Sources close to Rabbi Arye Stern, who is seeking election to the post of Jerusalem’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, have expressed confidence that he can be elected without any need for political deals with the haredi parties.
The comments come against the backdrop of recent reports that Bayit Yehudi and Shas have reached an agreement to support each other’s candidates for the Ashkenazi and Sephardi positions, respectively.
Shas chairman Arye Deri, however, denied on Tuesday that any such deal existed.
Stern is a leading figure and respected authority in the national- religious community, and since 2009, he has been its chosen candidate for the prestigious job.
He will turn 70 at the end of the year, however, which would rule him out as a candidate, so a deal between Bayit Yehudi – which also supports Stern – and Shas might pave the way for swift elections before Stern’s birthday.
New regulations approved in February, following recommendations from the High Court of Justice, gave local governments and the Religious Services Ministry greater representation on the 48-member selection committee.
This has benefited Stern’s chances of election, and his campaign team is now confident of securing at least 25 votes in the election, with more votes considered likely.
In recent months, Shas and the Ashkenazi haredi parties have put up significant roadblocks to the already drastically delayed proceedings, which have been held up for over a decade due to legal wrangling over how to conduct the elections.
One source of the delay is that the haredi political parties in the Jerusalem Municipality have yet to nominate their delegates to the selection committee.
However, more problematic is the delay in establishing the all-important five-member election committee.
This body determines when the actual election date will be, and is also tasked with approving the makeup of the selection committee and the candidates themselves.
The Chief Rabbinate has been delaying the nomination of its representative on this body, thereby preventing it from convening and setting an election date.
It is now believed that the rabbinate will select a representative immediately after Passover, but this delay has once again caused concern in Stern’s camp, given his brief window for election.
In addition, the haredi parties are likely to appeal the new election regulations to the High Court. The chances for such an appeal are thought to be slim, but it could still cause further delays to the process.
Shas itself is facing a dilemma regarding whom to nominate as its candidate. One figure who is understood to be keen on the job is former national chief rabbi Shlomo Amar.
However, for Shas and Deri, Amar is something of a problem. Amar and Deri had a serious falling-out during the election campaign for national chief rabbi last year. Amar wanted the law changed to allow him to stand for reelection. But Deri torpedoed the proposed legislation that would have enabled this possibility, probably because of Amar’s relationship with Deri’s political rival Eli Yishai. This ended Amar’s chances of serving a second term.
The rabbi was furious with Deri and ran his own candidate against that of Shas, but the latter, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, was the eventual victor.
According to reports, Amar now wants the job of Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem but refuses to ask Deri for the nomination, insisting instead that Shas and Deri come to him and ask him to be their nominee.
Deri has naturally refused to do this. However, it is possible that Amar could run without Shas’s support, and he could gain significant support from Bayit Yehudi and the national-religious representatives on the selection committee.
Nonetheless, a source close to Amar denied that the rabbi is interested in the job.
Shas’s other options seem somewhat limited. Rabbi Eliyahu Abergil of the capital’s Baka neighborhood received a promise from late former Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that he would be the party’s candidate for the job. Since then, however, Abergil has accepted nomination to the state Supreme Rabbinical Court and has therefore theoretically dropped out of the race for the time being – though he has yet to be confirmed by the Selection Committee for Rabbinical Judges, which will only convene after Passover.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s son Rabbi David Yosef has been suggested as a possible candidate, but in the wake of his father’s death, David Yosef was appointed to the four-member Shas Council of Torah Sages. The political nature of this position would preclude election as Jerusalem chief rabbi.
A spokesman for Deri said that the party was still in the preliminary stages of assessing which candidate it would nominate.
Alongside these considerations is the ongoing possibility that Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the controversial chief rabbi of Safed, might still run for the position of Sephardi chief rabbi.
Eliyahu, who is from the more conservative wing of the national-religious community, is the son of former national chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, and his family is close to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat – who, as a member of the election committee and head of his own municipal political party, wields considerable influence on the outcome of the election.
The Safed chief rabbi is also close to Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, who is responsible for appointing 12 delegates to the selection committee.
But Eliyahu has made a series of inflammatory remarks in the past about the Arab minority, and in 2006, he was indicted for racial incitement due to comments he had made in 2002 and 2004.
This has generated intense opposition from good-governance and human rights groups to any position he has sought since, principally that of national chief rabbi last year. Their opposition would present a serious obstacle to his election.