Bayit Yehudi in talks with UTJ on chief rabbi

Sources tell 'Post' two parties discussing possibility of gaining haredi support for candidates for position of Ashkenazi chief rabbi.

May 30, 2013 02:06
Rabbi David Stav: "We wait for Messiah" Nov 2011

Rabbi David Stav 370. (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)

Sources within Bayit Yehudi told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that an MK from the national-religious party had opened up contact with United Torah Judaism, to discuss the possibility of gaining haredi support for one of the more conservative national-religious candidates for the position of Ashkenazi chief rabbi.

The only benefit UTJ would gain from the deal would be that Bayit Yehudi’s candidate would not be the liberalizing chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical association, Rabbi David Stav, who is widely loathed by the haredi leadership.

Apart from Stav, rabbis Yaakov Shapira and Eliezer Igra are the two remaining national-religious candidates for the Ashkenazi chief rabbi position, as well as Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu for the Sephardi chief rabbi position.

They are all relatively conservative and would not be too objectionable to UTJ, especially if the alternative is Stav.

A separate Bayit Yehudi party official said in response to an inquiry from the Post about the alleged contact that “anything is possible.”

The 150-member election committee for the chief rabbis has significant haredi representation, and UTJ support would help seal the election of a national- religious rabbi – something that Bayit Yehudi is desperate to achieve.

These developments come after the collapse on Tuesday of the Amar-Ariel deal, in which 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.

The deal, 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, who declared that the party would not support any arrangement with Bayit Yehudi on the issue.

The conservative element of Bayit Yehudi’s rabbinic leadership had fervently pushed for the nomination of Ariel, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, since it too 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, legislation designed to enlarge the chief rabbis selection committee, which Bayit Yehudi had promised to help pass.

Several of the most senior rabbis in the conservative camp, including Kiryat Arba-Hebron Chief Rabbi Dov Lior, sent a letter to all the party MKs before the vote saying they should not support the bill.

Along with Tuesday’s collapse of the Amar-Ariel deal, Bayit Yehudi withdrew 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 Bayit Yehudi leader and Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett in consultation with the prime minister and the government, the Likud is now insisting that the prime minister alone designate the 50 new representatives proposed by the Stern bill for the committee.

Bayit Yehudi officials say that they fully support 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.

The Likud and its party leader, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, are loathe to further harm political ties with the haredi parties, and are therefore attentive to 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.

The breakdown of the Amar-Ariel deal has thrown Bayit Yehudi into a state of general turmoil on the chief rabbi issue.

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 Post on Tuesday that it seemed unlikely that Bayit Yehudi would be able to agree upon support for a single candidate at this stage.

In addition to Orbach, Bennett and MK Ayelet Shaked are understood to be in favor of Stav’s candidacy, though they have not expressed that support outright.

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 provided the impetus behind the support for Ariel.

Without directly referring to the Chief Rabbinate race, Orbach continued: “Who is supposed to lead the political process for the national-religious movement? Rabbis [and their aides] or politicians? To whom are the national-religious politicians committed to? Only to the rabbis [with their approximated political power] or to the voting public?” “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 Israel radio station that at the very least, issues regarding the rabbinate should be left to rabbis to decide.

In reference to the failure of the Amar- Ariel deal, Druckman, who headed efforts for implementing the proposal, said, “I really think Rabbi Stav should have withdrawn his candidacy in favor of Rabbi Ariel.”

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