The Religious Services Ministry approved new guidelines for the appointment of municipal chief rabbis that will put most of the power in the hands of cit councils.
The changes are being made following recommendations given by the High Court of Justice to the ministry, in response to a petition submitted three years ago by Neemanei Torah Va’Avodah (NTA), a national-religious lobbying group.
The outgoing regulations, established in 2007 by the Religious Services Ministry, stipulate that 50 percent of the delegates on the election committees for municipal chief rabbis are to be appointed by representatives of city synagogues, 25% be appointed by the local religious council and the other 25% should be appointed by the local municipal council.
There are between 16 and 48 people on the electoral committees that elect the rabbis, depending on the size of the city or municipal jurisdiction in question.
But the process for establishing which synagogues could participate in the appointment of delegates to the municipal rabbi election committee was effectively controlled by the religious services minister and the religious establishment.
In addition, it was argued that the local religious council is an unelected body and should have no part in selecting the municipal rabbi.
NTA argued that this control of the religious establishment in the selection of the chief municipal rabbis was unrepresentative of the wishes of the population of any given city, town or municipal jurisdiction.
According to the new regulations, 50% of the electoral committee will now be comprised of delegates from the parties of the local municipal council, with the number of delegates from each party to be determined by the size of the party in the municipal council.
Another 25% of representatives on the electoral committee will be appointed by the religious services minister while the final 25% will be comprised of representatives from synagogues in the city or town in question.
Of the 25% appointed by the minister, half will be public figures who reside in the city and half will be rabbis with public positions in the city.
In addition, there will be a guaranteed 31% representation for women on the electoral committees, since 50% of the representatives sent by the local municipal council must be women – while 50% of the public figures chosen by the minister must also be women.
Three years ago, NTA petitioned the High Court of Justice against the electoral process for municipal chief rabbis, saying it discriminated against women as well as the non-religious public.
Approximately a year-anda- half ago the court came to the conclusion that the procedure for electing city rabbis was indeed problematic and recommended that the regulations be changed.
The state and the religious services ministry, at that time run by MK Ya’acov Margi of Shas, said there was no need and nothing was done.
The current Deputy Religious Services Minister Eliahu Ben-Dahan subsequently reviewed the recommendations and entered into dialogue with NTA to discuss the new procedures, which have now been approved.
The state agreed to pay NTA’s NIS 15,000 legal expenses for the case.
Attorney and legal adviser for NTA Assaf Benmelech said he hoped the new guidelines would ensure that more rabbis more appropriate to the make-up of the city’s population would be selected to the positions of chief municipal rabbi than has been the case in the past.
Benmelech pointed to Holon’s Chief Rabbi Avraham Yosef as an example of a chief municipal rabbi not fitted to the city where he serves.
Yosef, son of former Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef, ruled that senior figures in government or the judicial system cannot make up a minyan, or prayer quorum, and sought to have the rabbinical qualifications of Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav revoked because of his alleged stance on conversions.
“Does this rabbi represent the people of Holon?” asked Benmelech. “Do the residents of Holon, which include many people from the former Soviet Union, want a rabbi who wants to close the pathway to conversion or who gives halachic rulings against civil judges?” Chief municipal rabbis are lifetime appointments – until at least the age of 80 – and frequently come with a salary amounting to several hundred thousand shekels.