Just How Complicated Can Chief Rabbinate Election Dealings Get?

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lauShas is working to pass a bill that would permit Chief Rabbi Moshe Shlomo Amar Shlita to run for a second 10-year term. Hence it is dubbed the Amar Bill. The bill permits a second term and lists the 70-year-old age barrier for a candidate. Rabbi Chaim Druckman is working to push Bayit Yehudi to accept Rabbi Yaakov Ariel as the dati leumi candidate, and Yesh Atid and The Movement parties have announced they will vote for Rabbi David Stav.

Rabbi Stav announced that if Rabbi Ariel joins the race he will drop out, and rumors hint at the possibility that if the Shas bill succeeds in passing in Knesset, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau will join the race, seeking a second term as the nation’s chief rabbi. This would result in his son Rabbi David Lau and most likely other chareidi candidates to drop out. Some feel Rav Ariel would also back out of the race in such a case.

While the dati leumi community seeks the support of Maran HaGaon HaRav Ovadia Yosef Shlita for Rabbi Ariel’s candidacy, it in turn would support Rabbi Amar’s bid for a second term.

Now enters Yisrael Beitenu and its agenda to have retired Likud MK and minister David Levy elected as the next president of Israel in that election in another year. Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman’s bureau chief is a son-in-law to Levy, and a daughter of the former foreign minister, MK Orli Levi-Abekasis is a member of Lieberman’s party. According to Maariv, Lieberman is “probing” the political realities of pushing Levy’s candidacy, for he would like to see him serve as president since he enjoys widespread support. In exchange for backing for Lieberman’s candidate for president, the Yisrael Beitenu leader would assist Shas in passing the Amar Bill and back the Bayit Yehudi candidate for chief rabbi.

Maariv adds that Rabbi Druckman has been in contact with Maran HaGaon HaRav Ovadia Yosef Shlita seeking his support for Rav Ariel’s candidacy. Many posit this should not be difficult since Chacham Ovadia support Ariel’s candidacy ten years ago in the last election, but ultimately gave in to chareidim and shifted support to Rabbi Yonah Metzger in that election. Rav Ovadia however has stated Rav Ariel, who now serves as chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, is a suitable and worthy candidate. Rabbi Druckman of course told Rav Ovadia that Bayit Yehudi would support Rav Amar’s bid for a second term in return for Shas support for Rav Ariel.

Adding to the complex behind the scenes reality surrounding the election for chief rabbinate elections is the fact that Bayit Yehudi has discussed a recommendation from Dr. Hadar Lifshitz of the Ne’emanei Torah V’Avodah Movement, seeking to expand the voting body from its current 150 members to over 300. The new voting body would include all MKs (120), 30 representatives from world Jewish organizations, 150 rabbis (to be selected by the current voting body), more IDF rabbis and 10 female rabbinical advocates. The latter would be selected by the outgoing chief rabbis. The dati leumi political part seems to favor the newly defined election body for the post of chief rabbis.

There is also the bill from MK (Likud) Moshe Feiglin calling for the election of only one chief rabbi, not two.

And finally, Kikar Shabbat reports on Monday 12 Iyar 5773 that a “source” close to Maran HaGaon HaRav Ovadia Yosef Shlita indicates the gadol hador will not support a deal that benefits Bayit Yehudi even though Shas stands to gain for such an arrangement due to the actions of the dati leumi party during the elections and its control of the Ministry of Religious Services. The source is quoted as adding “Maran is willing to lose both chief rabbi posts and not assist the party that put a knife in their backs by opting to go with Yair Lapid.”

Yisrael Hayom adds that Rishon L’Tzion HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Moshe Amar Shlita on Sunday visited Rav Ovadia, asking him to support the candidacy of Rav Ariel. It appears this did occur, and the Kikar source adds “The gadol hador will not comply. It appears Rav Amar forgot just how much pain and grief Bayit HaYehudi caused to us.”

Shas is also aware that if Bayit Yehudi moves ahead with the plan to amend the voting body as indicated to over 300, such a move is likely to enjoy the support of Yesh Atid, The Movement and others, and this would significantly reduce Shas’ change for an election success. In addition, current Knesset realities are such that the Amar Bill is far less likely to pass then it was in the previous Knesset, and Shas is aware of this realization as well.

So we see the election of Israel’s chief rabbis is dependent on many factors, few relating to one’s gadlus as a talmid chacham or the like; but it more accurately reflects a candidate’s popularity or political ties along with political agendas in Knesset, outside rabbinical influence, and other considerations. That is not to say a talmid chacham cannot be elected, but to many entitled to vote, gadlus is not a major criteria.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)


2 COMMENTS

  1. The opinion stated is completely off base, as all potential candidates discussed in the article are talmidei chachamim who can claim gadlus b’torah. Please retract the “motzi shem ra” you wrote.

    All that can be said is the selection of one qualified candidate over another is very political, and the proposed structural changes even more so. Perhaps, in the future, the latter might lead to unqualified candidates.