Bill for One Chief Rabbi of Israel Gains Traction in Knesset

The legislation would do away with the century-old tradition of two chief rabbis - one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi.

Olivier Fitoussi and Uriel Koby / Wikicommons

The Knesset has passed on first reading the government’s bill for Israel to have only one chief rabbi, not two – one of northern European origin and one of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern origin.

Currently, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi chief rabbi each serve for 10 years. According to the new bill, which passed 22-14 late Monday, the one chief rabbi will head the Chief Rabbinate Council.

“This bill, which was introduced with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, seeks to do the obvious, which should have been obvious many years ago,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who introduced the bill, said during the debate. “Israel has one president, one Knesset speaker and one chief of staff.”

According to Livni, “The time has come for Israel to have one chief rabbi, no matter from which community. There is no justification today for this separation of two chief rabbis, which began almost a century ago,” she said, adding that “the bill will be carried out once the current chief rabbis’ term expires.”

MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) opposed the move. “Why is this law being legislated?” he asked. “Does the fact that two rabbis serve disturb anyone? It only disturbs those who don’t understand or know what a rabbi’s role is.”

Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan replied: “This law strengthens the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. The Jewish people never had a situation in which there were two chief rabbis — study the Mishna. Unfortunately, it was done here because of the 2,000-year exile.”

In addition, an amendment to the Rabbinic Judges Law was proposed stipulating that a rabbinical court judge would serve as president of the Rabbinical High Court. The judge would be elected by the committee for appointing rabbinical judges.