced to petition against him at the High Court of Justice (Bagatz). “I will petition to  have the court require Rabbi Amar to consider  the results of  the examination  and  then grant him the smicha,” he says.

Sharify told the Post that in his view Rabbi Amar does not have any discretion to negate his son’s test results, once the Chief Rabbinate  invited him to  appear on the required date and time to take the exams.

Sharify showed the Post a copy of a  legal letter sent by his office on July 18, 2010 to Attorney General Yehudah Weinstein,  of his proposed petition to the High court of Justice in the event that  Amar continues refusing  to allow  the results of  his son’s rabbinical examinations to stand.

The warning letter states  that “ many of the great Rabbis in the past and in the present were ordained to the Rabbinate and even judgeship at a very young age and it is unclear why it is that the present leadership of the Rabbinate seeks to uproot this fine custom, especially during this difficult period of extended juvenile delinquency that is continuously reaching new limits.”

The letter  notes  that one of Torah’s giants of modern times, Rav Ovadia Yosef, was ordained to the Rabbinate at age 19 and at age 23, was ordained to judgeship, and   “ the Torah giant, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu was ordained at a similar age and we also know that the Chofetz Chaim was ordained to the Rabbinate at age 17 as well as many other Torah giants and famous Rabbinical figures from all times and generations.”

The letter also requests that Weinstein “instruct Rabbi Amar not to discriminate against my son only because of his young age. Young talents are to be encouraged, nurtured and elevated, not discouraged with irrelevant excuses.”

The  warning letter says that the petition to the High Court will be filed by August 18.  Peretz, the head of  Amar’s office  says that “I have seen the warning letter by Nisan Sharify, but his son is not 22 and his examination will not be marked.”

This story first broken by Rhonda Spivak was picked up at a later date by the Israeli Hebrew Daily Ma'ariv.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.