Over a thousand Diaspora rabbis wrote to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Tuesday in a show of opposition to his reported backing of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu as one of the capital’s two chief rabbis.
Among the signatories of the letter were senior leaders of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements as well as the chairman of the New Israel Fund.
Eliyahu, the son of the late chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, currently serves as chief rabbi of Safed. The positions of Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbi have gone unfilled for a decade.
Calling on Barkat to back a candidate who would work for unity among Jerusalem’s diverse populations, the rabbis cited Eliyahu’s “history of divisive and controversial statements and actions” as cause for opposing his candidacy.
Barkat has worked to block the appointment of two ultra-Orthodox chief rabbis and promised his large national-religious and secular constituency that one of the open slots would be filled with a Zionist. Confidants of the mayor were quoted by the Hebrew press in January as affirming Barkat’s support for Eliyahu. The mayor’s office was quick to deny the reports.
This week’s rabbis’ letter asked Barkat to consider Eliyahu’s past stances on several controversial issues, including his ruling forbidding the leasing of apartments to Arabs and his opposition to military service for women.
Eliyahu has also advocated the carpet bombing of the Gaza Strip in response to continued missile attacks by Palestinian terrorists.
“He was deemed unfit for the office of chief rabbi of Israel by Israel’s attorney-general,” the letter continued.
Eliyahu responded by petitioning the High Court of Justice over Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s opposition to his candidacy.
“Mayor Barkat, you bear the responsibility for ensuring that Jerusalem is a prosperous and welcoming city for all its inhabitants. We believe that Rabbi Eliyahu’s ascension to the Chief Rabbinate would send a signal of intolerance and divisiveness at a time when Jerusalem cries out for unity and social justice,” the rabbis continued, calling on Barkat to “consider the deep connection to Jerusalem among Jews worldwide.”
In response to the letter, Rachel Azaria, deputy mayor of Jerusalem and head of the Yerushalmim party, told The Jerusalem Post that “Jerusalem needs a rabbi who understands and accepts the religious diversity of the city and respects the pluralistic spectrum we have here. We understand opposition to a rabbi who does not believe in these ideals.”