Chief rabbis of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Arye Stern .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
After a bitter and prolonged race replete with political intrigue, legal drama and machinations of every stripe, Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Arye Stern were respectively elected the Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis of Jerusalem on Tuesday night.
The two rabbis are filling posts that have been empty for over 10 years, following a protracted legal battle over the electoral process for the coveted positions.
The race for the Sephardi position centered around the ongoing conflict in the Shas movement and the Sephardi haredi world following the death of Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, with party chairman Arye Deri and the Yosef family on one side, and Rabbi Shlomo Amar and malcontents within the political party on the other.
Meanwhile, the race for the Ashkenazi position, though less bitter, also saw skulduggery in different forms and was vigorously contested by all candidates involved.
Regarding the Sephardi chief rabbi, the final voting results from the 48-member electoral body were 28 for Amar, 18 for his closest contender, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, and two votes for Rabbi Haim Amsalem.
For the Ashkenazi position, 27 votes went to Stern and 20 went to haredi Rabbi Moshe Haim Lau, with one abstention.
Speaking to the press after the election, Stern said it was a great merit to be elected.
“We will work to unite all sectors of the public and the different communities of Jerusalem in all their variety, and to draw people closer to Judaism,” he said.
Amar said the task of building Jerusalem was an ongoing project and one that he would strive to be part of as chief rabbi. He explicitly and warmly thanked, first and foremost, Tal Gan- Zvi – political adviser to Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett – who worked behind the scenes in the negotiations between the national-religious party and the haredi-affiliated Amar.
Amar notably thanked Rabbi Shalom Cohen, president of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, and influential national- religious Rabbi Haim Druckman.
Amar and Cohen held a phone conversation on Saturday night in which they patched over the bitter rifts between Amar – who was sidelined from the Shas rabbinic leadership following Yosef’s death – and Shas’s new rabbinic and political leadership, represented by Cohen.
Bayit Yehudi greeted the results of the vote with excitement, saying that “Jerusalem is in the hands of Zionism.”
The party was anxious to secure at least one national-religious chief rabbi of Jerusalem after its candidates failed in the elections for national chief rabbi last year. Bennett, Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan and several other key figures in the party worked hard to secure victory for Stern and Amar.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who pushed strongly to overcome the legal difficulties and finally hold the elections, had given Stern and Amar his support and political patronage, a move that contributed greatly to the success of their campaigns.
He said that he had promised he would work toward the election of one haredi and one national-religious rabbi for Jerusalem so as to represent “all of the city’s residents,” and that he had succeeded in this mission.
“I intend to work together with the chief rabbis first and foremost to deepen unity in Jerusalem and to build bridges between the different sectors,” Barkat said, adding that “the eyes of the whole world would look at rabbis Stern and Amar and see in them their path of drawing people closer [to Judaism, and their] moderation and openness to all communities.”
Ben-Dahan welcomed the election results as well, especially the election of a national-religious figure to a senior rabbinical position.
Ben-Dahan was influential in drawing up the electoral process regulations that the High Court of Justice deemed acceptable after years of dispute over the matter in the courts.