Analysis / The Most Inexperienced Rabbi of All

Assume MK attorney Ronni Bar-On was appointed president of the Supreme Court. Sounds bogus? That, more or less, is the meaning of the election of the rabbi of north Tel Aviv, Yona Metzger, as the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi.

Assume MK attorney Ronni Bar-On was appointed president of the Supreme Court. Sounds bogus? That, more or less, is the meaning of the election of the rabbi of north Tel Aviv, Yona Metzger, as the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi.

A chief rabbi's term in office is divided in two: for five years, the rabbi serves as the president of the Chief Rabbinate, and for another five years serves as president of the High Rabbinical Court. Metzger, who has never worked as a dayan (rabbinical judge), will now become the highest authority in Israel on matters of conversion and divorce.

Metzger now becomes the boss of Rabbi Shlomo Dichovsky - the most prominent dayan in Israel, who was asked by the President of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, to join the Supreme Court. Dichovsky was one of those running against Metzger, and was probably the most suitable candidate. Maybe it was precisely because of his outstanding qualifications that he was not elected.

Even if Metzger has the sense to postpone his term as president of the High Rabbinical Court to the second part of his term, from now on he will nevertheless serve as a dayan on the court and will preside in any case he hears. As President of the Chief Rabbinate, he will have to answer highly complex questions about kashrut, even though until now he was not even authorized to give a kashrut stamp to to a neighborhood eatery.

The Chief Rabbinate might be facing an even greater embarrassment if a petition is brought to the High Court of Justice concerning complaints that were filed against Metzger, including one about forging marriage certificates. Could the High Court, the greatest foe of the Chief Rabbinate, disqualify Metzger? And why should Metzger be disqualified when his predecessor, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, was allowed to keep his job despite accusations of sexual harassment?

There were those who argued yesterday that if Lau's election seemed like the lowest point in the rabbinate's history, Metzger's election set a new record. Rabbi Lau was the prototypical representative rabbi, although it was not quite clear who and what he represented, and Metzger is a Lau clone. But while Lau was appointed chief rabbi after serving as the chief rabbi of Netanya and of Tel Aviv, Metzger only worked as a neighborhood rabbi, a unique post in the public service with a blurry definition - nobody in fact knows just what a neighborhood rabbi is supposed to do.

It has already been said that Rabbi Metzger's master plan was to follow Rabbi Lau's footsteps, first to the rabbinate of Netanya and then to that of Tel Aviv. One of Rabbi Metzger's main stumbling blocks on his route was none other than Rabbi Lau. Now Metzger skyrocketed to the highest job of all, and Lau will have no choice but to see him take his old seat.

Metzger was supported by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the leader of Degel Hatorah, who is consider by the ultra Orthodox community as the greatest contemporary Halachic ruler. Elyashiv is a past member of the High Rabbinical Court, and surely knows that Metzger is unfit to lead it. What does this say of Rabbi Elyashiv? Maybe that the means justified the end - preventing the appointment of Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel, the candidate backed by the National Religious Party.

Perhaps the progress of Elyashiv's confidant, Rabbi Yosef Efrati, in the next few years will provide the key to Elyashiv's choice. Will Metzger help secure Efrati's appointment as the chief rabbi of Jerusalem? Will Efrati's affiliates get special breaks in produce imports on years of shmita (every seventh year, when Jewish farmers must leave fields fallow)? Or maybe this is simple Machiavellianism, and Elyashiv's only objective was to humiliate the Zionist Rabbinate as much as he possibly can.

Lau is not the only loser in this race. Until the last elections, the National Religious Party had a deal with Shas: Shas candidate Shlomo Amar would be appointed Chief Sephardi Rabbi, and NRP candidate Ariel would be appointed Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi. NRP has paid a dear price for joining the coalition, and Shas's revenge is oh-so-sweet. Amar has indeed been elected, and will be replacing outgoing Sephardi Rabbi, Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron. Ariel, however, is out.

NRP's spiritual leader, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who played all his cards to get his son, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, elected chief Sephardi rabbi, is another loser. Eliyahu took a beating from his old-time rival, Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who backed Amar. Amar won 124 to Eliyahu's 14 votes.

But Metzger's election is not all bad. Although he was supported by the ultra Orthodox wing, he was undoubtedly the most moderate and most Zionist candidate. If he has the courage to stay moderate, he may prove to be the biggest surprise that the Chief Rabbinate could expect, and Rabbi Elyashiv might rue every vote he has given him.