Israeli National-religious Group to Field Candidates for Chief Rabbi

Elections are expected to be held at the end of March 2013, since both Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar end their ten-year terms next April.

Tzohar, the rabbinical organization that has recently launched a campaign to "strengthen the Chief Rabbinate" is considering running candidates in the upcoming elections for Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis.

The candidate for Ashkenazi chief rabbi will probably be the organization's chairman, Rabbi David Stav, though the move and the choice must still be approved by Tzohar's leadership.

The elections are expected to be held at the end of March 2013, since both Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar end their ten-year terms next April.

Sources in the national-religious Tzohar organization refused to confirm the details, but Stav has been mentioned as a possible candidate for some time now, and many Tzohar rabbis believe that after a decade of Haredi dominance of the Chief Rabbinate, it should be "more national and more Zionist."

Haredi rabbis still constitute a majority in the selection body that includes 150 rabbis, as well as representatives from the government, Knesset and religious councils.

The election campaign actually began last Friday with Tzohar's new campaign to encourage a new approach toward religious leadership through policy reform.

Meanwhile, various ultra-Orthodox rabbis have recently made moves that suggest they will declare candidacy for the rabbinate, such as hiring strategic advisors and courting political support.

Although he denies interest in the position, one interesting candidate for Sephardi chief rabbi could end up being Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, Shas' rebel Knesset member. Amsellem said that a "very senior official figure" called on him several days ago to present his candidacy, but that he prefers to continue his political career. Therefore, he said, he will support "another Sephardi Zionist Haredi," whose name he refused to divulge. Still, Amsellem said he might publicly support Tzohar's candidate for the Ashkenazi post.

Other names mentioned for the Sephardi chief rabbi candidacy are Be'er Sheva Chief Rabbi Yehuda Deri (Aryeh Deri's brother ) and brothers Rabbi Avraham Yosef from Holon and Rabbi David Yosef from Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood (they are the sons of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, himself a former Sephardi chief rabbi ). However, David is considered close to Aryeh Deri, and therefore would be unlikely to run against Yehuda Deri. )

Candidates for the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi include Modi'in Chief Rabbi David Lau (son of former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau ), and Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, head of the Haredi-national Yeshivat Merkaz Harav (son of former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira ). Still other names in the mix are Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman and Rabbi Natan Shoham.

The possible candidates include four sons of former chief rabbis, and possibly a fifth - Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed, son of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who already ran in 2003.

Despite completing a ten-year term, Chief Rabbi Amar's allies have recently tried to change the existing law, so as to allow him to run for a second ten-year term. The "Amar Law" was sponsored by former Kadima MK Eli Aflalo, who has since left the Knesset. Rabbi Metzger has already declared that he isn't interested in a second term.

Back in 2003 Metzger defeated Ramat Gan Rabbi Ya'akov Ariel by a handful of votes. Ariel is now the president of Tzohar, but, in any case, this is the first time the organization is planning on fielding a declared candidate, and is seeking contributions for the campaign.

Tzohar was established in 1997 in order to hold marriage ceremonies for secular couples who are hostile to the Haredi rabbinical establishment.

Tess Scheflan
Olivier Fitoussi