People pray ahead of Yom Kippur on the roof of a seminary overlooking the Western Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City in 2012..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The convoluted and politically charged electoral race for the positions of Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem entered the final strait Sunday night and Monday, with rabbis Arye Stern and Shlomo Amar in pole position for the twin posts ahead of the vote on Tuesday afternoon.
The rabbis are elected by a 48-member electoral body comprising 24 representatives from the City Council, according to the division of seats; 12 representatives designated by the minister of religious services; and 12 representatives designated by different synagogues around the city.
Amar, 66, declared his intention to run for the Sephardi post less than two weeks ago after securing the crucial backing of Bayit Yehudi and Mayor Nir Barkat. Although haredi, he gained the support of Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and other senior party officials who did not view favorably any of the other candidates, including hardline national-religious rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu or Rabbi Haim Amsalem.
Eliyahu entered the race at the last possible moment and has secured the backing of the haredi Degel Hatorah party.
He also gained the tacit backing of Shas in what seemed like a ploy to thwart Amar and score political points over Bayit Yehudi.
Amar has been in a long-running feud with Shas, having fallen out with party chairman Arye Deri and the movement’s spiritual leader, the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, over the elections for national chief rabbi back in December 2013.
However, he met with current Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef last week and on Sunday received the public backing of the president of the Shas Council of Torah Sages, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, who hitherto had been antagonistic toward Amar.
Having secured Shas’s backing, Amar is now almost certain to win, with Eliyahu’s chances looking increasingly remote.
As minister of religious services, Bennett was able to nominate one-quarter of the delegates to the electoral body. A Bayit Yehudi source expressed confidence that the would vote for Amar in accordance with Bennett’s wishes.
The party explicitly backed Amar despite his being haredi.
Eliyahu is from the national- religious sector, which forms the vast majority of Bayit Yehudi’s constituency.
Amsalem, a former Shas MK who rebelled against the party in 2012 and has adopted liberal positions on several issues of religion and state, had sought the backing of liberal parties on the City Council. Indeed, he secured the public backing of the Hitorerut B’yerushalayim party.
Amsalem upset Bayit Yehudi leaders earlier this year when he refused an offer to join the party for the next general election and joined the Likud instead, speaking out fiercely against the party’s position on conversion at the same time.
In the race for the Ashkenazi position of Jerusalem’s chief rabbi, Stern, 69, has long been the national-religious candidate and received the crucial backing of Bayit Yehudi and Barkat, as well as several parties on the City Council.
Sources on his campaign team are confident of getting at least 25 votes on the electoral body.
The haredi parties have backed Rabbi Moshe Haim Lau, who serves as a neighborhood rabbi in Netanya, for the Ashkenazi position. Lau is the brother of national chief rabbi David Lau and son of former national chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who currently serves as chief rabbi of Tel Aviv.
Lau’s chances of defeating Stern seem remote, however, due to the latter’s widespread support on the electoral body.
The vote will take place Tuesday between 4 and 7 p.m. at city hall. The results will be announced shortly thereafter.