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A 150-member committee on Monday elected Rabbi Yona Metzger as Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi and Rabbi Shlomo Amar as Chief Sephardi Rabbi. The two will be the successors of Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Chief Sephardi Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron.

The committee that elected the two - in a secret ballot - was composed of 80 rabbis and 70 representatives of the public.

In addition to chief rabbis of local government and rabbinic judges, the committee is also comprised of mayors, ministers, Knesset members and public figures appointed by the Minister of Religious Affairs. This composition allows no specific sector a majority, and leaves much room for coalitions and deals.

In the morning, Rabbi Moshe Rauchberger withdrew his candidacy for Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, Israel Radio reported. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, a leading Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox rabbinic authority, had asked Rauchberger to remove his candidacy so as to improve the chances of Rabbi Metzger, whom Elyashiv supported.

Since Metzger is not considered a halakhic authority, the ultra-Orthodox contingent - which wants to get back at the NRP for hooking up with Shinui - believes he will easily adopt Rabbi Elyashiv's rulings. At the same time, he is well-liked among the secular voters in the election committee.

Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is affiliated with Shas, was considered the leading candidate ahead of the elction. But National Religious Party candidate Rabbi Yaakov Ariel had been expected to place first in the contest for the post of Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi.

The current race was not even supposed to happen. A "deal" between the National Religious Party and Shas many months ago named NRP's Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, as the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, and the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is affiliated with Shas, as the Sephardi Chief Rabbi.

But since Shas was eventually not part of the coalition, the balance of power between Shas and the NRP has been broken, and the deal is off. NRP named two candidates of its own for the post of Sephardi Rabbi - Kiryat Ono's chief rabbi, Ratson Arousi, and Safed's chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu.

The list of candidates also included Rabbi Shlomo Dichovsky, the chief rabbinic judge. Although in Halakhic scholarship he is held in very high esteem, he has not created a political support base. The same is true also of Rabbi Eliyahu Aberjil of Jerusalem.