Bennett, Livni push for only one chief rabbi

Bill seeks to end separate Ashkenazi and Sephardic chief rabbis; Bennett says move would symbolize national unity.

November 11, 2013 16:53
2 minute read.
Inauguration of new chief rabbis.

Inauguration of new chief rabbis 370. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel will only have one chief rabbi, according to a draft bill Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett and Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben- Dahan publicized Monday.

According to the proposal, there will be one chief rabbi who will be elected regardless of his country of origin. There are currently two chief rabbis, an Ashkenazi and a Sephardi one.

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“Israel has one prime minister, one president, one Supreme Court president and one IDF chief of staff; the time has come for us to only have one rabbi for one nation,” Livni said. “The State of Israel should have one chief rabbi to unite all parts of Israeli society and a rabbinate that will give services to all parts of the Jewish people instead of maintaining a formal, old-fashioned separation.”

According to Bennett, this change is an important step symbolizing national unity.

“The only question is why didn’t this happen sooner,” Bennett stated. “Today, when Ashkenazi people marry Sephardi people and Yemenites and any other origin, there is no reason for two chief rabbis.”

The intended bill would also separate the rabbinate from the religious courts system, making it independent. The head of the religious court and his deputy would be chosen by judges in the Great Rabbinical Court, just as High Court justices choose their president.

The reasoning behind this change is that Livni, Bennett and Ben-Dahan feel the head of the rabbinical courts should be able to focus only on that job, as opposed to the current situation in which the chief rabbis lead religious courts, even if they are not trained rabbinical judges.

If the bill becomes law, it will only apply after the next chief rabbi election, in 10 years.

Rabbi Haim Navon, a popular author who teaches at moderate religious-Zionist institutions, praised the proposal on Facebook, writing “it’s about time.”

“Here’s a recommendation: The next chief rabbis should be elected for only five years. Ten years is too long for only one person to be in charge,” Navon added.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, speaking for the Reform Movement in Israel, called for the cancelation of the rabbinate.

“The State of Israel is not Iran and Judaism in Israel and in the Diaspora don’t need a Vatican,” Kariv said. “In a reality in which the Orthodox community doesn’t listen to the chief rabbis’ decisions anyway, the job is just a symbol of the Orthodox monopoly and the undemocratic and un-Zionist idea that there is only one right way to be Jewish.”

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