Speculation surrounding a possible deal between Shas and Bayit Yehudi for mutual
support for each other’s chief rabbi candidates in the elections in June
continue to abound, with political sources suggesting that an agreement is in
Several recent events have pointed to a possible agreement
between the two parties which would allow for current Sephardi Chief Rabbi
Shlomo Amar to run for a second term that Bayit Yehudi would support, in return
for Shas’s support for a national-religious candidate for Ashkenazi chief
The rumors were strengthened upon publication of the coalition
agreement signed on Friday between the Likud and Bayit Yehudi, which stipulated
that the government would pass two laws, one extending the current term of the
two chief rabbis for four months until the elections scheduled for June, and the
other allowing a chief rabbi to run for a second 10-year time, which is
currently prohibited by law.
The extension of the two-serving chief
rabbis’ terms was approved on Tuesday and Amar is understood to be keen to serve
a second term.
The election committee for the chief rabbis is comprised
of 150 people, including municipal chief rabbis, mayors and several politicians
and ministers. Because many municipal chief rabbis belong to Shas, support from
the political movement is important in guaranteeing election to the
Bayit Yehudi and party leader Naftali Bennett have made the
improvement of religious services and the public image of religion a priority
for the new government, a part of which is to revamp the Chief Rabbinate with a
national-religious rabbi in at least one of the chief rabbi positions.
presence of the two clauses in the coalition deal between the Likud and Bayit
Yehudi is thought to be proof positive that the possibility exists that the
national-religious party has agreed to support a second term for Amar, while
Shas will support, or at the very least not oppose, the candidacy of Rabbi David
Stav, a leading national-religious candidate and chairman of the Tzohar
Freshly appointed Deputy Religious Services
Minister Eli Ben-Dahan of Bayit Yehudi, who will be running the ministry, will
have particular influence on the selection process since he will appoint 20
members of the selection committee.
Ben-Dahan recently appointed Rabbi
Doron Danino as his chief of staff. Danino, who is Sephardi, was placed on the
20th spot on Bayit Yehudi’s Knesset electoral list, and held a warm meeting with
Amar in September before the general election.
Amar blessed Danino’s
campaign during the meeting, saying “May it be God’s will that the pleasantness
of his approach, his fear of heaven, his good intentions and his abilities will
come to fruition in the Knesset for the benefit of all the Jewish people,” the
national-religious Kipa website reported at the time.
Danino said after
the meeting that “every time I meet the Rishon Lezion [Sephardi Chief Rabbi]
Rabbi Amar I am moved by his greatness in Torah, the breadth of his knowledge
and his understanding of the Sephardi community in all its
Asked by The Jerusalem Post if Danino would be advocating for
Bayit Yehudi to support the reelection of Amar, a source within Bayit Yehudi
said that “Danino is a close friend of Rav Amar. The two are in
Questioned as to whether Danino expects Amar to advocate for
Shas to support Bayit Yehudi’s nomination for Ashkenazi chief rabbi, the same
source said that “Rav Amar has been supportive of Danino and his opinions in the
A Tzohar representative insisted that the organization was not a
political party and therefore not in a position to strike political deals. The
official said, however, that Tzohar “respects the moderate and reasonable
rulings in Jewish law of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas’s spiritual leader, and Rabbi
Amar,” and that it would be possible to work with the current Sephardi chief
Despite this, a Shas source told the Post that the likelihood of a
deal being agreed upon between the two parties was “unclear.”
several obstacles that will make a deal hard to reach. Foremost is the extremely
rancorous relationship between Bayit Yehudi and Shas, not to mention the
Ashkenazi haredi party United Torah Judaism, which have widely denounced Bennett
for allying with Yesh Atid during the coalition negotiations despite the
centrist party’s insistence on excluding the haredi parties from
Comments made by Yosef during the campaign, specifically that
Bayit Yehudi was the “home of non-Jews,” insulted many in the national-religious
party, and was frequently mentioned after the election by Bayit Yehudi MKs as a
source of grievance.
Additionally, if Shas were to support Stav, it would
lead to a serious confrontation between the Sephardi movement and UTJ, which is
vehemently opposed to the Tzohar chairman and has been even more vociferous in
its condemnation of Bennett.
UTJ is certainly not willing to give up
control of the Ashkenazi chief rabbi post to any national-religious rabbi, let
alone Stav, following the events of the coalition negotiations, and Shas may be
unwilling to incur the wrath of its Ashkenazi comrades.
Bayit Yehudi has not yet endorsed any candidate. There are two other
national-religious rabbis interested in the job; Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, dean of
Jerusalem’s Merkaz Harav yeshiva, and Rabbi Eliezer Igra, a rabbinical judge on
the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
Bayit Yehudi has set up a committee to
choose which candidate the party will endorse that will convene after Passover.
Although Stav is by far the most popular candidate among Bayit Yehudi voters,
Ben-Dahan is from the more conservative Tekuma party that joined forces with
Bayit Yehudi for the 2013 election and Tekuma’s rabbinic leadership does not
favor Stav’s candidacy.
The national-religious movement has of late set
its sights on retaking control of its former stomping-grounds in state religious
institutions, such as the Chief Rabbinate, which have been under haredi
dominance in recent years.
The election of a national-religious rabbi
would be a big step in this direction.