Rabbi David Lau, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Modi’in, is one of the two leading
candidates for the position of Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi.
He is the
officially endorsed candidate of the haredi rabbinic and political leadership
but has been touting his credentials as a candidate for all, based on his record
in Modi’in as a rabbi who has embraced nonreligious, modern-Orthodox and haredi
sectors of the city alike.
Lau is also the son of the former chief rabbi
and current chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. And like his
father, he has a foothold in both haredi and modern Israeli society.
was born in Tel Aviv in 1966 and was educated at haredi institutions. But he
took to life as a pulpit rabbi in the religiously mixed and largely nonreligious
town of Shoham as chief rabbi there, coincidentally the place where Lau’s main
opponent in the current election, Rabbi David Stav, currently serves as chief
Lau has had a weekly television slot on Channel 1 for seven years
called Ask the Rabbi, which broadcasts on Friday afternoon, and also has had a
radio slot on Radio Kol Hai since 1999. Additionally, he set up an Ask the Rabbi
website for questions on Jewish law, the first to do so in Israel according to
the claims of associates.
In the struggle for the Chief Rabbinate, Lau is
pitted against Stav, the national-religious chief rabbi of Shoham and chairman
of the Tzohar rabbinical association, who has based his campaign on the mantra
of reform and change for the Chief Rabbinate, an agenda that deeply worries the
haredi establishment and has antagonized its political leadership.
has therefore asserted what he claims are his universal credentials, since he is
acceptable to the haredi leadership but has also served successfully as the
chief rabbi of a religiously diverse city such as Modi’in.
But he has
nevertheless sought and received the endorsement of the highest haredi
rabbinical figures in the land, with Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, the
acknowledged leader of Ashkenazi haredi Jewry, issuing his public support for
With this backing comes the political support of the United Torah
Judaism party, as well as that of Shas in all likelihood, which amounts to
serious strength on the 150-member electoral committee that elects the chief
The winning Ashkenazi candidate in the last elections for the
Chief Rabbinate was current Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, who was supported by
Shteinman’s predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, testifying to the
importance of the haredi vote on the committee.
Metzger was widely
considered to be beholden to the senior haredi leadership, for instance allowing
chief municipal rabbis to decide for their jurisdictions whether to implement a
leniency for kashrut authorization for Sabbaticalyear produce. The leniency is
strongly opposed by haredi authorities but a cornerstone of the
national-religious approach to the Chief Rabbinate.
Lau’s position on the
leniency – referred to as “heter mehira” and a bellwether for the general
inclination of a chief rabbi’s tenure – is unknown, and requests for
clarification as to his position made by The Jerusalem Post went
But despite the source of Lau’s political patronage, he has
been keen to avoid the image of being the haredi candidate.
In a recent
interview, the rabbi declared that he did not belong to any particular religious
grouping and asserted that he had been depicted as a haredi rabbi by
“I belong to everyone,” Lau said in an interview with the Olam
Katan Shabbat pamphlet.
“A rabbi needs to belong to everyone. Enough with
the factionalism. We all are joined through the 13 principles of faith of
Maimonides and we are all joined by the desire to spread Judaism.”
also said that he says the Hallel prayer with a blessing on Independence Day –
something else that distinguishes him from haredi society.
who has presented a clear agenda for a change in the Chief Rabbinate’s approach
to the general public, for bureaucratic reform, as well as a campaign for
alleviating different problems associated with marriage and divorce, Lau has not
spelled out a specific plan of action.
In this, he is not different from
most other candidates – apart from Stav – who have generally refused to grant
onthe- record interviews in the run-up to the election.
But regarding the
issue of marriage registration, Lau has pointed to a successful program he set
up in Modi’in for people to be able to register for marriage online and then
visit the local rabbinate just once, in order to avoid unnecessary
He is also interested in easing the burdensome bureaucracy
involved in the provision of religious services, to create a better “customer”
experience, but he has opposed legislation backed by Tzohar and Stav to abolish
local marriage registration jurisdictions, a move designed to create greater
competition and thus improve the service.
Lau says that the approach
adopted in Modi’in could serve as a national model and that the legislation is
As well as having the backing of the haredi parties, Lau has
also gained support from the Prime Minister’s Office, and Natan Eshel – a senior
adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his former chief of staff – has
worked on behalf of the prime minister to muster support for Lau’s
This support could be critical when it comes to the vote on
Wednesday, with candidates expected to need at least 65 of the 150 votes, if not
more, to secure victory.
Meanwhile, on Monday the High Court of Justice
will hear Meretz MK Esawi Frej’s emergency petition to disqualify Safed Chief
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu – due to alleged incitement against Arabs – from running
for Sephardi chief rabbi.
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