The Day Shas Let Secular Mayor Pick a Rabbi

The race to become one of Jerusalem's two chief rabbis is shifting into high gear, with the parties in various sectors of the community working to have their favored candidate installed.

The Shas party, which is directing the process, is determined to have Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (the son of the party's spiritual leader, Ovadia Yosef) named chief Sephardi rabbi in the capital. His appointment is a high priority for Religious Affairs Minister Yaakov Margi of Shas. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is trying to come to an agreement with Shas in which the mayor would support the candidacy of Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who is a significant figure in the religious world in his own right, on the condition that Shas agree to the appointment of a religious Zionist candidate as the city's Ashkenazi chief rabbi.

The posts of chief rabbi in Jerusalem have been vacant since 2003, when both incumbents died. Shas has attempted to have the posts filled for several years, but the process got hung up after Shas attempted to implement regulations making it easier for the party to appoint its candidates as chief rabbis in various cities. This jammed to a halt with a petition to the High Court of Justice.

After Margi was named religious affairs minister, an appointment procedure for municipal chief rabbis was worked out, and on Friday, notices were published to begin the complicated selection process by inviting the submission of candidates for chief rabbi of Jerusalem. The selection process involves a committee including the mayor as well as representatives of synagogues in the city, representatives of the minister of religious affairs and representatives reflecting parties' strength in the city council.

Although it is not certain that Barkat will come to an understanding with Shas, efforts have already begun among the religious Zionist leadership to unite behind a single candidate. Among potential candidates for the post of Ashkenazi chief rabbi are Rabbi Yosef Carmel of the Eretz Hemda religious seminary; Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the Tzohar Foundation; Rabbi Aryeh Stern of the Halakha Berurah Institute; and Rabbi Yaakov Shapira of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. One of them will run against the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox candidates, who include David Lau, son of Israel's former chief rabbi, Israel Meir Lau. Because of the complexity of the selection process, the parties involved are trying to exert whatever influence they can on the selection committee. Recently one of Barkat's city council coalition partners, the Hitorerut (Wake Up) Jerusalem faction, attempted to increase representation of religious Zionist synagogues on the selection committee.

The selection process has engendered complaints regarding the lack of prominence of the notices sent to the congregations. There is even the threat of a petition to the High Court of Justice. In response to the complaints, Rabbi Avner Amar, who oversees procedures at the Religious Affairs Ministry for the appointment of rabbis, said notice appeared in the newspapers affiliated with all of the sectors involved. "The process is open to everyone," he said, promising that everyone submitted as a candidate would be considered.