Members of Habayit Hayehudi are split over who to support in the race for Chief Rabbinate, with party leader Naftali Bennett strongly in favor of Rabbi David Stav, a founder of the religious Zionist organization, Tzohar.
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On Sunday Bennett denied reports about “deals of one sort or another with Shas or other parties” concerning the race for the Chief Rabbinate, which were apparently made without his agreement.
Bennett's statement was published close to midnight, a short time after Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the rabbi of Ramat Gan, had already officially announced his candidacy for Ashkenazi chief rabbi.
Ariel’s candidacy was agreed upon Sunday at a special meeting which he attended along with five leading rabbis in the religious Zionist camp, who approved his candidacy for Ashkenazi chief rabbi, as part of a deal with Shas. The deal calls for supporting a bill that would enable incumbent Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to serve an unprecedented second term.
The deal with Shas was presided over by two Habayit Hayehudi party members -- Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel and Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Bennett (who also serves as the minister for religious affairs) supports Stav's candidacy for Ashkenazi chief rabbi. His statement reveals the depth of the rift within Habayit Hayehudi and could trigger a conflict with the top religious Zionist rabbis who back Ariel as their candidate.
The 150-member body that elects the two chief rabbis consists of rabbis, mayors, heads of religious councils, and appointees of the chief rabbis and of the minister of religious services. The electors are currently made up of a clear majority of ultra-Orthodox members, which means that Bennett will not be able to bring about the appointment of a Zionist chief rabbi without cutting a deal with the ultra-Orthodox.