In the latest round of reports on the upcoming election for new chief rabbis, it appears Shas and Bayit Yehudi are heading for agreement. Following a meeting held on Sunday evening 25 Iyar 5773 attended by prominent dati leumi askan Natan Natanson and Minister (Bayit Yehudi) Uri Ariel, the two reportedly presented a documented from newly-appointed Shas leader Aryeh Deri that Maran HaGaon HaRav Ovadia Yosef Shlita will support a deal backing Rav Yaakov Ariel Shlita. The document contradicts earlier reports that Maran will not support a deal because the Gadol Hador did not want to deal with Bayit Yehudi, for the latter aligned with Yesh Atid.
Interestingly, if Bayit Yehudi wishes to run with R’ Ariel as a candidate, it will have to amend the law that prohibits anyone 70-years-old and older from announcing his candidacy. It was the National Religious Party back in the 1970s that pushed for this rule, as well as the law that prohibits a chief rabbi from seeking a second term. The latter will also have to be abolished to permit Rishon L’Tzion HaGaon HaRav Moshe Shlomo Amar Shlita to seek a second term, the second half of the Shas/Bayit Yehudi deal.
Deri indicates that Shas is on board, and it is now up to the Bayit Yehudi faction in Knesset to approve the deal. Interestingly, some in the dati leumi community feel that going with this deal represents a betrayal by Bayit Yehudi; for party members have already announced they prefer to see Rabbi David Stav as the next Ashkenazi chief rabbi. These dati leumi constituents view a deal with Shas as “selling out to the chareidim” despite the fact Rav Ariel is a major posek for the dati leumi community. Nevertheless, Rav Stav represents the new generation, perhaps a more liberal faction of the dati leumi community.
Even if Bayit Yehudi agrees to the deal without Yesh Atid on board they will lack sufficient support to amend the laws that would open the door for the current chief rabbi to seek a second term and permit Rav Ariel to run. Yesh Atid officials have already announced the party will support Rabbi Stav in the rabbinical race.
However, not everyone in Bayit Yehudi and the dati leumi community trusts Deri, and some feel that he is plotting to advance his cause at the expense of the dati leumi tzibur. The bill authored by MK (The Movement) Elazar Stern calls for expanding the voting body for chief rabbis from 150 to 200. Shas objects to this adamantly, well aware the bill is intended to dilute’ Shas’ major influence in that voting body. Most agree that if Stern’s bill passes, Rabbi David Stav will be the next Ashkenazi chief rabbi. That bill however is stuck in the ministerial committee as Bayit Yehudi contemplates its next move. Shas would prefer to see the bill vanish entirely.
There are those in Bayit Yehudi who fear that after the law is amended to clear the road for Rav Amar and Rav Ariel, Deri will shift his support for a chareidi Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Rabbi David Lau or Rav Yisrael Meir Lau. It will then be too late for Bayit Yehudi. Opponents to the deal remind supporters of dealing with Deri that the latter recently stated he opposes a deal with Bayit Yehudi that does not include a chareidi Ashkenazi candidate.
At present, Bayit Yehudi remains divided in their support for Rav Stav and Rav Ariel, with Rabbi Chaim Druckman Shlita applying pressure for the party to run with Rav Ariel, which compels a deal with Shas.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)