Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau defeated Shmuel Eliyahu and David Stav to win ten-year terms as chief rabbis of Israel Wednesday, in a victory for Shas and United Torah Judaism over religious Zionism and Bayit Yehudi.
The hotly contested races went down to the wire in tense voting at Jerusalem's Leonardo Hotel. All six candidates who remained in the race until the end campaigned tirelessly in the lobby until votes closed, except for the confident Yosef, who remained at the Jerusalem home of his father, Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Lau like Yosef will be a second generation chief rabbi. He is the son of Yisrael Meir Lau, Cheif Rabbi of Tel Aviv and former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel.
Yosef and Lau both won 68 of the 147 ballots cast in the voting body of 150. Stav won 54 votes and Eliyahu 49. Third-place finishers Ya'acov Shapira and Zion Boaron won 25 and 28 votes respectively.
Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett called the winners to congratulate them and promised that they would be part of a "revolution" he said Bayit Yehudi was leading in the ministry. In a statement released to the press, Bennett made no mention of his party's support for the losers, but his deputy in the ministry, Eli Ben-Dahan, conceded the race.
"I am sorry we in Bayit Yehudi did not succeed in electing a Zionist chief rabbi," Ben-Dahan said. "I don't hide that our failure hurts. I hope that the secular, who are surely disappointed, will still see the key role of the Chief Rabbinate."
Yosef vowed to be "the chief rabbi for all of Israel, whether they are haredi, religious, or secular." He visited the Western Wall late Wednesday to thank God for his victory.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called both Lau and Yosef to congratulate them following the announcement of the election results, saying that "this is the time to work to unite the people of Israel, and to increase the love of Israel."
Hatnua MK Elazar Stern blamed Stav's loss on Bayit Yehudi blocking his proposal to add 40 women to the voting body. He said sarcastically that Bayit Yehudi MKs should go veto the results of the election.
Bennett and Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni expressed hope that this would be the last race in which both Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis would be elected. Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said the chief rabbinate should be closed down, calling it corrupt and homophobic.
Meretz protesters demonstrated outside the hotel against Eliyahu, accusing him of racism. Inside the hotel lobby, haredi rabbis campaigned, made deals, and mingled while scantily clad hotel guests meandered between them on the way to the swimming pool.
The voting took place over three hours. All the voters had to remain in the hotel in case there was a tie, which would have required a second round of voting.
In the lobby, Eliyahu and Stav danced and sang a song asking God for mercy. Hours later, they called Yosef and Lau to concede defeat.
Stav said the elected rabbis should "merit to make significant changes to the rabbinate so that it will reflect a renewed commitment to the needs of all the people of Israel." He said his Tzohar organization would continue to be a resource for secular Israelis.
"We will continue to work to unite the Jewish people of Israel and throughout
the world through commitment to halacha and love for all Jews and do
everything possible to prevent further division and disharmony," he said.
The 150 people eligible to vote included 80 rabbis representing religious
councils and 70 lay officials representing the government, the Knesset and local