With more than a decade having elapsed without a municipal chief rabbi, an October 21 date was set on Sunday for the election of two Jerusalem chief rabbis.
Rabbi Yitzhak Kolitz stepped down from his post as Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem in 2002 due to ill health and died in 2003 aged 81, while former Jerusalem Sephardi chief rabbi Shalom Mashash died the same year aged 90.
The elections have been held up for over ten years due to legal wrangling over how to elect candidates for the position.
In the last 12 months, the remaining legal battles have been completed and the five-member electoral committee, which includes Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, convened to establish a date for the election.
The committee approved the composition of the 48-member electoral panel which will elect the two chief rabbis in October.
The body comprises 24 representatives from the Jerusalem Municipal Council, delegates from 12 city synagogues and 12 representatives chosen by the Religious Services Minister, formally Bayit Yehudi faction leader and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, though Eli Ben-Dahan, the Religious Services Ministry’s deputy minister actually selected the nominees.
Every party in the municipal council gets at least one representative with the remaining delegates allocated according to the size of the party in the council.
Barkat’s Jerusalem will Succeed party has 3 votes; the Hitorerut party has 3; Yerushalmim and United Jerusalem led by Arye King both have 1 and were allocated a third, jointly-agreed representative; Likud has 1, the Paz party has 1; Bayit Yehudi has 1; Meretz has 1; the Ashkenazi haredi United Torah Judaism party has 6; the Sepahrdi haredi Shas party has six and another, hardline, haredi party called Bnei Torah has one.
Rabbi Arye Stern, 69, a prominent and respected figure in the national-religious community, is considered the strongest candidate for the position of Ashkenazi chief rabbi. He has had the backing from the national-religious community to be its candidate since 2009 and his campaign team have voiced confidence that he will succeed in gaining the 25 votes from the electoral panel required to be elected.
It is unclear which other candidates will stand against him, although Rabbi Eliyahu Schlesinger, who serves as municipal rabbi for the capital’s Gilo neighborhood, is a possible candidate for the haredi parties.
An outstanding candidate for the Sephardi position is not yet clear. Former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar has been frequently linked to the job, though associates have denied his interest in the role on more than one occasion.
Rabbi Eliyahu Abergil of the capital’s Baka neighborhood received a promise from late Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that he would be the party’s candidate for the job. Since then, however, Abergil has accepted nomination to the state Supreme Rabbinical Court and has theoretically, therefore, dropped out of the race for the time being – though the Selection Committee for Rabbinical Judges has yet to confirm him.