Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger blasted the national-religious rabbinical association Tzohar on Wednesday for a recent advertising campaign calling for the Chief Rabbinate to improve its relationship with the public, as well as the group’s announcement that it would present a candidate for the upcoming election for Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis.

Speaking on the haredi Kol Berama radio station on Wednesday morning, Metzger implicitly accused Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav of using the organization to finance his own candidacy for Ashkenazi chief rabbi.

“The [advertising] campaign cost millions of shekels, all seemingly for pure motives, and now the cat is out of the bag that all these initiatives were created for one person,” Metzger said, referring also to Tzohar’s announcement last month that it would submit candidates for consideration as the new chief rabbis who are expected to be chosen in six months.

In response to the chief rabbi’s comments, Tzohar said that Metzger should deal with the “substantive matters” raised by its campaign, launched in August, and not see it as a personal issue.

“It would be better if the chief rabbi would deal with the actual issues, such as the alarming figures published by the Central Bureau for Statistics which show that a third of secular couples prefer to get married in civil ceremonies [abroad]; converts who are belittled and abused by the institution which he heads; and in general the fact that a large part of Israeli society want Judaism and tradition, but is disgusted by that same Judaism when it comes to them through the offices of the Chief Rabbinate,” the NGO said in a statement to the press on Wednesday following Metzger’s remarks.

Tzohar also said that its advertisement did not mention either of the chief rabbis and was simply designed to promote public debate on the purpose of the rabbinate in Israeli society.

The group’s statements when it launched the campaign did, however, sharply criticize the rabbinate, saying it had “become increasingly aligned with anti-Zionist sectors,” and that its policies had caused Israelis to marry abroad in non-Jewish ceremonies, dissuaded people from converting and had in general “strayed far away from the core values of religious Zionism which the rabbinate was founded on.”

The campaign advertisements themselves invoke the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook, who created the rabbinate and is regarded as the founding father of religious Zionism, and call for it to return to its “Zionist roots.”

At the end of August, Tzohar announced that it would submit a candidate from the organization to stand in elections for the two chief rabbi positions.

Stav has not ruled out the possibility that he may be the Tzohar candidate, saying that he would have to “think very hard” whether or not to submit himself to Tzohar’s selection process.

Metzger also said during his interview that electioneering was inappropriate for the selection process of the chief rabbis, who are chosen in a ballot of a 150- member selection board comprised of representatives from the government, the Knesset and regional religious councils.

It is thought that the majority are haredi.

“Tzohar started out with free initiatives,” Metzger continued, in reference to the organization’s free wedding service, “but now they’re dealing with millions.

Where has all this money come from?” Tzohar said the funds for its campaign had been received from Jews who were “as concerned” about the rabbinate as the NGO was.

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