Chance of Zionist Becoming Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Fades as Race Officially Opens

Cabinet decides to appoint committee that will elect the chief rabbis, dimming hopes for some contenders.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

The election of a Zionist chief rabbi seems less likely than ever, as Sunday’s official start of the race for the rabbinate put a halt to the various deals and bills that were being put together to make such an election happen.

The cabinet’s decision to appoint the committee that will elect the chief rabbis means the rules governing that choice can no longer be changed.

For example, there will be no law allowing Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to contend for a second term. This is a blow to the chief rabbi, who is also experiencing a serious rift with his patron, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, following Yosef’s brutal verbal attack Saturday night on Rabbi David Stav, a Zionist who had become Amar’s ally in their mutual efforts to get elected.

It also means that the current law, which forbids rabbis over age 70 to run, remains in force. This eliminates other men proposed as candidates, including Rabbi Yaakov Ariel and former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.

Under the government resolution, the assembly to choose the next chief rabbis, apparently at the end of July, will have 150 members and be dominated by people affiliated with Shas and United Torah Judaism. The identity of most of the assembly’s members are known, as they are determined by law and include municipal rabbis, mayors and national politicians. Some 25 “public representatives” have yet to be chosen, and are the purview primarily of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett.

The decision by the government to appoint the assembly Sunday also means it will not be expanded to include more women and public representatives to reduce the relative weight of rabbis and members of the religious establishment. Bennett, however, has said he plans to appoint women to fill all the public representative slots that are his responsibility.

Panel expanded

Last week the rabbinical election oversight committee was expanded to 11 members and now includes two women: retired judge Sarah Frisch and attorney Tzipi Finkelstein. This body sets electoral procedures and makes sure that the election is fair.

While establishing the assembly officially opens the campaign for the chief rabbinate, the scrambling for position has been going on for many stormy months and has generated harsh arguments within the religious Zionist community and the Sephardic haredi community.

Stav had hoped to improve his chances in the electing assembly through a deal he had made with Amar, on the assumption that the latter would be allowed to contend again. Now that this deal has fallen through, Stav’s chances of being elected are significantly reduced.

These developments strengthen the candidacy of Modi’in Chief Rabbi David Lau for the post of Ashkenazi chief rabbi. Lau is known to have broad Haredi support as well as the support of Netanyahu. Lau will not declare his candidacy, however, until Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman, the rabbi of Migdal Ha’emek, decides whether to run. If Grossman contends, his chances of being chosen are considered high.

Candidates who identify themselves as Zionist rabbis, in addition to Stav, are Supreme Rabbinical Court Judge Rabbi Eliezer Igra and Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, head of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva and son of former chief rabbi Rabbi Avraham Shapira.

Now that Amar is out of the running, the campaign in the Sephardi community will become more intense.

The question now is whether any of Yosef’s sons will contend − and if so, which one. The three possible candidates are Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef ‏(head of the Hazon Ovadia Yeshiva‏); Rabbi Avraham Yosef ‏(chief rabbi of Holon‏); and Rabbi David Yosef, head of Kollel Yehaveh Da’at.

Other possible contenders include Rabbi Yehuda Deri, Be’er Sheva chief rabbi and brother of Shas chairman Aryeh Deri; Rabbi Binyamin Atias, chief rabbi of Petah Tikva and brother of Shas faction head Ariel Atias; Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed and son of former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu; and rabbinical court judges Rabbi Eliyahu Abergil and Rabbi Ratzon Arussi.

Rabbi David StavCredit: Tomer Appelbaum
Rabbi David Lau, Rabbi Eliezer Igra, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, Rabbi David Stav.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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