ANALYSIS: Explaining The Politics Behind The Forthcoming Chief Rabbinate Elections In Israel


JERUSALEM (VINnews) — In order to comprehend the situation regarding the Israeli chief rabbinate elections, which are slated to take place this summer but will likely be postponed for half a year, one needs a profound understanding of the politics behind the elections and the various bodies influencing the choices of chief rabbis.

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Until 1993, Religious Zionism held sway over the chief rabbinate, whose role and ideals in presenting religion and maintaining kashrus standards for the general public did not concern what was then a small and self-contained chareidi community. The chareidim were content to maintain their own kashrus, shmita and eiruv standards and largely ignored the rabbinate.

However since 1993 chareidim have effectively controlled both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic chief rabbi positions, and now realize how much influence they can wield. Local rabbis are appointed with approval of the rabbinate, while the rabbinical courts determine all complex issues of geirus, marriage and divorce. During the shmita year the rabbinate can maintain higher standards if it prefers not to use the heter mechira, and it can also create mehadrin levels of kashrus which can equal other private kashrus organizations.

In the meantime, the Religious Zionists have bristled as their flagship remains in chareidi hands. Politically they have not had enough power both in the selection committee, made up of 150 rabbi and public figures, to prevent the selection of chareidi rabbis. In the meantime an alternative more liberal organization, Tzohar, has challenged the rabbinate’s hegemony over all aspects of religious life, setting up hechsherim and calling for alternative geirus requirements. During the Bennett government Tzohar gained power and prominence as Religious Affairs minister Matan Kahane sought to weaken the rabbinate’s control over religious life.

Both the conservative religious Zionists (Chardal) and the chareidim see the liberal sector as a threat to normative religious authority and therefore are working together to prevent liberals from gaining a foothold in the rabbinate. Thus a deal has been evolving in which the Ashkenazi chief rabbi will be a religious Zionist conservative candidate acceptable to the chareidim and in return the religious Zionists will support any Sephardic candidate submitted by Shas. The power of the two groups should enable them to prevent the Ashkenazi chareidim from pushing their own candidate.

Despite this deal, a further complication has arisen, since the most likely and accepted religious Zionist candidate is Merkaz Harav’s Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yaakov Shapira (son of former chief rabbi Avraham Shapira) but he is over the age of 70 and thus ineligible to be chosen. Apparently a law is being prepared to allow chief rabbis to be appointed until the age of 75, but this will take time and for this reason Betzalel Smotrich and Arye Deri agreed Friday to postpone the elections for six months.

It is unclear whether such a law will pass, but the religious Zionist establishment, fearing that a large number of candidates will split their vote and allow a chareidi candidate to be chosen as Ashkenazi chief rabbi, decided to act. On Sunday they convened a committee of prominent rabbis, four candidates were submitted to the committee, which then surprisingly chose the youngest and least famous of the candidates, Rabbi Meir Kahane, who serves as head of the Ashkelon rabbinical court, to be the religious Zionist candidate if the law is not changed. If it is changed, Rabbi Kahane will presumably submit to Rabbi Shapira, who received an assurance in the lifetime of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that Shas would support him. (Rabbi Yosef had a warm regard for Rabbi Avraham Shapira). Cynics commented that the reason Kahane was chosen was to ensure that he would withdraw if Rabbi Shapira’s candidacy is permitted, as the other candidates could force a potential contest which would enable the chareidi candidate to win.

The biggest headache in the coming election however is reserved for former minister Aryeh Deri, who still controls Shas and will likely determine the next Sephardic chief rabbi. Deri has the unenviable task of choosing between his chavrusa and close friend Rabbi David Yosef, who brought him to Shas in 1984, and his own brother, Beersheva chief rabbi Yehuda Deri. How Deri will solve this conundrum will complete the last piece in the puzzle of the future chief rabbis for the next decade.




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1 year ago

We want Metzger

1 year ago

Competition with American politics !!!! Quite sad .