Habayit Hayehudi on Sunday announced that it would support the candidacy of Rabbi David Stav for the post of Ashkenazi chief rabbi, prompting Shas to counter that it would work to torpedo Stav’s candidacy.
The announcement by Habayit Hayehudi came after a long period of tension within the party over the issue, with the more conservative wing reluctant to support Stav, chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical association, because they think he is too liberal. For months party leader Naftali Bennett had refrained from publicly supporting Stav for fear of getting into a confrontation with those rabbis who oppose the Tzohar chairman. The other candidate is Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, who has the support of many religious Zionist leaders. Within Habayit Hayehudi Bennett's vacillation has sparked criticism.
On Sunday, Bennett convened the faction, announced that he was supporting Stav’s candidacy, and called on the rest of the faction to do so as well, saying Stav “would unite the people in Israel.”
The faction approved Stav’s candidacy by secret ballot, though how many of the 12 faction members voted in favor and how many opposed was not made public. To date, only four Habayit Hayehudi MKs have publicly expressed support for Stav – Bennett, Uri Orbach, Ayelet Shaked and Shuly Mualem.
The Tzohar organization called Stav in the afternoon to inform him of the party's support for his candidacy.
“Rabbi Stav thanked Bennett for his vote of confidence and promised that he would continue to work with the entire Israeli public, Haredim, religious Zionists and secular, to connect Israeli society to the Jewishness of the state and to make a true change in the way the rabbinate works for Israeli citizens.”
Also on Sunday the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill that would allow Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to serve for another term. The law currently limits chief rabbis to one 10-year term. Habayit Hayehudi sources said the ministers approved the bill because an understanding had been reached that Amar, in return, would express support for the religious-Zionist candidate for Ashkenazi chief rabbi chosen by Habayit Hayehudi, a move that would significantly improve Stav's chances of being chosen.
Shas, however, rejected any such deal.
“Given the vehement opposition of Maran [Yosef] Shas will work to foil the selection of Rabbi Stav to this exalted position,” the party announced.
Haaretz has learned that Amar met Stav last week at the bar mitzvah of the son of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto in New York. Also at the event were those Amar advisers who were the architects of various deals to get him elected to a second term.
The Sephardi chief rabbi's support for Stav would likely intensify the criticism of Ashkenazi Haredim, who accuse him of cooperating with the national religious. Amar’s office is particularly concerned about the response of Shas officials, charge that he is causing “serious harm to the sage of the generation,” meaning Shas spiritual leader, Rabbi OvadiaYosef. Amar's associates responded that “Rabbi Amar will do whatever Rabbi Ovadia tells him to do.”
Meanwhile, other disputes between the coalition parties over religious legislation are intensifying.
The so-called Stern law, which would increase the number of women on the body that elects the chief rabbis, passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset last month.
“Habayit Hayehudi acted fraudulently and violated an explicit promise to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that the ‘Stern law’ would not advance,” Shas said in a statement.
The bill may end up being shelved because of arguments between the parties over who will appoint the new members of the electoral body.
This angered Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who responded by saying that she would block advancement of two bills that Bennett, as religious services minister, wants to see passed: One that would allow couples to register for marriage in whatever locale they chose, and another that would prohibit rabbis from charging fees for registering marriages.
Livni's Hatnuah party said Sunday that while the party does not object to either bill in principle, it will block their progress until “Habayit Hayehudi gets a grip.”
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