Former chief rabbi Shlomo Amar at Western Wall.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has formally submitted his candidacy to be Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem following months of speculation as to his long-term political ambitions.
Amar submitted his candidacy just one day before Tuesday’s deadline.
Sources in Bayit Yehudi have confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that the rabbi has the party’s backing, which will be critical in gaining the requisite 25 votes from the 48-member electoral body, since 12 of the members have been appointed by the Minister of Religious Services, a role formally held by Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.
Bayit Yehudi’s candidate for the Ashkenazi position, Rabbi Arye Stern, is thought to have strong backing on the electoral body and backing for Amar is not expected to bring much added electoral value for Stern.
The national-religious Bayit Yehudi has thrown its weight behind Amar, who is a strongly haredi figure albeit with strong Zionist inclinations, as a way of gaining increased influence, both politically and in terms of rabbinic authority, a separate source said.
Amar also enjoys the support of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat putting him in a strong electoral position.
Amar’s announcement would seemingly put an end to his widely rumored goal of wielding influence as a spiritual guide to a political party following the huge rift that developed between him and the Shas political and rabbinic leadership.
Amar was at one point thought to be in line to inherit the mantle of spiritual leadership of the party from the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef but a major falling out with party chairman MK Arye Deri, and subsequently Yosef himself, shortly before he died, destroyed such hopes.
Speculation has gathered pace that former Shas chairman and Deri opponent MK Eli Yishai could split from Shas and form his own party with Amar as its spiritual leader, but the rabbi’s announcement on Monday would seem to end all hopes for Yishai in this regard.
What is still unclear is if Shas will submit its own candidate for the position. Rabbi David Yosef, a member of the Shas Council of Torah Sages and son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is the party’s likely candidate if it does decide to run against Amar.
It is thought that David Yosef has assembled a campaign staff, although a decision to run or not has yet to be taken.
In a statement to the press, Amar said that if elected chief rabbi of Jerusalem he would work to unite all communities of the city and “to unify the ranks of traditional Sephardi Judaism.”
The statement continued, saying that Amar “sees as a holy obligation the task of raising the prestige of the rabbinate in the Holy City after many years in which there have been no chief rabbis,” his office said Monday.
“Out of a sense of heavy responsibility, he decided to take upon himself this mission to continue to work ceaselessly to bring people closer [to Judaism] and to spread the Torah through ways of pleasantness to all Jews according to our traditions transmitted to us throughout the generations,” read Amar’s comment.
The final deadline for candidates to submit their candidacy is 12:00 noon Tuesday.
Stern is thought to have strong backing on the electoral body and Bayit Yehudi’s backing for Amar is not expected to bring much added electoral value for Stern.
However, potentially serious bureaucratic problems have been discovered in relation to his formal qualifications to serve as a chief municipal rabbi.
In addition, the High Court of Justice is expected to hear a petition against the electoral process from haredi parties who claim that new regulations governing the election of chief municipal rabbis give too much power to the Minister of Religious Services.
Stern will turn 70 in December after which the law would prevent him from standing for election.
In the event that Stern’s candidacy is rejected, or the court postpones the elections until after Stern’s 70th birthday, Bayit Yehudi is preparing Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, dean of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, as an alternative candidate for the position.
The election is scheduled for October 21.