The proposed Amar-Ariel deal for the Chief Rabbinate, which was already at death’s door, was given the coup de grâce by Shas on Tuesday in a press statement by chairman Arye Deri declaring that the party would not support any arrangement with Bayit Yehudi on the issue.
Under the deal, Bayit Yehudi and Shas would have provided mutual support for Rabbi Yaakov Ariel as Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi and for incumbent Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to keep his position.
Deri said that Bayit Yehudi had reneged on the proposals made between the two parties, particularly a promise not to advance legislation to enlarge the chief rabbis selection committee which Bayit Yehudi helped pass in a preliminary reading last week in Knesset.
Deri added that Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was completely opposed to the candidacy of Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the national-religious rabbinical association Tzohar.
Despite Deri’s comments, Bayit Yehudi actually withdrew on Tuesday support for the legislation, known as the Stern bill for its architect MK Elazar Stern of Hatnua.
Sources in Bayit Yehudi claimed that despite agreements with Hatnua whereby the new representatives on the selection committee would be nominated by Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett in consultation with the prime minister and the government, the Likud party is now insisting that the prime minister alone designate the fifty new representatives proposed by the Stern bill for the committee.
Bayit Yehudi officials say that they fully back the law in principle, but that Likud’s new maneuver is a result of haredi political pressure on the prime minister to either stymie the committee’s expansion or ensure that any enlargement does not dilute haredi influence on the committee.
Likud and Netanyahu are loathe to further harm political ties with the haredi parties, and are attentive to some of their demands on matters affecting religion and state.
Coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud) said, however, that Bayit Yehudi was “politicizing the selection committee,” which he would not allow.
In the meantime, the breakdown of the Amar-Ariel deal has thrown Bayit Yehudi into a state of turmoil.
Bayit Yehudi MK Uri Orbach, who has long been in the Stav camp, finally lost patience with the interminable squabble over the national-religious chief rabbi candidate and publicly endorsed Stav on Monday night as his preferred candidate for the post.
Orbach is the first Bayit Yehudi MK to publicly back any candidate, in an issue that has bitterly divided the party.
Furthermore, a party source told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that it seemed unlikely that Bayit Yehudi would be able to agree upon support for a single candidate. In addition to Orbach, party chairman Bennett and MK Ayelet Shaked are understood to be in favor of Stav’s candidacy, though they have not expressed that support outright.
Bayit Yehudi’s rabbinic leadership, on the other hand, has fervently pushed for the nomination of Ariel, the chief municipal rabbi of Ramat Gan. But because he is past the age of eligibility for the job, due to the widespread support for Stav from coalition partners Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu and Hatnua, and in light of Tuesday’s announcement by Shas, the chances of Ariel’s candidacy moving forward are zero.
The conservative element among the rabbinic leadership of Bayit Yehudi is deeply opposed to Stav’s candidacy, and has been doing all in its power to thwart him, including exerting pressure on the party’s MKs.
This was manifest last week when nine of Bayit Yehudi’s 12 MKs absented themselves from the vote on the preliminary hearing of the Stern bill, out of fear that enlarging the selectoin committee would pave the way for Stav’s appointment.
Bayit Yehudi sources said on Tuesday that the haredi United Torah Judaism party – which is deeply hostile to Bennett’s faction – has nevertheless opened contacts with the national-religious party to discuss the possibility of supporting one of the more conservative national-religious candidates.
In return, UTJ would simply be thankful if Stav, who is widely loathed by the haredi leadership, does not get elected as the new Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi.
Apart from Stav, Rabbis Eliezer Igra and Yaakov Shapira are the two remaining national-religious candidates. They are both relatively conservative, and who would not be opposed by UTJ.
Igra, who is a rabbinical judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, has the backing of one of the most senior – and most conservative – national-religious rabbis, Rabbi Dov Lior, chief municipal rabbi of the Kiryat Arba settlement and of Hebron.
Writing on his Facebook wall, MK Uri Orbach said that he would be supporting Stav’s candidacy with no caveats.
“Right now, after the chances for the election of Rabbi Ariel have been reduced to zero [as was known and expected from the start], we need to support the candidacy of the person which the ‘deal’ was principally designed to torpedo,” Orbach wrote in reference to Stav and the failed political deal between Bayit Yehudi and Shas.
“Despite all the deals and the twists and the urgent conferences and the threats, secret and overt, Rabbi Stav is a rabbi great in Torah, national-religious, committed to the Jewish People and the State of Israel, a graduate of our amazing education system, and with a program to strengthen the love of the Torah and the connection between the rabbinate and the Jewish People,” said Orbach.
“This is what the vast majority of the public, including many rabbis who are in silent support, and the majority of our [Bayit Yehudi] voters, expect from us,” the MK wrote, placing emphasis on the words “OUR VOTERS!” in an apparent attack against the Bayit Yehudi rabbinic leadership, which has provided the impetus behind the support for Ariel.
Without making reference to the Chief Rabbinate race, Orbach continued by asking, “who was supposed to lead the political process for the national-religious movement? Rabbis [and their aides] or politicians? “Who are the national-religious politicians committed to? Only to the rabbis [with their approximated political power] or to the voting public?” he continued.
“The answers for me are clearer than ever.”
In response to Orbach’s comments, Rabbi Haim Druckman – a prominent national-religious leader – said on the Galei Yisrael radio station that at the very least, issues regarding the rabbinate and rabbinical issues should be left to rabbis to decide.
In reference to the apparent failure of the Amar-Ariel deal, Druckman said “I really think Rabbi Stav should have withdrawn his candidacy in favor of Rabbi Ariel.”