Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef could be the last people to hold those titles after the Ministerial Committee for Legislation authorized on Sunday a bill to have only one man stand at the head of the rabbinate.
“We need one rabbi for one people,” said Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. “Just like in the army, like in a synagogue, like in life. I am convinced this decision will contribute to strengthening the public’s trust in the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, in facing those who want to weaken the Jewish identity of the only Jewish state in the world.”
Bennett said he consulted with “major rabbis” before drafting the legislation.
The proposal by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Bennett and Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan seeks to separate rabbinic courts from the Chief Rabbinate.
Should the bill become law, the president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court will be selected from acting rabbinical court judges, similar to how secular Supreme Court presidents are chosen.
Currently, one chief rabbi is the head of the Supreme Rabbinical Court and another is chairman of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, and the two trade posts after five years, even if neither one previously served as a judge in rabbinical courts. This situation is inconsistent with the Justice Ministry’s policy of specificity for judicial positions.
If the bill passes three readings in the Knesset, it will go into effect after the current chief rabbis’ term.
“We don’t have two Israels.
We have the one Jewish, democratic Israel for all of us. Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Ethiopians, Russian-speakers, young and old – we are all one people,” Livni stated.
The bill will “put an end to the old-fashioned, divisive redundancy of having an Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbi,” Livni added, expressing hope that “having one chief rabbi will be another step toward an accepting and united society, which gives service from the heart, does not push people away and is helpful for all Jews in Israel.”
Last month, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate publicly opposed the proposal to unite the posts, saying it would harm religious services and Judaism.
“There is no overlap between the work of the two [chief] rabbis and the distinction between [their tasks] is not limited to the leadership of Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardi Jews,” the Council of the Chief Rabbinate said in a statement to the press. Even in the current situation there exists a heavy burden of work on the two chief rabbis, the council said, “and there is no justification to a process which at the end of the day will harm [the provision of] religious services.”
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Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.