Katsav, Bakshi-Doron Call for Only One Chief Rabbi

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President Moshe Katsav and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron believe the time has come to do away with the duplicity at the Chief Rabbinate and have just one chief rabbi in Israel.

Speaking at a swearing-in ceremony for members of the Chief Rabbinate Council yesterday at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, Katsav called for abolishing the law that provides for two chief rabbis in the country.

"This article in the law," the president said, "should not exist, as authority should not be vested in an individual based on his [ethnic] origin.

"There is no need for it because the rabbinate can make do with the uniform regulations on religious matters, according to different traditions in the various communities and sects," he said.

"After 50 years of statehood and the Chief Rabbinate, it appears that the time has come to remove the divides and abolish the duplicity at the rabbinate; and this does not mean undermining the customs and traditions of each individual ethnic group."

According to Katsav, abolishment of the duplicity will serve to reinforce the nation's unity.

The president also called on the Chief Rabbinate Council to find a halakhic (of Jewish law) solution to the numerous non-Jewish immigrants arriving in the country. "Because if one isn't found," he said, "the next generation will encounter problems that cannot be solved."

The council, the president continued, should also prepare a plan of action aimed at reducing assimilation, while ensuring to maintain mutual respect.

Katsav statements were supported by Rabbi Bakshi-Doron, who said that the law providing for two chief rabbis in the country, together with the stipulation that the body that elects them be comprised half by Sephardim and half by Askenazim was unacceptable.

"It's time to put things right - to convey love, peace and brotherhood," Bakshi-Doron said.

The Sephardi chief rabbi added that during his 10 years in the post, alongside Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the two had never clashed over ethnic issues.

In light of such, he said, there had never been disputes over such issues in the Chief Rabbinate Council.

Rabbi Lau did not relate to the issue in his speech at the ceremony; but Religious Affairs Minister Asher Ohana expressed his opposition to unification of the Chief Rabbinate.

"The government's decision to dismantle the Religious Affairs Ministry is an indication that we are in exile, and, therefore, for as long as we are in exile, there is a need for two chief rabbis," Ohana said.

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