The Council of the Chief Rabbinate publicly opposed legislation to unite the
posts of Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbi, as well those of municipal chief
rabbis, on Monday, saying it would harm religious services and Judaism.
bill calling for just one chief rabbi – instead of the current two – was
approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in November and a separate
bill for having one chief municipal rabbi in cities where there are currently
both an Ashkenazi and Sephardi one was approved on Sunday.
“There is no
overlap between the work of the two [chief] rabbis and the distinction between
[their tasks] is not limited to the leadership of Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardi
Jews,” the Council of the Chief Rabbinate said in a statement to the
The council noted that the Chief Rabbinate employs a rotation
system in which one chief rabbi serves as president of the Council of the Chief
Rabbinate for five years, while the other serves as the president of the Supreme
Rabbinical Court for five years. At the end of the first five-year period the
two rabbis switch positions.
Currently, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau
serves as president of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate and Sephardi Chief
Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef serves as the president of the Supreme Rabbinical
The council said even in the current situation there exists a
heavy burden of work on the two chief rabbis, “and there is no justification to
a process which at the end of the day will harm [the provision of] religious
The proposed law suggests that one chief rabbi preside over
the council, and a separate position be created for president of the Supreme
Rabbinical Court, which would not have the rank of chief rabbi. The council said
on Monday it was important these two positions be on the same footing in terms
of political status.
In addition, the council also expressed its “strong
opposition” to the abolition of dual chief rabbi positions in municipal
jurisdictions, which was proposed in a bill approved for a preliminary reading
in the Knesset on Wednesday.
At present, there are 34 cities and regional
jurisdictions in which both an Ashkenazi and a Sephardi chief rabbi serve.
Hatnua MK Elazar Stern, who proposed the bill, has argued that having two chief
rabbis on an ethnic basis is anachronistic and an unnecessary financial burden
on the local religious council which pays their salaries.
noted that the retroactive enforcement of the bill, which would not renew the
term of any municipal rabbi in a city with two once his 10-year term ends, was
On Monday, Bayit Yehudi blocked this particular reform,
claiming it was not well thought out and was not coordinated with the
In response, a Hatnua source said “Last time I checked, [party
leader Naftali] Bennett was not the prime minister, and this behavior undermines
the work of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation and the desire of people
who want a more inclusive and welcoming form of Judaism.”
A similar spat
between the two parties occurred earlier this year, when Bayit Yehudi blocked
Stern’s bill to enlarge the electoral committee for selecting the chief rabbis
and Hatnua blocked some of Bayit Yehudi’s key reforms to the provision of
religious services in return.
The rabbinate council also announced on
Monday that it was seeking a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to
remonstrate against what it described as “a wave of anti religious legislation
in recent months.”
The council said it would explain to the prime
minister that the Chief Rabbinate should be allowed to express its position on
all issues of religion and state and that the government take into consideration
its stance. In addition, it was announced that a steering committee would be
established to liaise with members of Knesset on all issues of religion and
Much of the new legislation on religion and state has been
proposed by the national- religious Bayit Yehudi Party, in particular Deputy
Religious Services Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan.
It is Ben-Dahan who
advanced the proposal to have just one national chief rabbi, in addition to
promoting legislation abolishing marriage registration districts, stipulating
disciplinary procedures for employees of local religious councils and other
Despite this, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who,
like Ben-Dahan, comes from the Tekuma party, which is a party of the Bayit
Yehudi Knesset faction, has publicly opposed much of this
Ariel met with Yosef on Sunday and said he, “together with
the rabbi, felt deep concern for the increasing trend of anti-religious
legislation that is eroding the status quo [on religion and
Ariel said he would do everything “to ensure that all
legislation of this nature be done with through agreement and not coercively.”