With the terms of the two serving chief rabbis, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona
Metzger and Sefardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar rapidly drawing to a close, the
competition within the national-religious community to be acknowledged as the
sector’s consensus candidate is becoming increasingly fraught.
election will be conducted by a 150-member panel in a secret ballot in June, and
many in the national-religious world are eager that a rabbi from their community
be appointed to at least one of the two positions, having been frozen out of the
chief rabbinate during the last 10- year term.
Despite this, there is as
yet no consensus candidate from within the national religious
Last Thursday, a group of around 30 leading conservative
national religious rabbis convened a meeting in Jerusalem to discuss the issue
of candidacy. A vote was taken in which Rabbi Eliezer Igra, a rabbinical judge
on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, was selected as the preferred
The conference and vote was however, hotly opposed by more
liberal streams within the national religious community.
Torah Va’Avodah organization appealed to the Attorney-General’s Office to
prevent dozens of municipal rabbis and state rabbinical judges from attending
the event and voting, claiming that their participation would constitute
political activity, which is forbidden by law for state employees.
appeal, filed on behalf of NTA by attorney Aviad Hacohen, was accepted by the
Attorney-General’s Office, and the state-employed rabbis did not participate in
the end, leading to a relatively low turnout of approximately 30
A broader concern was that the conference organizers and the
rabbis invited to attend were in the majority associated with the more
conservative haredi wing of the nationalreligious community, and that Igra’s
selection was therefore an automatic outcome of the vote.
Rabbi David Stav, the chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical association who has
declared his candidacy for the position of chief rabbi, accused the haredi
nationalreligious leadership of backing Igra as part of a broader struggle for
control over the national religious community.
national-religious leadership is more explicitly political in its outlook, and
strongly wedded to the settlement movement and the hard right of Israeli
politics. It is also, generally speaking, more religiously conservative than the
mainstream national religious community.
Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, dean of
the prestigious Merkaz Harav yeshiva, is a third national-religious candidate,
also from the conservative stream of the national religious
Crucially, Bayit Yehudi has set up an internal committee,
headed by MK Rabbi Eli Ben- Dahan, to decide which candidate the party will
support, and will most likely make a decision after a coalition government has
Political backing will be vital for any candidate since the
religious services minister designates 20 members of the 150-member selection
committee for the chief rabbinical positions.
Whichever party controls
the ministry will therefore have a strong influence on the outcome of the
election. Bayit Yehudi leaders have stated that the religious services ministry
is one of their requests within the current coalition negotiations.
struggle between the national religious candidates is for legitimacy in the eyes
of their public and the political leadership as the consensus candidate who can
most likely succeed in the election.
Stav is widely hated by the haredi
sector for Tzohar’s various activities, perceived as having undermined the
haredi establishment. His opponents are therefore insisting that he is
ineligible by the selection committee, which has a significant haredi
Shapira is seen as more acceptable to the haredi leadership
The goal behind last Thursday’s conference was to broadcast
support for Igra, assisted by the appearance at the event of leading hardal
rabbis Dov Lior, the Kiryat Arba municipal rabbi; Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the Ramat
Gan municipal rabbi (who reportedly did not participate in the vote); Rabbi
Mordechai Sternberg, dean of the conservative Har Hamor yeshiva; and the
municipal rabbi of the Eli settlement and dean of the Ateret Yerushalayim
yeshiva, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, among others.
Despite this show of
strength, Stav has the strongest backing among Bayit Yehudi voters. A poll
conducted in January of the party’s supporters found that 59 percent support
Stav, with 26% in favor of Shapira and 15% preferring Igra.
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, dean of the Har Etzion yeshiva in the Alon Shvut
settlement and one of the leading mainstream national religious rabbi, publicly
recommended Stav’s candidacy to Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennet.