The first profile in this series is of Rabbi Tzion Shalom Boaron, who serves as a rabbinical judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem.
Despite his low public exposure, Boaron, aged 68, has a weighty resume behind him, including 30 years experience as a rabbinical judge, and six years in his position as a rabbinical judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
Boaron was ordained as a rabbinical judge in 1984 by the serving chief rabbis of the time, Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Shlomo Goren, and served as a rabbinical judge in Tiberias, Safed and Netanya, and subsequently as president of the Beersheba and Petah Tikva rabbinical courts, before his appointment to his current position.
The growing strength of his campaign has shaken up the race for Sephardi chief rabbi and caused serious reverberations for the Shas movement, the traditional bastion of Orthodox Sephardi rabbinical authority.
Boaron, who was born in Tripoli, Libya, in 1945, is respected for his rulings on the issue of “mesuravot get” – women whose husbands refuse to give them a bill of divorce, thus preventing them from remarrying and having children.
On Thursday, two women’s rights political lobbying organizations – Yad Laisha and Mavoi Satum – issued strong support for Boaron's candidacy in letters sent to the members of the electoral committee for the chief rabbis.
Mavoi Satum director Batya Kehana Dror described the rabbis attitude to mesuravot get as a “moderate and humanistic approach” and spoke of his “tireless efforts to find solutions for the benefit of women.”
Boaron is known to have flown to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and other far-flung locales in order to track down recalcitrant husbands and persuade them to grant their wives a bill of divorce.
The rabbi is also known for having ruled that the Bnei Menashe – a tribe living in northeast India which claims to be descended from the Ten Tribes of Israel exiled by the Assyrian King Sennacherib in the 6th century BCE – did indeed have legitimate Jewish roots. Boaron advised the government to accept the group of several thousands under the Law of Return to live in Israel. The emigration to Israel was conditioned on formal conversion to Judaism, however.
Boaron is considered to be a relative moderate in his general approach to issues of Jewish law. He is understood to be of the opinion that stringencies are not fitting for current times, but is nevertheless committed to preserving the standing and authority of the Chief Rabbinate and the centrality of the institution within Israeli life and for lifecycle events such as marriage and divorce.
Although the notion of a more communal approach to the funding of religious services has been promoted of late, and has even attracted government consideration, it would seem that Boaron would not support such a notion. He is understood to be keen to reform some of the more problematic areas of the institution so as to provide a better, more efficient service.
Regarding one of the central controversies of the concluding term of the present chief rabbis was a decision to allow local and municipal chief rabbis to decide for their jurisdiction whether or not produce grown in Israel during the sabbatical year under a unique leniency of Jewish law would be acceptable for restaurants and other establishments in the area.
The decision caused outrage and led to an intervention by the Supreme Court insisting that local chief rabbis implement the leniency, known as a heter mechira.
The Jerusalem Post understands that Boaron is committed to preserving heter mechira in the coming sabbatical year, which will fall in 2014-2015.
Another central issue for the incoming chief rabbis will be that of conversion, especially regarding the approximately 330,000 Israelis of Jewish descent, mainly from the former Soviet Union, who are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law.
Boaron has taken a position that while Jewish law regarding conversion must be adhered to, there is scope for a moderate approach to conversion in order to reduce assimilation and intermarriage.
As for Boaron’s electoral chances, the strength of his candidacy has created serious concerns for Shas, whose endorsements for the position of Sephardi chief rabbi in recent elections have been the deciding factor.
Pressure has been brought to bear on Boaron and his team to withdraw his candidacy but the rabbi insists he will contest the election regardless.
Because there are as many as five candidates expected to run for the position, the total number of votes needed to be elected could be reduced somewhat from an outright majority.
The Post understands that 60 to 65 votes from the 150-member electoral committee may be enough to get elected.
Boaron is strongly backed by current Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar. The Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis designate a combined total of 10 delegates to the electoral committee, but because of the current police investigation into Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, Amar was granted the right to appoint all 10, a significant boon for Boaron.
The rabbi’s team is confident that his support among members of the electoral committee not connected to Shas is strong, although the candidacy of conservative national religious candidate Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu could divert crucial votes away from Boaron’s campaign.