Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau wrote to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in January in an attempt to install a new director of the Chief Rabbinate without an appointments committee, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The chief rabbis have been in conflict with Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan regarding the appointment of a director for months.
The position carries significant influence and plays a major role in running a large government bureaucracy, as well as holding leverage over the internal politics of the body and its relationship with the Religious Services Ministry.
In a letter obtained by the Post, Lau and Yosef wrote to Netanyahu asking him to change the position from one that requires the establishment of a selection committee to a political appointment, simply requiring the confirmation of their personal selection by the appointments committee of the state’s civil service.
Regulations stipulate that the position of director of the Chief Rabbinate be advertised in a public tender, with candidates appointed by a five-man selection committee, including one representative of the chief rabbis.
The chief rabbis’ letter appears to be an attempt to circumvent Ben-Dahan and the Religious Services Ministry to install a director favorable to the Chief Rabbinate’s agenda.
The chief rabbis sent the letter in the middle of January without notifying Ben-Dahan, who was informed of the document by cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit this week.
At the end of last year, outgoing director Oded Weiner’s term was extended until the end of May because of arguments between Ben-Dahan and the chief rabbis about finding a replacement.
In their letter, Lau and Yosef said that the reason for making the director subject to appointment by selection committee in 1999 was that it involved regulatory activities “for guarding the public interest in a specific field and therefore requires a great degree of independence and a lack of professional dependence.”
They argued that a selection committee is no longer necessary since the Council of the Chief Rabbinate has taken on the regulatory tasks of the director.
“The problem is that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate al so deals with regulatory issues in the field of kashrut and marriages... in practice these activities are carried out in accordance with instructions of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate – the director does not issue directives on these issues and is not regularly involved in them,” the chief rabbis wrote.
They said that the director’s role was to carry out the Council of the Chief Rabbinate’s directives, prompting them to the prime minister to change the position into a political appointment chosen by the chief rabbis.
If an appointment to the position is not made by the time Weiner leaves office, the director of the Religious Services Ministry would automatically fill the position. Elhanan Glat holds that post.
In response to a request for comment, a spokesman for the chief rabbis said: “There is no reason that all government ministers get to choose by personal appointment the director who they need to work with, while the chief rabbis are not able to express their opinion on the appointment of a director for their office. Just one out of five members of the selection committee is a representative of the rabbis, and this is not acceptable.”
Rabbi Seth Farber of the ITIM religious services advisory organization said that it was important that professional standards were maintained in the Chief Rabbinate.
“Unfortunately, the centralized authority of the Chief Rabbinate already has a bad reputation with the Israeli public. Turning the position of director into a political appointment would only further this impression,” Farber said.