Israeli Government Backs Bill for One City Rabbi, Not Two

Ministerial committee approves legislation proposal to unite local Ashkenazi and Sephardi rabbinates.

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The coalition is expected to support a bill that would see only one chief rabbi for each city in Israel instead of two, as current legislation allows. The bill entitled Appointment of chief municipal rabbis and their election, sponsored by MK Elazar Stern (Hatnuah), was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, opposed only by Habayit Hayehudi ministers.

Under the bill, in addition to there being one city rabbi instead of two (Ashkenazi and Sephardi), their terms would be limited to 10 years, although they would be allowed to seek a second term. The bill limits the age of city chief rabbis to between 40 and 70, and guarantees female representation in the bodies that elects the rabbis.

MK Stern welcomed the support for his bill. Insisting on the ethnic distinction only causes more alienation between Judaism and the public who use religious services," he said. "Furthermore, it would save tens of millions of shekels a year.

Every town rabbi costs the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of shekels a year, and according to an Haaretz inquiry, in dozens of cities and towns their salaries are higher than NIS 500,000 a year. The funds needed to support two chief rabbis per city almost doubles the cost, even before considering the costs of offices, aids, transportation and other expenses. Currently, many city and town rabbis are appointed for life, and receive huge salaries and social benefits.

The bill comes at a time when petitions to the High Court of Justice, position papers and other bills are questioning the necessity of the post of city rabbi. Several weeks ago the Knesset approved the Tzohar law, which, for the first time, nullified the monopoly local rabbis had on registering marriages and allows couples to choose their rabbi.

The idea of canceling the double function is not new in fact it dates back to the days the state was established. The Knesset is currently debating two bills calling for one chief rabbi for the state, instead of two, which has been the case since the Chief Rabbinate was established. These bills relate to the next election for chief rabbi, to be held in 2023.

Still, there are those who oppose the move. Former Shas MK Chaim Amsellem believes that such a move would weaken the moderate Sephardi rabbinate in the face of the more severe Ashkenazi-Haredi rabbinate.

Israel's two chief rabbis: Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau, left, and Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi and Uriel Koby / Wikicommons

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