Tensions between Bayit Yehudi and Shas over elections for the Chief Rabbinate reached a new high on Monday with party leader Naftali Bennett declaring that it was time “to stop being afraid of haredim.”
Bayit Yehudi sources added that they now doubt the sincerity of Arye Deri and Shas to abide by any deal reached between the two on the chief rabbi issue, noting in addition that Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef called the party “the home of non- Jews” during the elections, and recalling Shas’s support for the Oslo Accords in 1993.
Despite Bennett’s fighting words, he has still not backed away from a possible deal with Shas for mutual cooperation with the haredi party to back each other’s respective candidates for Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbi.
According to well placed sources within Bayit Yehudi, Bennett has issued what amounts to an ultimatum to Shas spiritual leader Yosef, calling on him to publicly support Rabbi Yaakov Ariel as Ashkenazi chief rabbi in return for Bayit Yehudi’s support for passing legislation to allow current Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to serve another term.
As the law stands, a chief rabbi can only serve one term.
Bayit Yehudi is concerned that if it advances legislation to allow Amar to stand for a second term without a public declaration of support from Yosef, then Shas will subsequently backtrack on its support for Ariel and clandestinely support a haredi candidate for Ashkenazi chief rabbi.
This is made possible by the fact that the election of the chief rabbis is conducted by a secret ballot of a 150- member committee, comprised of state-employed rabbis, many appointed by Shas, and other public officials.
The Bayit Yehudi sources added that the party will now support legislation to expand the electoral committee, thus diluting Shas’s influence. The party added that if Yosef fails to issue public support for the Ariel- Amar deal, Bayit Yehudi will nominate national-religious rabbis for both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbi positions.
Ariel, who is municipal chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, has been advanced by leading national-religious rabbis as their preferred candidate for Ashkenazi chief rabbi.
Bennett is understood to prefer Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical association, but is politically restrained from supporting him as candidate due to pressure from a coterie of senior national religious rabbis who see Stav as too liberal.
The Bayit Yehudi leader is said to be extremely angry with party colleague Uri Ariel who convened a meeting on Sunday with a group of senior national religious rabbis known as “The Seven Elders,” to discuss a letter from Shas leader Arye Deri which purportedly stated that Yosef favored the Amar- Ariel deal.
Absent from the meeting however was one of the “Seven Elders,” Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, who has expressed public support for Stav.
MK Ariel belongs to the Tekuma political bloc which joined forces with Bayit Yehudi in the general election to present a united list.
Tekuma and its rabbis are more religiously and politically conservative than Bayit Yehudi and these conflicts are creating political problems for Bennett.
The Bayit Yehudi leader saw Ariel’s meeting as an effort to force his hand on the Amar-Ariel issue.
Despite these political machinations, Bayit Yehudi will face serious obstacles in getting coalition approval for any such agreement. Yesh Atid No. 2 and Education Minister Shai Piron expressed – not for the first time – total opposition to passing the legislation required to make the deal possible.
Rabbi Ariel, who is 76, would also need legislation passed in order to change the current law prohibiting anyone over the age of 70 from standing as a candidate for chief rabbi.
“Yesh Atid emphasizes once again that the elections to the chief rabbinate must be held as scheduled without deals or changes to the law,” Piron said on Monday.
“The electoral committee should also be enlarged in order to allow for wider representation of the general Israeli population,” he added.