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Attempts by Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi (Shas) to push through the election of Jerusalem's chief rabbis received a blow yesterday when religious Zionist groups petitioned the High Court against him.

The petition, submitted by the Neemani Torah V'Avoda movement and Jerusalem City Council member Rachel Azaria, states that the ministry has made a "grab" that shows preference for the appointment of ultra-Orthodox representatives to the body that elects the rabbis.

The petitioners want the High Court to annul the ministry's latest decision on the matter, as well as issue an order restraining them against any further action to move forward with elections.

The petitioners have accused the Religious Services Ministry of conducting the elections for the city's chief rabbis in "back rooms" and concealing the minutes of a meeting held two weeks ago.

The petition was submitted against Margi as well as against Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, although Barkat himself is currently facing off against Margi over this very issue.

Attempted 'grab'

Over the past few days, Barkat's associates have accused the ministry of an "attempted Haredi grab" intended to thwart the mayor's efforts to have a national religious rabbi appointed to the office.

The ministry insists the election process is completely legal.

The clash may further delay the appointment of the city's two chief rabbis - positions that have not been filled since 2003.

Shas' spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has urged the party to get on with the election, in which his son, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, is a contender for the office of Sephardic chief rabbi.

The petition comes as an immediate result of a meeting held about two weeks ago between three representatives from the Religious Services Ministry and the Jerusalem Religious Council who are also members of the "council of five." This council also includes two municipal representatives, one of whom is Barkat.

The council is tasked with proposing a group of 24 representatives of the city's synagogues, which will constitute half of the electoral body.

Although Barkat was unable to attend the meeting and asked that it be postponed, the three Haredi committee members went ahead and compiled the list.

The ministry has so far refused to provide the petitioners with the minutes from the meeting. However, sources in the ministry say the decision will give a majority to the ultra-Orthodox.

Religious Zionists, whose candidate is Rabbi Arieh Stern, and whom Barkat also supports, were furious over the meeting.

Barkat's office is now reportedly working toward an agreement by which the city would support Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef as Jerusalem's Sephardic chief rabbi, and Shas would support a national religious contender for Ashkenazi chief rabbi.